Betwixt and between? Greek and Spanish Migrants Having Lived in Scotland since the 1960s

In this article Konrad Lawson, School of History, University of St Andrews and Nikolaos Papadogiannis, School of History and Archaeology of Bangor University, outline their participatory research on Greek and Spanish migration in Scotland. 

Konrad Lawson & Nikolaos Papadogiannis

It was October 2016. Soon after the train left Haymarket moving to its final stop, Waverley, a female employee of Hispanic origin tried to move a trolley through a coach. However, a male obstructed her path and told her that he would tell her when to move, because “he is English”. The employee got obviously distressed.

Protest agains the results of Brexit. Edinburgh, 24th of June 2016. Image by Noelia Martínez Castellanos.

Migration is an experience steeped in diverse emotions. This is a condition that we have explored in our own research as historians: As a historian of East Asia, Konrad has explored the troubled positionality of various national and ethnic groups in the context of Japanese empire. Nikos has studied the hopes, joys and fears that migrants of Greek origin living in West Germany experience in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] Our research has exposed us to a host of questions, including the following: Do the emotional experiences of migrants differ, according to their social background? Has migration from Southern to Northern Europe contributed to a feeling of common belonging to a European community and, if so, what emotions do migrants from Southern Europe share with other migrants and with the local population in Northern Europe? Or does a North/South divide loom large, based on cultural stereotypes and negative emotions towards one another?

These questions are too significant for the everyday lives of migrants and locals to be confined to discussions within an academic ivory tower. After all, the issue of migration from Southern to Northern Europe is not just a relic of the recent past, but a tendency that has recently gained momentum. Therefore, we organised  an event titled “Betwixt and between? Greek and Spanish migrants having lived in Scotland since the 1960s” alongside Syn Festival Edinburgh and Greek Festival Edinburgh. Rather than serving as a means of collecting data and reaching conclusions in the context of a formal research project, the event was part of effort to trigger discussion among diverse migrants and locals: It would address a wider public of migrants from Spain and Greece who have moved to Scotland since the 1960s and who differ in terms of social class, gender and age. We focused on people from Greece and Spain, not because they are emblematic of all migrants living in Scotland, but for a very specific reason: stereotypes and/or news coverage often present them as similar, as having a “Mediterranean” temperament and/or as being victims of the ensuing crisis in their countries of origin, among others. By contrast, we were interested in the voices of the migrants themselves, their experiences, their emotions, especially in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, which may jeopardise their rights in the UK in general. Our aim was to encourage a genuinely open discussion: we did not wish narrators to endorse a specific story, for instance that they should eventually return home or adapt to very specific social norms of the host society. Simultaneously, in sharing emotional experiences, we wished to help tackle cultural misunderstandings among them and other migrants and locals. Similarly, it would be a good opportunity for participants to examine in depth experiences that lead them to develop negative feelings and see how others have tackled them – sharing always helps on such occasions!

Protest agains the results of Brexit. Edinburgh, 24th of June 2016. Image by Noelia Martínez Castellanos.

Our meeting on 19 November confirmed our expectations. Around 20 people attended and discussed quite intensively. They reflected on material that touched upon migration directly or indirectly: short films, “Insânia” by Ursula Mestre and ‘Home is’ by Pam van de Brug, poems by Koula Adaloglou and extracts from oral testimonies of other migrants. They wrote about their experiences on luggage tags designed for the event, then shared these with other participants and immersed in a lively and intriguing group discussion, which defied simplifications: many of them felt that they temporarily resided in Scotland, while challenging whether they continue to view Greece and Spain as their home. Numerous stressed their positive feelings towards the local population, especially in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. The train story we mentioned above was not typical of the experience of most of them, Still, some mentioned moments of frustration they experienced due to implicit racism: according to the experience of the participants, while the locals largely condemn racial discrimination, they sometimes make negative judgments, perhaps unconsciously, about some migrants due to the origin of the latter. Quite interestingly, those who have recently moved depicted what motivated them to migrate, listing not just the disappointments they experienced in their countries of origin due to the crisis, but also the hopes they pinned on moving to a different country. Some even challenged the idea that their movement and the emotions they have experienced permit them to describe themselves as migrants.

The event seems to have had an impact on participants, judging from what they mentioned in the questionnaires they filled out. One of them claimed that “it had a huge impact in terms of understanding that we experience so common feelings and thoughts being in another country”. Another participant argued that “it was enjoyable to share ideas and views and realise that people may face the same difficulties as I am”. Simultaneously, they also noted differences, including the presence of class barriers that can exist within migrant communities as well.

We aimed this event to be a pilot one, the beginning of a series of relevant public outreach activities we wish to organise. In this vein, we have created a platform where people coming from Spain and Greece and living in Scotland may narrate emotional experiences of theirs. We will soon be sharing a selection of the submissions there, but going forward we would also like to have more submissions from those  of Spanish origin. Thus, if you believe that you may be interested in attending similar drop-in events or interactive discussions in the near future, please feel free to contact us at and We are looking forward to welcoming you and we hope that, at least these activities will be a positive emotional experience!

[1] Nikolaos Papadogiannis,  “A (Trans)National Emotional Community? Greek Political Songs and the Politicisation of Greek Migrants in West Germany in the 1960s and early 1970”, Contemporary European History 23.4, 2014, pp. 589-614.

Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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