Leaders: Labour still fail to nail immigration policy
IN ADMITTING his party “got it wrong” on immigration when in government, Labour leader Ed Miliband has bravely addressed two wrongs.
But in pledging to limit recruitment of foreign workers in future, he is in danger of embarking on a policy quite inappropriate for Scotland. Here immigration has never had salience as a voter issue. And given the demographics of an ageing population, Scotland has good reason to continue to welcome young, working immigrants from beyond the UK.
On Labour’s previous stance on immigration, Mr Miliband has at last admitted that when in government the party got its figures hopelessly wrong and, as a result, played down or denied English voter concerns on the rate of influx into the UK, and fears over the social consequences of such a rapid increase.
Back in 2004, the Labour government allowed free migration to the UK for workers from EU accession states. These included Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But its estimates that only about 13,000 people a year would come to the country were soon wildly wrong. In fact, the peak net migration figure, from the EU and elsewhere, hit 252,000 in 2010.
Gordon Brown then compounded this error with two declarations that begged searching questions as to his grasp of this issue. The first was his promise in 2007 of “British jobs for British workers” – a populist rhetorical slogan designed to win political support for a tough anti-immigration stance. But this party political ploy was impossible to translate into policy because the free movement of people within the EU is enshrined within EU treaties to which the UK is signatory.
Mr Brown then caused himself considerable embarrassment when, during the 2010 general election campaign, he described Gillian Duffy, a pensioner from Rochdale, as a “bigot” after she raised the issue of immigration with him. Many traditional Labour voters took considerable offence, the remark revealing as it did, that the party leader did not understand their concerns.
In his speech yesterday to the Institute of Public Policy Research, Mr Miliband went on to promise measures including forcing medium and large employers to declare if more than a quarter of their workforce is foreign.
But Scotland has not experienced immigration on the scale which gave rise to protests from English voters. And indeed there is a powerful case for a devolution of immigration policy so that Scotland can continue to attract workers from non-EU countries. This of necessity would require some scrutiny over subsequent movement to prevent Scotland being used by immigrants as a back door to the Midlands and the south of England.
But Scotland should continue to welcome immigrants for a wide variety of reasons – not least to augment a growing workforce in care and ancillary services for an ageing population.
Healing a historic wound
HISTORY is a relentless progression of the unthinkable. A decade ago the idea that the Queen would agree to meet and shake hands with Martin McGuinness, a former leader of the IRA, would have been dismissed as absurd and fantastical. In 1979 the paramilitary group murdered the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten while he was on holiday in the Republic of Ireland. And the IRA has routinely boycotted Royal visits to Ireland, not least because the Queen is head of the UK armed forces.
But bloody and traumatic though the past has been, time moves on. Mr McGuinness who has been a major figure in the peace process, found an improbable modus vivendi with the outspoken Ulster Unionist Iain Paisley, and has for five years been deputy first minister of Northern Ireland.
Given the depth of anti-British feeling within the IRA, the agreement to accept the invitation to meet and shake hands with the Queen at a charity reception in Belfast next week has involved considerable word swallowing. But a telling indication of how popular attitudes are changing came with the successful visit by the Queen to the Irish Republic in May of last year. The warmth of the reception marked a critical validation of the progress made through a prolonged and at times fraught peace progress. On a historical perspective, the handshake next week may be viewed as problematic. But it is to the future that both Northern Ireland and the Republic must look to cement the hard won stability on which economic progress and social well-being on both sides of the border vitally depend. It is for that reason, this, for both sides, is more than a gesture of reconciliation.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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