Social Activism and Cultural Creation in Edinburgh: Beyond Demographic Data

The Spanish community in the United Kingdom has noticeably been on the rise, it is has become progressively conventional to hear the Spanish language being spoken whilst walking the streets of major cities. Not only participates of local events these communities are increasingly now the creators of events, promoting Spanish culture and heritage in Britain. Spanish people that have been living abroad for a while and native British citizens recognise the increase of this demographic.

Sara Rayo

The Spanish community in Scotland is the second largest foreign community, just after the Polish community, according to some of the findings in the sociological study The New Spanish Community in Edinburgh Situation and Needs conducted by El Puente, a group of researchers from the Complutense University of Madrid. The documentary In a Foreign Land (2014) estimated 30,000 Spanish citizens in Edinburgh. The Spanish Consulate estimated that in Edinburgh alone there are 15,000 Spanish citizens in 2016. At present the figures available are only partial as the only available official census data is of officially registered citizens.


Partial Demographic Indicators

Given the significant differences in the estimates of the overall population, pubic entities, entrepreneurs, individuals, social movements and organisations request an official census. According to them, this is needed to conduct research and to demonstrate the social impact on the Spanish-speaking community to Scottish companies and institutions.

One of the indicators used to estimate the Spanish population in Scotland is the number of Spanish people registering to obtain a National Insurance Number (NINo). The paper by El Puente looked at how the figure of these applicants soared from 2011 to 2013. According to the data analysed, Spain went from 14th position in the ranking of NINo new applications, in the period 2010-2011, to 3rd in 2013-2014. However, these results should be taken with a pinch of salt because, as the sociologist of El Puente underlined, the (NINo) registrations did not take into account the length of stay, the number of people leaving and the way Spanish people move within the country.

On the other hand, the Consular Register of the Consulate General of Spain in Edinburgh offers an estimation of the demographics within its jurisdiction, taking into account the number of nationals currently enrolled. The year 2016 started with 18,064 people registered; however this is Spanish people living in the North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This contradiction between official and unofficial data confirms that the majority of Spanish people living abroad do not register despite this being mandatory. Nevertheless, the number of registrations has not stopped increasing since 2011, the year when the Consulates of Spain in Edinburgh and Manchester fused, with the latter eventually closing.

Graph 1 –Progression of the number of nationals currently enrolled

[cml_media_alt id='6560']Graph 1[/cml_media_alt]






 Source: Consulate General of Spain in Edinburgh

The increase of Spanish population in this jurisdiction is steady since 2011, according to the figures from the Spanish Consulate in Edinburgh (Graph 1). There were two important raises in the periods 2014- 15, with an increase of 11.85%, and in 2015-16 with an increase of 22.75%. One of the reasons which could explain these ascents is the different electoral processes in Spain during 2015 that left many people wishing to vote from abroad to finally register.

Age Groups

The data analysed showed that the majority of Spaniards living within the Consulate’s jurisdiction are an active population between 25 and 45 years old that moved to work or start new businesses. It is a demographic that has been settling down both personally and professionally.

Young people aged 20 to 25 is arguably left affected the most by the lack of work opportunities in Spain, with an unemployment rate of 50%, according to Eurostat figuresFrom 2015-16, this was the age group with the largest growth, by 30%. This figure shows how youth was mobilised during the Spanish General Election in 2015.

Graph 2 – Percentage of increase registered in 2016 in relation to the previous year by age range.

[cml_media_alt id='6561']Graph 2[/cml_media_alt]

Source: Consulate General of Spain in Edinburgh

The age group of people from 0 to 5 years is one of the age groups with the largest growth in the last years. During 2015, the Consulate registered a total of 392 births, an 80% increase compared to 2013 when 219 new births were registered (graph 2). This trend allows us to confirm a fact, more and more Spanish and mixed couples are having children in the United Kingdom, a clear sign that Spanish people are settling down in the country.

Graph 3 – Absolute numbers of people registered by age range
[cml_media_alt id='6562']Graph 3[/cml_media_alt]
Source: Consulate of Spain in Edinburgh

Figures from the Spanish Consulate reveal that the largest age group is not the 20-25 years, neither the 0-5 years group, but conversely, Spanish people aged 35-40 years who represent 14% of the total with 2,413 registrations, lead the ranking (graph 3). Followed closely by Spanish aged 30-35 years (13%), 25-30 years (12%) and 40-45 years (11%). Young people aged 20-25 years (8%) fall in 5th place in the ranking with 1,361 registrations.

In addition to the estimates from the Spanish General Consulate for the new Spanish community in Scotland, there are other indicators that corroborate the rapid growth trend for this community, such as the cultural creation or the social and political activism by Spanish immigrants. The city of Edinburgh has been chosen as a case study for this analysis; outside of London it is the city where the Spanish community has grown the most, according to El Puente study.


Cultural creation in Edinburgh

The presence of Spanish culture is emerging rapidly in a city known worldwide because of its cultural scope. The range of Spanish cultural activities and events on offer in this city have soared in the last few years.

In the audio-visual sector The Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival and Iberodocs have celebrated their third edition in 2016, and in addition, CinemaAttic, a platform that promotes alternative Spanish cinema continues to flourish with their monthly screening of short films from Spain, Iberia and Latin America.

The art gallery Interview Room 11 invites Spanish artists to exhibit their work. This Spring, in collaboration with the Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs, this gallery is presenting the exhibition British Abroad by Charlie Clifft, which portraits British people living in the Spanish Mediterranean.

