FIVE years ago this week, my family faced a frankly ridiculous number of newsies in the foyer of Holyrood, as the battle that the Home Office foisted upon us was really ramping up. For six months, we lived in a goldfish bowl, with our case in particular, and immigration as a whole, becoming a national debate through the prism of the 2016 Brexit vote.

The National has been in touch to ask how we’re travelling now, five years on. The short answer is that we’re back to being just another family living a quiet life in a Highland village, and we’re loving it.

The seven-year-old Lachlan of 2016 is now 12, and is less than an inch away from being taller than his 5’8” mother. He will be towering over me before he’s done. Lachlan’s finishing his last year of primary school and will be off to Dingwall Academy after the summer. He’s continuing to pursue his passions for clarsach and karate, despite the challenges of having to learn both remotely during lockdown.

I’m currently the health and safety officer for a university, and absolutely loving the challenges. Kathy has been helping friends with research on their historical building, and trying to figure out whether Bonnie Prince Charlie stopped there as he fled west from Culloden (alas, he probably didn’t).

We’ve lost both of our fathers in Australia, and attending funerals remotely was very hard. In a strange way, this gave us another insight into the Scottish condition. Given that the diaspora sent Scottish family members to the Antipodes and elsewhere, this must be a sadly common experience. It didn’t occur to us that we might experience it ourselves, in an oddly mirrored fashion.

Unfortunately, our battles with the Home Office are far from over. The visa the Home Office gave us in 2016 was for just 12 months. We’ve had to apply for new visas in 2017, and again last year. And we’ll be doing it again in 2023. We’ve paid the Home Office £6000 in Immigration Health Surcharges alone since 2016. That’s just to allow us to use the NHS – in spite of the fact that we pay for the NHS in our tax and National Insurance contributions, just like everybody else. On top of that are the actual visa fees, and our own legal costs.

For better or worse, we’ve been marked by Westminster. Before Lachlan was born, and Kathy and I had money to spare, we travelled a lot. By 2016 we’d probably entered the UK maybe eight or 10 times. Each time we’d breeze through immigration, pretty much without breaking stride.

SINCE 2016, I’ve re-entered the UK three times: I’ve spoken twice at The Hague, and the whole family did an emergency trip to Australia when Kathy’s father was critically ill. Each time on return, without fail, we’ve been detained. We’ve had to argue against being put straight on to another flight out of the UK.

But the attention given to our battle has meant that there have been many changes for the better, and this gives our trials some measure of meaning.

The protest in Pollokshields, which very effectively stymied an unjust Home Office dawn raid, has shown that Scotland is still making sure that a spotlight of scrutiny is being shone brightly on the Home Office, even if that’s only happening north of the Tweed. Prior to our case, people suffered their battles with the monolithic Home Office in isolation and silence, because it simply wasn’t part of the national conversation. I’m filled with joy that Scotland still remembers, and continues to look out for its own, no matter where they were born.

THE most important thing is that, Home Office battles aside, our lives have been pleasantly normal. We’re not homeless, like we were in 2016. We rent a wee place where we can see the town hall clock from our front door, and watch the wildflower seeds that we planted oh-so-optimistically in April now start to come up.

We’re not forbidden from working, and I’m able to use my skillset in education, health and safety; Kathy is able to pursue her passion for historical research to help friends with their businesses.

And we’re no longer in the goldfish bowl of 2016. People don’t stare; there’s just that wonderful Scottish village experience of constantly bumping into friends and stopping for a quick chat.

Going forward, I’ll continue adding to the hundreds of pro-independence articles I’ve written for blogs like Spider Principle – it’s therapy for me, and whether anybody actually reads what I write is sort of secondary. It helps to keep me focused on the day when the price we paid will be rewarded – with a Scotland that is allowed to welcome whoever it chooses within its borders.

And if as a part of the independence celebrations, Scotland’s very first citizenship certificate has the name “Lachlan Brain” on it – well in that moment, I’ll count my life complete.