Duhan van der Merwe's scintillating rugby should be a reminder of the value of all 'migrant workers' – Ian Johnston

Would Scotland have beaten England at Murrayfield without players from overseas who have chosen to make this country their home?

"I love playing for Scotland and I’m just so happy at how everything has turned out. Proud? Oh, 100 per cent. When I come in on the bus on game days, I look at all our fans and I think, ‘How can I give back to Scotland because this country has given me so much?’”

Duhan van der Merwe’s sentiments after his match-winning performance against England at Murrayfield on Saturday may strike a chord with many people who have actively chosen to make Scotland their home, rather than simply being here because of the accident of their birth. Would Scotland have won the match without him and the other ‘migrant workers’ in the national side? It’s hard to say, but these volunteer Scots have undoubtedly added much to the strength of the team.

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So why is it so hard for some to accept that migrants can also make a significant contribution to walks of life beyond sport? There may not be a national stage that allows fruit pickers, nurses, scientists and the rest to show their worth in such a public way but, if there was, the tenor of the debate would be very different.

Duhan van der Merwe scores a try for Scotland against England at Murrayfield on Saturday (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)Duhan van der Merwe scores a try for Scotland against England at Murrayfield on Saturday (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Duhan van der Merwe scores a try for Scotland against England at Murrayfield on Saturday (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

There certainly used to be Conservatives who had a pragmatic approach to immigration and even a few who argued for open borders – allowing the market to decide. But they now seem to be keeping rather quiet. Being a ‘migrant’ appears to have become a pejorative word in some people’s minds. And heaven forbid that anyone should be an ‘economic migrant’. People moving to a new country to make better lives for themselves and add to our gross domestic product? How dare they try to make us all richer?

The often-expressed allegation that immigrants are mostly coming to the UK to sponge off the state is surely at odds with common-sense knowledge about human nature. How many unrepentant ‘benefits scroungers’, born and bred in the UK, would have the necessary get up and go to move to a different country because the welfare system is more generous? Has this ever actually happened?

Migrants do claim benefits, but this is usually because they are employed in relatively low-paid jobs that British people will not take. The cost of living makes it hard for anyone on a low income to get by without state help – in-work poverty is a problem that the country as a whole should be working to address for the sake of all, regardless of their place of birth.

Van der Merwe may have been born in South Africa, but he has become a genuine Scottish hero. He has carved his name in his adopted country’s history with scintillating rugby and extraordinary tries (his hat-trick on Saturday was indeed ‘Merwe-llous’ to quote one Scotsman headline, but his try against England at Twickenham last year in which he ran from within his own half, beating five England players on the way, remains the stand-out for me).

He should also be a hero for everyone who has moved to a different country because he is showing – in dramatic style – just how much immigrants can contribute to the country and how damaging blind prejudice is to our economy and our society.



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