AS a foreigner living in Scotland, I have had the privilege of experiencing life in two different countries, affording me a unique perspective on the challenges faced by the United Kingdom.

My status has gifted me a set of fresh lenses through which to view life both here and in France, my home country.

And let’s address the elephant in the room, because I know that this column will inevitably trigger this reaction: the notion that if I’m unhappy with the UK’s situation, I can simply catch the next flight back home. Well, yes, I could, and believe me when I say that the conversation about going back to France is now about when, not if.

However, I am not going to, for the moment, even if the appeal of reasonable childcare expenses, accessible dental care, lower housing and food bills get stronger by the day. Still, I want you to know that my comparisons with France aren’t complaints but eye-opening illustrations of disparities.

You see, the reason I am in Scotland today is because... I am a privileged immigrant, and I was able to choose where I wanted to live. I wasn’t fleeing violence, persecution or poverty: I just wanted to realise a long-cherished dream and pursue promising professional adventures.

Yet, even as I am grateful for the opportunities I got here, I can’t ignore the stark disparities that distinguish the UK from its Western European counterparts. My observations aren’t born out of unhappiness; they’re rooted in the belief that acknowledging room for improvement is key, and recognising that the UK’s challenges have deeper roots than mere bad luck.

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As the next year’s general elections approach, I find myself in a unique position. I may not have a ballot, but I do have a voice – an outsider’s voice that aims to provoke thought and spark conversations.

I won’t have a vote in these crucial decisions that will shape the country’s path.

However, what I can contribute is a perspective unburdened by years of familiarity, a perspective that enables me to see beyond the status quo. It is about using my newcomer’s view to hold up a mirror to this country, to help those who will be able to make a decision that will influence all of our lives see their land through my eyes, to encourage reflection on both strengths and shortcomings.

So, a few months before the general elections, I ask you to do yourself a favour: talk to your foreign friends and ask them what they think of your country. After all, the Scots know it better than anybody else: O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us…

That could help challenge complacency and make you think that positive change might not be that impossible to achieve.

The escalating cost of living is a reality that doesn’t discriminate. Whether it is grocery bills or energy costs, the basics are stretching budgets thin. Just finding a home is now proving to be a massive challenge for people who never thought they would face that sort of struggle.

This month, I had the displeasure of facing Edinburgh’s housing market and quite literally fell off my chair when I saw what rents had become. As I sought out a new place to live, I found that rents had significantly escalated since my last move in 2021, further underscoring the challenges individuals face in finding affordable accommodations.

This isn’t just random chance; it is a direct outcome of policy choices that have shaped the housing landscape. The scarcity of social housing, the continuous push for privatisation and the general lack of regulation for a long time have led to soaring rental prices, leaving countless individuals grappling to secure stable housing.

The divergence in energy bills drives home the point that while global factors like the pandemic and geopolitical tensions cast a wide net, the impact isn’t shouldered uniformly.

Blaming the country’s plight on sheer misfortune is a convenient narrative. If the Tories had a catchphrase, it might well be “It’s bad luck innit, the moon was in Scorpio” – offering a simple answer to intricate problems. Yet, this approach sidesteps the responsibility for the current state of affairs.

Have the people of the UK become so accustomed to this situation that they have lost the ability to demand more? Is this why, despite the Tories plunging in the polls, the alternative, Labour, aren’t prepared to challenge harmful policies such as the two-child cap? These questions linger in the air, as a curious foreigner ponders whether complacency has woven itself into the fabric of public discourse.

Everybody can see it: things are not going well for the UK, but somehow, it feels that people accept that this is the way things are supposed to be. On the contrary, affordable housing, accessible healthcare and quality education aren’t extravagant wishes; they are the bedrock of a flourishing society.

A significant number of my European friends, as outsiders looking in, examine the way things work in the UK, particularly within the housing sector. Their reactions often echo a shared sentiment: how is this even possible? How is this allowed to happen?

Take, for instance, the “offers over” approach prevalent in the UK property market. This system, where potential buyers are encouraged to bid amounts exceeding the stated property value just to secure accommodation, is mystifying. To my European friends and me, this seems like a puzzling way to handle housing transactions, as it appears to inflate costs beyond logical parameters.

Moreover, the concept of individuals having to acquire loans with fluctuating interest rates to afford housing is another head-scratcher. In many European countries, stable interest rates are often the norm, and the idea of subjecting homeowners to unpredictable financial adjustments in the form of interest rate fluctuations is simply mind-boggling.

These observations exemplify how a foreign perspective can shed light on practices that locals might have grown accustomed to over time. The incredulity expressed by my European friends underscores that the status quo the UK knows isn’t a universal norm, and the way things are done in the UK can appear astonishing from a different vantage point.

It is this fresh outlook that encourages us to question existing systems, consider alternatives and work towards solutions that align with equitable and sensible standards.

Scotland has so much going for it, and that is exactly why I have grown to love my life here. The openness, the genuine sense of welcome and that feeling of being right at home – these are truly priceless. It is all of these reasons that make it tough to imagine living anywhere else at the moment.

Yet, while I am genuinely happy with where I am, there is this nagging thought that the UK’s current state could complicate things down the line. The truth is, with all the challenges the country is facing, it is hard not to question the long-term picture. These broader issues sometimes cast a shadow on the positives that I have come to cherish about life in Scotland.

So go ahead, ask your foreign friend – they just might offer a reality check that sets us on a path toward a better future.