On my annual spring tour of the Scottish Highlands I am once again struck by our hospitality industry's well-recorded dependence on immigrant labour.
The young folk we encounter hail not only from Eastern Europe but also from Spain, Greece and Italy. All of them seem impressively eager, efficient, well turned out and unfailingly polite – a sharp contrast to the sullen slovenliness that once drove the old Scottish Tourist Board to distraction. In these days, we were expected to be grateful for a congealed cheese and ham toastie slapped down by a waitress who had
better things to do.
What wonderful bargaining chips these youngsters make for Mrs May to play in the high stakes poker game that she has embarked upon. These immigrants are clean, bright, shiny and energetic; not bearded, smelly, old and sclerotic. If you had to share a room, or a country, with hostages these are the ones you would pick. And it would appear that in Inverness, our Polish capital, they just can't get enough of them. Every second shop and cafe appears to have a 'help wanted' notice in the window – no locals being done out of a job here.
But it is noticeable too that those who come from Bulgaria and Romania are embarrassed and awkward in revealing their countries of origin – a grubby little victory for the Brexit bullies and their nasty 'newspapers'. Invariably, these young people break into such genuine smiles of relief when I express my familiarity with and appreciation of their homelands that I want to choke Boris with a bottle of Bollinger.
The tawdry tabloid campaign against these young people is the 21st century equivalent of the 'No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs' signs put up by English landladies in the 60s – only this time the intended victims are working for the landladies.
We would be lost without the vile incomers. Don't just take the word of the Scottish government which has highlighted the ageing profile of the Scottish population. Ask the Tory-voting farmers of Perthshire and Angus who flocked to a packed meeting in Forfar last week to hear immigration lawyer Jamie Kerr address their concerns about who is going to pick their soft fruit crop.
The truth is that the immigrants will remain and become part of the 'stab-in-the-back' narrative of the Brexiteers to explain to white working-class voters, in England mainly, why the jobs have not returned and why we were cheated out of the promised extra £350 million per week for the NHS. The cry will be, 'We never got a proper Brexit. We wuz robbed' – and that is before artificial intelligence wipes out millions more low-skilled jobs.
As the Brexiteers seek to recreate some mythical Elizabethan epoch in which our renowned entrepreneurs take to the foamy main like swashbuckling privateers to carve out new trade routes, I embark on my own voyage into the past. Ancestral DNA tests were a popular Christmas gift last year and, lo and behold, my results have arrived with a couple of surprises.
Ancestry DNA informs me that I am 57% 'Irish', the term they give to us Scots. Not much surprise there – the Ogilvys have lived in my native glen for over 1,000 years. Next, I have a splodge of Scandinavian conjuring up images of marauding Vikings and much to be expected in the north-east of Scotland. My splash of Western European comes from my maternal grandfather. He was a Halley from Crieff where the name remains common.
The local librarian informs me they were Flemish weavers brought over in the 18th century by the Earl of Perth. As immigrants, they were, in time-honoured fashion, distrusted by locals and settled at Bridgend – the equivalent then of the wrong side of the tracks. A dash of East European Jewish comes as no shock – as a child I vividly recall staring at the tattooed number on the forearm of one of our French relations who, along with her mother, survived the Nazi death camps.
The first surprise is the revelation that I am 3% Iberian – a shipwrecked sailor of the Spanish armada, a Sephardi Jew or one-night stand with a Spanish waiter? Who knows and who cares? We are, as the old Scots are fond of saying, all Jock Tamson's bairns. But my next surprise is that for Great Britain ethnicity, said to be concentrated in England, Scotland and Wales, I score 0%. As Mrs May dreams of a Greater Britain which is doomed to become a Little England and deprives me of my European citizenship, I am strangely pleased by that big fat zero.