SCOTLAND’s external affairs minister Humza Yousaf has warned that “inflamed” rhetoric from Westminster politicians risks creating tensions over immigration.
The SNP minister’s stark warning came as Labour leader Ed Miliband promised to end what he called the UK’s “chronic dependency” on cheap foreign labour if he wins the next general election.
Prime Minister David Cameron also said immigration to the UK has been too high in the past decade, claiming the “scale was too big and the pace too fast” under Labour governments.
However, Mr Yousaf said the UK government should be “extraordinarily careful” of its language on immigration and not “kowtow” to an agenda driven by the anti-EU party Ukip.
Mr Yousaf’s intervention followed claims that the lifting of border restrictions from last Wednesday has raised fears that tens of thousands of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants could arrive in Britain.
The minister – whose parents came to the UK in the 1960s from Pakistan and Kenya – pointed out immigration policy is currently reserved to the UK government as he criticised Westminster’s record on the issue.
Mr Yousaf also insisted an independent Scotland would have a “controlled immigration system” but suggested Holyrood would be more responsible than Westminster in dealing with the issue.
He said: “Rhetoric and hyperbole describing floods or invasions of immigrants coming to the UK in the last week does nothing but potentially heighten any tensions that may exist.
“Politicians and governments have a duty to act responsibly in respect to immigration.
“An independent Scotland will operate a controlled immigration system that meets our own social, economic and demographic needs.”
His intervention came after temporary barriers withholding full working rights from Bulgarians and Romanians were lifted in the UK – and in eight other EU countries – on New Year’s Day.
Bulgarians and Romanians could travel visa-free to the UK from 2007 when the countries joined the EU, but until now could only work under conditions such as being self-employed or taking a specialist post a UK worker could not fill.
Mr Miliband said low-skilled immigration was making the cost of living crisis worse as he promised to stop firms paying agency staff less than permanent workers by closing a loophole in the law.
He said: “We have to change our country’s chronic dependency on low-skill, low-wage labour. A dependency that is getting worse not better.
“What chance of rising living standards for all when unscrupulous firms can exploit workers from abroad to get around the minimum wage?
“What chance of giving everyone a fair shot when recruitment agencies are allowed to recruit only from overseas, excluding those in the area
from even hearing about the jobs?”