‘HOW many more 13-year-old girls must be dragged from their beds in tears in the dead of night and slammed in the back of a van before change occurs?”

Speaking in 2005, the then MSP Colin Fox wasn’t talking about events in a far-off regime. Addressing then-First Minister Jack McConnell, the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party was responding to the concerns raised by schoolgirls from Glasgow following the detention of one of their friends by immigration police. As more of their fellow pupils at Drumchapel High were hauled into the street in their pyjamas, the Glasgow Girls, as they became known, took their campaign to Holyrood.

Under intense cross-party pressure, McConnell said he would arrange a “protocol” with the UK Home Office; a guarantee whereby a decision on a family’s deportation could only be made in consultation with social services and education authorities. Though the “protocol” was not forthcoming, the girls became prominent campaigners for refugee rights.

Their story was made into two TV programmes and was developed into a musical by David Greig and Cora Bissett for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2012. Praised for its youthful, gritty energy, the production featured hip hop from MC Soom T, grime from Patricia Panther and original songs by Bissett herself and folksters The Keilty Brothers. To quote one of those tracks: “Not exactly Legally Blonde, is it?”

Despite lacking mainstream gloss, Greig and Bissett’s take on the story of Amal Azzudin, Rosa Salih, Ewelina Siwak, Toni-Lee Henderson, Emma Clifford, Jennifer McCarron and Agnesa Murselaj (whose detention kickstarted their campaign) was a huge success when it premiered at the Citizens Theatre. Returning to the Citz two years later as part of Glasgow 2014, the production raised key questions about Scotland’s future and highlighted the impotence of Holyrood in the face of immovable opposition from Westminster.

“The story felt really relevant in 2012, it was something people hadn’t heard of before, hadn’t seen before. They were like: ‘Oh my god, is this happening?’” says Bissett from Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre, where Glasgow Girls mark III previewed last week. With five new performers (chosen, she says, with the help of the original Girls), an ingenious, bare-bones set, an additional musician in the shape of fiddler Laura Wilkie and a sleeker running time, the production runs at the Fringe before visiting Glasgow, Oxford, Stirling and Dundee over the autumn.

Touring Glasgow Girls has long been an ambition for Bissett, whose Pachamama Production company helms this cycle with support from the NTS, Regular Music and the Scottish Government’s Made in Scotland showcase.

In spring 2014, indyref1 was just months away. Though George Osborne had just put the kibosh on a currency union following “strong advice” from senior Treasury civil servant Nicholas Macpherson, there was considerable optimism in the air, with many taking to heart the phrase often used by author Alasdair Gray and engraved into a wall of the Scottish Parliament: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”.

So much has changed since. After the defeat of that first Yes campaign, prolonged austerity, the escalation of terror, the highest number of displaced people since the Second World War, the Tories’ 2015 General Election victory and the killing of MP Jo Cox, now Scotland faces being taken out the EU with the rest of the UK – a situation opposite to that promised by Better Together in the run-up to the 2014 vote.

Having suffered a succession of blows, much of the liberal centre/left (a group with “nowhere to go”, according to a sombre Paddy Ashdown on vote night as the victory of Leave became certain) were stunned. Commentators and politicians took to saying we were in “unprecedented territory” – a way of attempting to make “I need a sit down” sound less concerning. Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and David Icke were delighted, as were those who had made money on shorted stocks in sectors affected by the drop in sterling. Now Macpherson was saying that the Brexit vote offered an independent Scotland committed to the EU “an extraordinary opportunity to attract inward investment as well as highly skilled migrants”.

Migrants. We may have tired of images of haunted-looking children in Calais and shoogly boats crammed with figures in €100 lifejackets but people have not stopped fleeing war and persecution. Recent figures from the International Organisation for Migration show more than 242,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe by sea in the first seven months of 2016, with 2,977 dying on the way. The same period in 2015 saw 220,000 arrivals and 1,917 deaths. A week before the EU vote, Nigel Farage posed in front of a poster of Syrian refugees emblazoned with the words “Breaking point”.

