Scotland ‘should be able to go its own way in migration’

Joseph Stiglitz says some immigration powers should be devolved. Picture: Getty
Joseph Stiglitz says some immigration powers should be devolved. Picture: Getty
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Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has said control over immigration should be devolved to Scotland.

Mr Stiglitz, who sits on the Scottish Government council of economic advisers and advises Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, said Scotland’s different economic needs meant that immigration should be managed differently north of the Border.

The comments will add weight to calls from the SNP and some Labour MPs who want immigration powers to be included in a new post-Brexit constitutional settlement.

Allies of Mr Corbyn within the group of Scottish MPs have said they will lobby their colleagues from the rest of the UK for a federal constitutional convention to include discussion of a separate immigration regime.

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Asked about the case for devolution of immigration on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland, Mr Stiglitz said: “It fits into a complicated issue of devolution and what powers are given to Scotland.

“It’s very clear, just to take one example – Scotland’s approach to education is very different from that of England. Scotland for many years has been trying to ensure that everybody has access to education but keeping fees low, and being very open to the rest of the world rather than being more closed.

“So given that there are these fundamental differences in values and in economic needs, it seems to me that it is certainly an appropriate issue to be on the table that Scotland should have the powers to go its own way in migration policy.”

Committees in both House of Parliament at Westminster have called on the government to consider devolution of some immigration powers. One model being suggested is the immigration system in Canada, where provinces are able to support industries that need additional workers through local migration targets, while the overall system is operated by the federal government.

Mr Stiglitz, who backed Scottish independence in 2014, said he was still “sympathetic” to the case for leaving the Union in the wake of Brexit and said negotiations in Brussels were heading for a “disaster”. He claimed that if Scotland were to “go its own way” and re-join the EU, “it would resolve a lot of the uncertainties that are being created by the mismanagement of Brexit”.

Mr Stiglitz added: “When you had a referendum a couple of years ago it seemed to me at that time it was very clear that the values and policies of Scotland were moving in a markedly different direction from those in England and that within the broader context of the EU, you might say the greater devolution of powers that might be associated with independence would be of value.”

However, the Nobel laureate had a less welcome message for Nicola Sturgeon on controversial research into a universal basic income.

Mr Stiglitz said handing out public money to all as an alternative to the benefits system could shift support away from those who need it most.

Ms Sturgeon has come under fire for authorising a study of the scheme, which could cost as much as £3.6 billion to roll out. The First Minister admitted last week that a basic income “might not turn out to be feasible”.

“I do worry about two things,” Mr Stiglitz said. “One, there’s fiscal constraints. Should this scarce money be used to give everybody a basic amount or should it be targeted at those who have particularly strong needs? I think there needs to be some targeting.

“Secondly, over the long run, our responsibility as a society is to make sure everybody who wants a job can get one. The underlying problems of lack of employment and lack of adequate pay – anybody who works full time ought to have a liveable income – those are the issues that in the long run we need to address.”

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The Nobel laureate was in Edinburgh to take part in the launch of a new forum,the Commission on Global Economic Transformation, which will produce a report in 2019 aimed at helping economies deal with the challenges of global warming, rapid technological change and mass migration.

SNP MSP Maree Todd said: “Joseph Stiglitz is one of the world’s leading economists and is respected across political parties.

“Today he has warned that May’s mismanagement of Brexit is increasing the uncertainties and worsening the outcome for businesses across the UK – and confirmed that an independent Scotland in the EU is an excellent way to mitigate this chaos.”