For this year, the scenic arts festival Imaginate is bringing the Madrid- based company Aracaladanza to their show. They will present their dance Constellations, based on the abstract work of Joan Miro. And in the music scene, Vamos Scotland and Rock Sin Subtítulos have organised concerts from music bands such as Vetusta Morla, Ivan Ferreiro and Triángulo de Amor Bizarro, amongst others.

In the digital arena, Facebook groups like Vivir Edimburgo and Españoles en Edimburgo bring people together using social media as a platform for promoting Spanish cultural events. Moreover they are useful directories to find all sorts of services from hairdressing to psychologist, all in Spanish. Another platform promoting culture and the relationship of the Spanish speaking community and the Scottish society is Cosmopolita Scotland, a bilingual digital newspaper that encourages the integration of the Spanish-speaking community and Scottish society contributing to the debate on social and environmental justice. This online magazine collaborates with the Scottish charity People Know How promoting Spanish and Scottish historic relationships. In radio, the indepent radio station Onda Diáspora broadcasts current affairs from the Spanish-speaking world and Scotland.

The promotion of Spanish and Catalan exists in Scotland. In 2011, a group of bilingual families living in Edinburgh created Asociacion Española Alba. They aim to promote the use of Spanish language and create networks within the Spanish speakers community. Similarly, Scotland’s Catalan Centre has been promoting the use of the Catalan language and culture since 1998.

Social and political activism

In the political arena, the Consulate of Spain in Edinburgh registered a level of participation during the last Spanish General Elections on December 2015 as never seen before. More than 3,000 people requested to vote in the month previous to the election. Mostly young people arrived in the Consulate with enthusiasm expressing their desire for change. According to Owen Jones in The Guardian, Spain has become an example in Europe that mobilising the youth is possible.

Living aside non-residents, a total of 1,697 permanent residents voted in the last elections. Voters represented the 17.22% of the Census of Spanish Residents Abroad (CERA), according to National Institute of Statistics. Spanish General Elections 20th December 2015 . This figure is especially relevant because since 2011 there has been a decline of citizens voting whilst living abroad since the new Organic Law of the General Electoral Regime was approved. This law introduced a bureaucratic step that has negatively affected levels of electoral participation in citizens living abroad. During 2008 General Elections the participation from Spanish living abroad reached 30% of the CERA, in the last 2015 elections the participation plunged to the 4,73% of the CERA worldwide.

In Edinburgh, one of the most visible political parties is the left-wing party Podemos. They were also the only party that sent an inspector to the Consulate during the electoral process. The Podemos Circle in Edinburgh, which is managed by 25 party members, up to date, has almost 1000 followers on Facebook. This circle has become an active platform for debate, which follows the political affairs in Spain and Edinburgh. Its members participate in campaign protests such as the one celebrated last summer against the Spanish Gag Law and they support organisations that advocate for social justice, sustainability and democracy like Radical Independence Campaign.

Edinburgh in Protest and Spanish Workers in Edinburgh (SWE) are two other platforms aiming to build bridges between Spanish and Scottish claims. In March, they organised the first international screening of the documentary “A tu que et sembla?” as part of the wider Antirepression Forum. Ester Quintana, the protagonist in the documentary attended and spoke about the case. Last February, members of SWE invited the trade unionist Socrates Fernandez, who talked about the situation facing the miners in Spain. For this event, they invited miners from Scotland to share their experiences.

Legal assistance

Many of the Spanish people that arrive in Edinburgh do not speak fluent English, it found to be commonplace that during their first years living abroad they take jobs with zero-hour contracts, often in the hospitality and care sectors. Consequently, they have also become a vulnerable demographic and are often found to be an easier target for people trying to rent non-existent flats online. PIE Scotland is a grass- roots activist organisation

PIE Scotland is a grass- roots activist organisation that assists and combats job insecurity acting legally in conflicts that include labour disputes, immigration (visas), sanctions of benefits (appeals) and rents (landlords). They cover six areas of empowerment:  legal, welfare & benefits, training and employment-guidance, emotional support and press.

The increase of Spanish people in Scotland seems obvious for the first immigrants that arrived before the financial crisis. The lack of job opportunities in Spain, improving the English language and pursuing studies in specific localities of Scotland makes this country one of the main destinations for Spanish migrants in the United Kingdom. However, the lack of an official census is slowing down the necessary identification of challenges to achieve the full integration of this community. More than ever, institutional support is needed to help different initiatives such as consultant’ offices, cultural associations and media work towards achieving integration.

There are different signs showing an increase of the Spanish community and that many Spanish people are settling down professionally and personally. With this parallel reality developing in Scotland, which is the approach taken by public authorities from Spain and Scotland?

Edited by Jordi Albacete

Autor: Sara Rayo

I am a young professional with a strong passion for International Affairs, with a particular interest in Communication and Media. I hold a Degree in Journalism, a Degree in Politic Science and a MA in International Relations. These studies are complemented by my experience in both the private and public sector, in the areas of communication and policy-making. I am a team player with excellent organisation and communication skills. Twitter @srayocorrales or Linkedin.

Soy una periodista joven con un gran interés en las relaciones internacionales, en especial en comunicación y media. Estoy licenciada en periodismo y en ciencias políticas con un máster en relaciones internacionales. He complementado estos estudios con experiencia laboral en el sector público y privado, en las áreas de comunicación y política. Me encanta trabajar en equipo y tengo una gran experiencia en comunicación. Twitter @srayocorrales o Linkedin.

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