“I feel the story has a whole new fresh resonance just because of everything that has been happening around it,” says Bissett. “Not a day goes by when we’re not discussing refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. I feel like the language being used by the UK Government is so pejorative and dehumanising.

“These are people who have been displaced by wars that we, the UK, have had a large hand in instigating. I think this story humanises asylum seekers. It reminds us why they’re here, what they are fleeing from and also that children are caught up in this struggle. Young people in our school system working as hard as they can are getting ripped out and chucked between pillar and post.”

“The whole thrust of the Glasgow Girls story is about that angle of it, saying that children should come under the protection of children’s rights law. I know that that is something the Scottish Government were in favour of at the time but didn’t have the power to do anything about.”

They still don’t. When asked to comment on the current situation, a spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has continually argued that the UK Government should undertake a new approach to asylum seekers, based on integration from day one.

“This approach should prioritise compassion and fairness over punishment and isolation – helping those who want to live and work here more easily integrate into our communities and allowing our national life to benefit from their skills and culture.”

“We remain concerned about the length of time some people are held in immigration detention and also about the detention of people who are highly vulnerable, including those who have survived torture.

“We believe that the presumption should be in favour of community-based resolutions, against detention and that children should never be detained for immigration purposes.”

There will be no shortage of work for Rosa, now a human rights lawyer, and Ammal, whose work with refugees in Greece and Calais was recognised with a Saltire Award last Saturday.

Just five days earlier, Theresa May, who had voted against allowing 3,000 children into the country earlier this year, effectively abolished the post of minister for Syrian refugees. The announcement was accompanied by the closure of Cedars, a specialist centre near Gatwick Airport for housing families facing deportation.

This move will mean the reintroduction of child detention inside general facilities, despite the coalition government’s 2010 pledge to end the holding of minors in such centres, including at Dungavel in Lanarkshire.

When the UK finally triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit, it can also leave behind the protections afforded to refugees under EU law, a situation compounded by the transfer of prisons to private interests such as Serco, temporarily stripped of its contract with the New Zealand government last year following allegations of mistreatment and organised “fight clubs”.

On June 13 the Home Office refused to release information around allegations of rape, abuse and mistreatment at Yarlswood in Bedfordshire, an immigration removal centre where 70 per cent of the female detainees are seeking shelter from sexual violence, an often overlooked weapon of war. The reason, the Home Office said, was in case the details “prejudice the commercial interests of the firms involved”. Though campaigns have been launched demanding full disclosure on the issue, it’s within a context of heightened negativity towards incomers.

Bissett says the positive contribution refugees often make in their new communities are being overlooked or ignored.

“In the case of the Glasgow Girls, they raised the spirits of the whole community who got behind them,” she says. “The asylum seekers were so hard-working, so determined to make something of the opportunity they had been given, they raised the aspirations of the local kids, whose attainment levels were going through the roof.

“There’s a moment in the show when Ewelina is crying at school after being given homework. The teacher says: ‘Everyone hates homework, it’s just something that we have to do’. And Ewelina explains she’s crying because she’s so happy to get homework as girls in Somalia are not allowed to study.

“There was an appreciation of education that the Scottish schoolkids had never witnessed in their lives. It had a ripple effect through the school. For the teachers it was incredible, with all these kids asking for more homework and extra-curricular activities.”

Rather than drive a message about what to think about the issue, Bissett wants to connect the audience with a human story in a way that allows them to raise their own questions.

“I wouldn’t want people to say: ‘That’s just a pro-migration play, that’s just a pro-indy thing, that’s just Bisset banging on about her thing’. Hopefully you’ll see a human story.

“We’re all just trying to do the best for our families, our kids. Everybody on this planet will do whatever it takes to find some safety, find some humanity.

“I hope it brings optimism and a reminder that we could have a different country if we wanted it, a different way of treating people.”

August 4-28 (not 10, 15), Assembly Hall, Edinburgh (V35), edfringe.com

August 30-September 3, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, citz.co.uk

September 14-16, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, macrobertartscentre.org

October 12-15, Dundee Rep Theatre, dundeerep.co.uk