LAST month, I celebrated my first anniversary of my moving back to Scotland. What a curious time to pick, as an EU citizen, to come to live in the UK, I’ve been told time and time again. I know, right? It was only two years after the UK voted to leave the EU, there were stories about the rise of xenophobia and racism and the future seemed very uncertain.

But still, I decided to pack my things and live in Edinburgh, a city I discovered as a 20-year-old Erasmus student nine years ago. I don’t regret it. In fact, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I deliberately chose Scotland knowing I would feel at home here.

As a freelance journalist, mainly working for the French media, the past 12 months have been thrilling. I got to travel all around Scotland, meet fascinating people from all walks of life, write and produce features about the nation’s achievements, issues and challenges and even create a podcast in French – Ecosse Toujours – with a friend.

What really motivates me is attempting to draw an accurate picture of what contemporary Scotland looks like for readers who might only know about tartan, bagpipes and postcard landscapes. Of course, there are many problems in this country: inequalities, exclusion, violence and intolerance sometimes. Nobody should ever be complacent about these, and so much more needs to be done to put them where they belong – in history books. But does it mean you shouldn’t celebrate what makes people want to live in your country?

There are so many things you can congratulate yourselves for: keeping university free, abolishing prescription charges, taking a public health approach to reduce violence, offering free sanitary products to eradicate period poverty… Sometimes I wish my country, France, looked in your direction for inspiration and ideas.

One particular thing that I find inspiring about Scotland is your openness, your inclusivity and your refusal to become narrow-minded and isolated. It is sufficiently rare in this day and age, as far-right ideas are gaining popularity and even get to be broadcast on live TV, to be highlighted. These days, immigration is mainly discussed as a problem to solve, preferably by putting up walls, closing borders and really insisting that the immigrants already in the country will need to prove their worth and their right to stay.

As an immigrant myself, who only became French when I was in primary school, I know that it is tiring and frankly depressing to hear, day in, day out, that you are unwanted, and to see that a significant part of the population just wishes you weren’t here at all.

I think I speak for a lot of EU citizens when I say this: Brexit is very stressful. The uncertainty about our future rights, the constant stream of fear-inducing news and the incendiary rhetoric weigh heavily on our minds and may even exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. Academics at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University have studied this phenomenon.

However, as the Brexit drama continues, I am glad to be able to see it from Scotland. Professionally, because it is an incredible time to witness history unfold before my very eyes, and the debates Scotland is having about its future as part of the UK and the EU keep me on tenterhooks. “BBC Parliament has been riveting all week” is not something I ever thought I’d write.

Personally, because I have never been made to feel that I didn’t belong here. It is quite the contrary: these past few months, I was reassured to hear politicians across the political spectrum in the Scottish Parliament say that the impact of immigration on Scotland was overwhelmingly positive.

Many fellow EU citizens told me how much it meant to them to receive a letter from Nicola Sturgeon a few days after the 2016 referendum telling them that “Scotland is your home, you are welcome here, and the contribution that you make to our economy, our society and our culture is valued”.

I was heartened to have people I had just met tell me that of course I was Scottish, despite my name, my accent and my lack of British passport, because I lived here and was part of the community.

And I was heartbroken to hear them apologise for a Brexit they didn’t choose, or at the very least for the direction Brexit seems to be taking. Seventy-four per cent of voters in my constituency, Leith, voted to remain in the EU, and it shows: there is even a massive EU flag in my local gym!

It is nice to feel safe and accepted. Don’t just take it from me: research from the University of Birmingham says this feeling is widely shared among EU citizens on this side of the Border.

I am well aware that living in a city such as Edinburgh puts me in a bubble, and my experience as a French national might be very different from the experience of an immigrant from outside the EU or the experience of a Scottish person from a BAME background.

But still, pretty much everyone I have ever encountered here, in real life or on social media, gave me good reasons to believe that I was in the right place and made me proud to call Scotland home.

EARLIER this year, I tweeted a photo I took with the First Minister at the Scottish Parliament. It was a bet with some friends of mine: I was tasked with taking a selfie with Nicola Sturgeon within a year of being in Scotland.

The positive reactions drowned the few negative ones. I was genuinely moved by the people who joked that I was weird for choosing Scotland’s cold, damp weather, congratulated me for becoming a new Scot, even thanked me for choosing Scotland and encouraged me to bring my loved ones.

This kind of enthusiasm is usually reserved to the “worthy” foreigners who commit acts of bravery, not to regular immigrants taking full advantage of the freedom of movement as I did.

In these deeply divisive times, seeing this level of openness warms my heart and makes me optimistic for the future of this country.

My point here isn’t to say that Scotland is perfect, far from it. It isn’t either to eulogise everything Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government do.

I am just saying that if there are still many EU citizens who are considering moving to Scotland (and believing the messages I get from Ecosse Toujours’ listeners, there are), and if EU citizens feel safer and more welcome here, despite Brexit, then surely this country is doing something right.

I don’t know what the future holds for myself or for Scotland. Will I struggle to get my pre-settled status? Will Scotland have another go at an independence referendum? When will Brexit happen? Will it happen at all?

Whatever lies ahead, these are exceptional times. We share the uncertainties, and we share this ambition to keep our minds and hearts open.

Barring mind-blowing plot twists, I am not going anywhere: I will keep writing and talking about this captivating country of yours (should I say of ours?), and hope for the best.

When I see racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and all kinds of hatred on the rise, some mainstream politicians, elected representatives, peddling hate for electoral point-scoring, I worry about the direction we are taking as a society.

I truly believe that now is not the time to remain seated, silent and complacent. If you truly believe in our common humanity and the equality of all, irrespective of political leaning, then now more than ever we need to say it out loud.

We don’t have the luxury to be shy about it. I am glad to have chosen a country that understands that, in the words of Scots Makar Jackie Kay:

“Our strength is our difference.
Dinny fear it. Dinny caw canny.”