Last week a new low was reached in the debate about illegal immigration. In its wisdom, the UK Government decided that it would tackle the UK’s dreadful record on illegal immigration by putting billboards on the back of vans then trail them through the streets of London telling illegal immigrants to go home.
Now forget about the fact that if you’re an illegal immigrant in the UK you may very well be unlikely to read any English, and let’s just gloss over that most illegal immigrants on seeing these vans would just go underground and therefore become even more difficult to detect. The main question is what were they for and to whom were they really addressed?
These vans were driven through areas of London where there are large minority populations and the reponse has been predictably negative. Sarah Teather, the former Coalition minister and a London MP, summed it up most succinctly when she said that “the billboards were reminiscent of graffiti and signs seen at the height of anti-immigrant racism in the 70s”. They were also roundly condemned by London civic leaders and curiously by Nigel Farage (who they are ostensibly aimed at appeasing).
This stunt of course has got nothing to do with illegal immigrants but everything to do with the rise of Mr Farage’s UKIP in parts of England. It was all about trying to be seen to do something tough on immigration so that the issue is taken out of the hands of Farage. The Tories are now in a race to the bottom with UKIP to see who is the hardest on immigration rhetoric.
The UK’s record on illegal immigration is absolutely appalling. It is reckoned that somewhere up to 570 000 illegal immigrants are at large in the UK just now and we have just about the worst record of any European country in dealing with this issue. Illegal immigration has to be tackled sensibly, and we have to make sure that those who are not entitled to be here are returned home.
And what about Scotland? Well, there are no particular figures for Scotland but what we do know is that illegal immigration is significantly below the levels experienced south of the border. In Scotland, Police Scotland regularly check businesses with a history of harboring illegal immigrants and have had reasonable success in detecting those who have no right to be here. Only a few months ago 50 illegal immigrants were caught in an intelligence led police operation across Scotland.
And this is what we would do in an independent Scotland. Have the police lead operations based on available intelligence, utilising community knowledge. We could also do more to ensure the safety at our borders. The cuts in UKBA staff at out ports have left them more vulnerable to illegal immigration and this is something that needs to be addressed.
What we won’t do is indulge in pathetic stunts and I have written to the Home Secretary asking her not to bring these vans to Scotland. We value our good community relations in Scotland and we shouldn’t have them compromised by silly posters that achieve nothing except provoke, and will actually be counter-productive.