WHAT must have gone through the minds of those six asylum seekers, restrained or harnessed, acc­ording to harrowing reports, and forced onboard a waiting plane to Rwanda last week?

The twists and turns of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s flagship Rwanda policy have been dramatic, to say the least.

The plan – to remove those with claims judged “inadmissible” when they arrived “illegally” from countries like Syria, Sudan and Iran despite there being no legal routes – was announced in April.

Shock soon turned into ­frenetic activity. Campaigners went into overdrive while the UK Government ­doubled down on its claim that the aim was to prevent people making dangerous and unnecessary journeys and ultimately save lives.

Inside Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook, Tinsley and Brook House immigration removal centres, the news spread as a whisper of fear, and built until it was ricocheting off the walls. There were hunger strikes, sleepless nights and growing dread.

The UK Government insisted Rwanda was safe. Some even called racism on the idea that deportation there was a negative.

READ MORE: Priti Patel’s Rwanda deportation plans have clear echoes of slavery

But reports from Israel’s failed scheme to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda from 2014-2017 suggested ­refugee protection was not guaranteed. There were human rights concerns about police ­violence, enforced disappearances and ­arbitrary detentions too.

All the while legal representatives worked night and day to make sure their clients were not on that plane.

To Home Secretary Priti Patel, these ­“activist lawyers” were frustrating the ­system. They argued they were upholding the law.

The numbers dropped – of 130 people ­informed they’d be deported, only 31 would be on the flight on June 14, said officials.

Two court appeals by charities ­joining forces – notably the Public and ­Commercial Services (PCS) union representing ­border force staff who would carry out the ­removals – failed to cancel flights.

By Tuesday afternoon – after weeks of what one man described to me as ­“psychological torture” – only seven were due to be on that evening’s flight.

The European Court of Human Rights successfully intervened in one case at the 11th hour, triggering national legal ­mechanisms that allowed for injunctions in the remaining six cases.

Just after 10pm, the last man was taken off the plane, cancelling its departure. The lawfulness of the plan will be ­properly tested in July.

That Patel claims to remain ­“committed” to the policy is no ­surprise. This was ­always her gig, the final ­reiteration of a barrage of evil plans, ­worthy of a James Bond baddie. They include the “turn-back-the-boats” blockades of the Channel and “floating barricades”.

“Offshoring” was considered in ­Morocco, Papua New Guinea, ­Moldova and the Ascension Islands. Other ­dystopian suggestions included housing asylum seekers on decommissioned oil rigs and disused ferries.

Underpinning it all, the ­Nationality and Borders Bill staggered through ­Parliament with zombie-like relentlessness. Dubbed the “anti-refugee bill” by campaigners and chilling the country’s first and second-generation migrants alike with its proposals to enhance the Government’s abilities to remove citizenship, it is now UK law.

Patel is far from the first politician to come up with an outlandishly cruel and racist immigration policy. Who can ­forget the vans former home secretary ­Theresa May commissioned to drive around ­London’s most ethnically diverse ­neighbours, emblazoned with the instruction to “Go home” (or face arrest)?

The phrase, featuring in racist and fascist National Front graffiti, was first used by the Conservatives in their 2015 election campaign and was as subtle as a brick through a window.

In the same election, the Labour ­Party added a £5 mug to its merchandise ­emblazoned with the words: “Controls on Immigration” (I’m voting Labour 7 May).

Back in 2003 then-prime minister Tony Blair announced plans to cut asylum claimants “by making it extremely difficult for people fleeing from persecution to reach the shores of the UK”. It later emerged he had attempted to persuade the Tanzanian government to process UK claims for asylum.

The National: Home Secretary Priti Patel is calling on MPs to back an overhaul of espionage laws (James Manning/PA)

Rewind further still and Margaret Thatcher – Patel’s inspiration for ­joining the Conservative Party – was the poster politician for embedding racist ­rhetoric within mainstream politics. And in the early 1970s, another Conservative prime ­minister, Edward Heath, argued for ­“administrative” measures to help white immigrants from Australia, New ­Zealand and Canada rather than those from ­Africa, the Caribbean or the Indian ­subcontinent.

More than 50 years later the current Tory government is making a similar argument. No one with a semblance of ­morality would want to undermine the scheme that provided Ukrainians with safe passage to the UK. But what about others in peril?

Heath once argued the UK was simply honouring close ties with the “old” Commonwealth over the “new”. Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that we are simply prioritising our European neighbours.

Yet a system where black and brown people fleeing one war zone could be ­detained and deported, while white ­refugees from another are welcomed with rightly open arms must raise questions.

The argument is that this tough new ­immigration system will act as a deterrent – we must be cruel to be kind and soon such actions will not be needed.

Yet experience says this is not the case. Many people come to join loved ones, have links to the UK through family and history, speak English or simply hold on to an increasingly irrational belief that we will uphold values of fairness here.

Despite austerity policies, Brexit and the woefully inadequate response to the cost of living crisis that make Britain feel broken to many, desperate people will keep doing what it takes, even if that means launching themselves into the ocean on a boat that might not make it.

When Tuesday’s flight was cancelled, Nicola Sturgeon tweeted her “gratitude and respect” for those who worked to ground the “inhumane deportation ­attempt” and said we must resist the Tory assault on the European Convention on Human Rights that looks certain to come.

Earlier that day, she had set out a fresh case for independence. “After ­everything that has happened,” she said then, ­“Brexit, Covid, Boris Johnson – it is time to set out a different and better ­vision.”

The SNP say that vision in ­immigration terms is a system “geared to meet ­Scotland’s needs and founded on ­fairness and human rights”. Meanwhile, the ­Scottish Greens have called for the ­creation of safe and legal routes to the UK and the closure of Dungavel.

Scotland’s attitude to immigration might be a shining beacon when compared to Westminster. But the reserved nature of immigration also makes it an easy political football.

Open-armed welcome may prove more challenging to put into policy if and when the rules are all ours to make. So focus is needed now.

Some polling – as well as high profile pockets of successful resistance like the community action in Kenmure Street in Glasgow (below) to oppose a Home Office immigration raid – may suggest there is a more positive attitude to immigration in Scotland than there is in England.

The National: One of two men are released from the back of an Immigration Enforcement van accompanied by Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, in Kenmure Street, Glasgow which is surrounded by protesters. Picture date: Thursday May 13, 2021.

But as well as celebrating our displays of welcome we must also take the blinkers off and start more open and honest dialogue about Scotland’s colonial legacy and the racism that still pervades too many of our structures and institutions.

It means, too, that we should demand the Scottish Government and local ­authorities push back against the hostile environment wherever devolved power ­allows.

That could include improving anti-trafficking protections by toughening up 2015’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Scotland Act to ensure ­survivors are never amongst those facing deportation.

While Scotland cannot stop the UK ­Government from criminalising the ­simple act of claiming asylum, its Lord ­Advocate can ensure that the offence is never prosecuted here. Scrutiny of the role Police Scotland plays in upholding the UK’s immigration system is arguably overdue.

And the Scottish Government could look to find ways of ensuring that men, women and children housed in often substandard asylum housing in Scotland have the same rights as those in mainstream homeless accommodation.

By doing so Scottish ministers would take their cue from the communities like those in Pollokshields, putting in place legislative resistance and helping the ­vision move closer to reality.

These may sound like small steps. But like the lawyers fighting to prevent one deportation at a time the trick is to focus on the task at hand, putting one foot in front of another until there is an empty flight, an unworkable policy, another chance for change.