'New Scots' from Poland doing us proud

FROM delis to building services, bars and churches, their influence is hard to miss.

In the three years since EU movement restrictions were relaxed, at least 60,000 Poles have settled in Scotland.

But while some immigrant communities remain isolated from their new homes, Poles it seems, have integrated themselves into British life with remarkable ease.

Indeed a survey yesterday revealed Polish migrants have settled so well that they may well be more "British" than many British people, scoring higher in the Home Office's Life in the UK test than any other nationality.

They now provide such a boost to the workforce that business leaders admit to worrying what modern-day Scotland would do without them.

In towns and cities across Scotland, appearances of the Polish flag are increasingly commonplace. And there is growing evidence of the Polish language, customs, culture and ways of life on the nation's streets and workplaces.

The huge influx of Poles has not only helped fill thousands of job vacancies, but has brought other benefits for the nation, including improving transport links, a blossoming cultural scene and even a boom for Catholic churches.

Polish people have helped address major shortages of skilled and qualified employees in a range of crucial sectors, such as building and construction, tourism and hospitality, and the health service, particularly dentistry.

A string of new businesses have opened up across the country – from delicatessens and cafs, to bakers, hairdressers and children's toy shops.

Catholic churches have seen congregations soar, with special Polish services now held at the likes of St Simon's in Glasgow and St Mary's in Edinburgh.

Air links to eastern Europe have taken off in the past few years, with direct links inaugurated to the likes of Warsaw, Gdansk and Katowice.

Polish cultural associations have sprung up across the country, while there have been Polish comedy nights, showcases of Polish theatre and cinema and even club nights.

After English, Polish is now the main language spoken in almost a third of Scotland's council areas.

The influx of people from Poland is said to be one of the main factors why the number of people in work in Scotland is at an all-time high.

Iain McMillan, director of the CBI in Scotland, said: "Some very well-known construction companies were saying to me very recently that they don't know what they would have done without the influx of Polish people in Scotland, and they are right.

"We would have some very serious manpower shortages in areas like building and constructions, and tourism and hospitality. You can see the impact Polish people are having in our hotels and restaurants because of the quality of service they can offer.

"The thing many employers notice is their work ethic. They don't have the same social security and benefits safety nets in Poland that we have in the UK."

Graham Bell, spokesman for the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "For a start, Polish people are generally keen to get out of bed in the morning; they want to work.

"Many of them have come to Scotland with a lot of skills and qualifications, and when they've arrived they've been keen to secure more of them.

"The Polish people who have settled in Scotland seem to show a willingness to fit in with the Scots, and integrate into our culture and ways of life, as well as celebrate their own traditions and culture."

Elizabeth Rychlik-Sharp, secretary of the Scottish Polish Cultural Association, said: "Poland doesn't have too many big cities and many people have settled in Scotland because they like the quiet way of life and the atmosphere. Somewhere like London can be quite oppressive.

"Although a lot of Polish people may start off with relatively low-paid jobs in Scotland, they are keen to improve their English and also learn new skills by taking night classes.

"You only have to walk around somewhere like Edinburgh to see the influences of Polish people, with all the new shops and cafs that are springing up."

Links between Poland and Scotland date back to at least the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose mother was a Polish royal.

The first major influx of Poles to Scotland came during the Second World War. Many Poles who had fled their homeland after it was invaded by the Nazis carried on the fight as members of the UK-based Polish Free Army and in Polish squadrons attached to the RAF.

Polish troops and pilots distinguished themselves throughout the war, flying in the Battle of Britain and taking part in the heroic raid on the Netherlands made famous in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far.

In Glasgow, Polish troops based at Yorkhill Barracks marched on Sundays to mass at St Simon's Church in Partick.

After the war ended with Poland a Soviet satellite, many Poles opted to stay in Scotland.

St Simon's remained a focus for the Polish community and still holds Sunday mass in Polish for the thousands of Poles living in the Glasgow area.

Graphic designer Marian Klamiec, 29, from Portobello, has been living in Edinburgh for the past three years.

He said: "Finding work in Poland is a big problem for many young people and it's the main reason why there are so many people coming to the UK.

"A big part of me coming to Edinburgh was what I had heard about the city's culture and its festivals, like Hogmanay. As a city, it is not huge but has lots for people to enjoy.

"Polish people are keen to integrate themselves into the community here, but we are also keen to celebrate our own traditions and celebrations."

Veteran Edinburgh arts impresario Richard Demarco said has been visiting Poland and bringing Polish acts and companies to Scotland since the 1960s.

He said: "Some of the most important culture in Europe is produced in Poland, including theatre, music and visual art.

"I've always been overwhelmed by the energy of Polish people and we're beginning to see that reflected in Scotland.

"It's obvious that they are extremely well educated and hard-working and their influx has almost single-handedly saved the Catholic Church in this country.

"They are now beginning to have the kind of influence that the Italians have had in Scotland over successive generations.

"I do think the influx of Polish people is actually affecting the way we view immigrants in Scotland. I think it will also change the way we see Scotland's place in Europe."

POLE POSITION IN BRITISHNESS TEST

POLISH people came out on top of the "Britishness League" in a Facebook survey in which more than 15,000 users of the social networking site took part.

Of the 11,118 British people who sat the citizenship test, only 1,585 or 14 per cent, achieved the pass score.

The 49 Polish respondents scored an average of 15.2 for the 24 questions.

But Britons only achieved an average of 14.4, ranking them sixth, behind Finland, Sweden, Germany and New Zealand.

Americans came bottom of the "Britishness league", scoring an average of 12.9, just behind Commonwealth countries Canada and Australia.

The Facebook test, organised by UK firm Red Squirrel Publishing, was based on the Home Office's Life in the UK test, which was introduced in November 2005 for people applying for British citizenship or indefinite leave to remain.

The citizenship test examines knowledge of British life, laws and institutions, through 24 multiple choice questions. The computer-based test is one of the last hurdles for immigrants in the process of gaining British citizenship.

People who are eligible for naturalisation as a British citizen must send a test pass certificate with their citizenship application form.

More than 437,000 applicants have taken the Home Office's test since it was introduced in November 2005. But one in three people have failed the test.

Questions in the sample test included "How often are general elections held?" (at least every five years), "What is the largest ethnic minority in Britain?" (Indian descent) and "What is a gap year?"

The 45-minute Home Office exam, which costs 34, can be taken in more than 100 Life in the UK test centres across the country.

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