Leaders: Scotland story always includes a welcome

A political consensus is now developing to allow students to stay on and work. Picture: Ian Rutherford
A political consensus is now developing to allow students to stay on and work. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Abraham Caplan from Vilnius you came/You were heading for New York but Leith’s where you’ve stayed/You built a great business which benefits all/Since you came to this land with nothing at all

In Scotland’s story I read that they came/The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane/But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine/They’re all Scotland’s Story and they’re all worth the same

Scotland has a long history of immigration as spelled out in the song Scotland’s Story by the Proclaimers. Some of it has been troubled. And the scars live on today. But ultimately all of those who have chosen Scotland as their home, for whatever reason, are part of our country’s rich tapestry. And Scotland is the better for it.

We are a trading nation. Exporting talent around the world and taking in others who seek to make a contribution here.

Scottish education minister Alasdair Allan has warned that Scotland must “attract the brightest and best” to meet the country’s future needs. The fear is that the scrapping of the Fresh Talent Initiative in 2012 – as part of a UK drive to cut immigration – is harming Scotland’s global reputation.

A political consensus is now developing in Holyrood to reinstate a post-study work visa to allow students who come to study here to stay on and work for perhaps one or two years.

In the hugely competitive global education market, where Scotland has to compete against universities in the United States, England and elsewhere, the post-study visa was a significant competitive lever. It is little surprise that the number of non-EU foreign students in Scotland has stalled at about 28,500.

A reintroduction of the policy is not only right for the university sector but also for businesses. And it fits with a narrative that Scotland is a welcoming nation.

However, suggesting that our global reputation could be damaged is overstated. Even the hugely successful Commonwealth Games in Glasgow barely moved the dial and the absence of a post-work study visa wouldn’t dent the view of Scotland around the world.

However, that doesn’t undermine the central case that the UK and Scottish governments should work together to explore a new post-study work scheme for Scotland.

What may surprise some is that opinion polls suggest that the Scottish public isn’t so united on this issue.

A recent YouGov poll for the BBC found just 5 per cent want to see immigration increased, with 64 per cent supporting reduction. The 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes survey found 62 per cent saying the number of migrants to Britain should be reduced.

So are our MSPs, business and education leaders out of touch? Or could it be argued they are simply leading public opinion on this issue?

Jolie effect is a real healthcare bonus

There is no arguing that celebrities can play an important role in raising awareness of health issues.

Whether you are a fan of Angelina Jolie or not, she should be praised for her honesty and openness about her own condition. Two years after a double mastectomy, she has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer, the disease that killed her mother at age 56. Jolie had the surgery last week after blood tests showed what could have been early signs of the disease.

Jolie was applauded in May 2013 when she revealed that she had had a double mastectomy after testing positive for an inherited mutation in the BRCA-1 gene. It was praised as a watershed moment in efforts to persuade women to get screened for breast cancer and to raise awareness of the need for early detection.

A study in the journal Breast Cancer Research confirmed “the Angelina Jolie effect”, with a notable surge in referrals for UK women to have the same genetic test. Demand almost doubled and the data showed no increase in inappropriate referrals, suggesting it was not simply the “worried well” requesting the test, but those who would genuinely benefit. Overall, lives were saved because of Jolie’s decision to talk publicly. Other figures such as Jade Goody, Roy Castle and Terry Pratchett have all helped to focus attention on areas on public health.

However, recent research has found that cervical screening had since slumped to a ten-year low. The truth is that “awareness raising” is temporary. The effort must continue and it’s often up to the charities and government to maintain the focus. We cannot simply rely on another Angelina.

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