This week the UK Parliament passed the immigration Bill. It is a nasty, pernicious, rotten bill that will charge migrants for health services and turn those who rent homes in the private rented sector into immigration officers. Not quite satisfied with that, the Government tabled further amendments to allow the Home secretary to strip UK citizens of their citizenship and further erode our rights under the European Convention of Human Rights. Not even happy with that, Tory backbenchers wanted to include measures to stop Eastern Europeans in the EU from coming to the UK.
There is now an appalling race to the bottom between this Tory government and UKIP to see who can be the hardest on immigration and I just wonder where it will end. Such was the scale of the unbridled xenophobia of this bill that the Government should just have let Nigel Farage take this bill through from the dispatch box. In a remarkable day on Thursday the Government abstained and counted on Labour to stop their backbenchers passing some of the more barmy (illegal) measures. Then Labour sat on their hands and allowed this rotten bill to become law.
Are we like this in Scotland and is this what Scotland wants?
Well, when asked in an opinion poll last week, the pollsters found very little difference between concerns about immigration in Scotland and the rest of the UK. And, when asked directly, I have little doubt that Scots are concerned about immigration. The Scots are exposed to the same defiant anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right wing press and Nigel Farage is as much an ever present on Scottish TVs as he is south of the border. In Scotland we have exactly the same immigration laws and we are constantly told that they must become even more restrictive to protect us from the various ‘floods’ ‘millions’ or ‘whatever’, of ‘foreigners’ that will erode our way of life. Even ‘Better Together’ has started to chillingly use the term ‘foreigner’ in a similarly pejorative way!
All of this has an impact. But – and it’s a big but – there just doesn’t seem to be the same heat in the debate in Scotland. Scotland is concerned about immigration but we just don’t get excited about it the same way that our friends South of the border seem to do. Last week we found that immigration now tops the UK charts as the issue that most concerns the public, in Scotland it barely makes the top 10. Scotland also does not vote UKIP, the party that has made immigration along with EU exit it’s defining issues. If Scotland really cared as much about immigration it would vote like the rest of the UK for parties that actively campaign on the issue and have made immigration a major part of their programme.
But they don’t. Instead Scotland votes for a Government that couldn’t sound any more different from the UK Tory Government on immigration and we are a better country for that. The difference in how the two Governments see immigration is best demonstrated in their various responses to the annual census of net migration. In Scotland when we see an increase in our population we celebrate the good news. In London it couldn’t make them more miserable. Our debate is also better informed by the contribution from civil society and from practically all of our political community – even Scotland’s right wing press finds it hard to get much traction from the ubiquitous ‘boot them out’ stories.
The Scots are also becoming increasingly aware of our own population and demographic requirements. Only 20 or so years ago there was a real fear that our population would dip below the iconic 5 million mark. There is therefore a greater realisation that our population remains more fragile than south of the border and we have demographic issues that we require to address in the interests of our general economy.
The No campaign want to try and present a Scotland that is little different from the rest of the UK when it comes to immigration and other social attitudes. But just take a look at the UK opinion polls. The combined Tory/UKIP poll is approaching 50% but in Scotland the latest opinion poll found support for the ‘soft on immigration’ SNP at 43%.
The Scottish people have historically always positively accommodated immigration and one of the greatest sayings in Scotland is that ‘we are all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ .Scotland is better than the appalling immigration bill that was passed last week in the UK Parliament, and as an independent country, we will show that to the world