Independent Scotland would appoint a Migrants' Commissioner and grant settled status to EU citizens – Shirley-Anne Somerville
Earlier this week, we published our latest “Building a New Scotland” paper, which sets out what it would mean to be a citizen in an independent Scotland. Creating Scottish citizenship would be an important step to establishing our independent nation.
However, we want everyone who lives here to know that, wherever they are from in the world, and whatever their citizenship status would be, we value the contribution they make to Scottish society, and we’re committed to protecting their rights.
That’s why we’re proposing to create a Migrants’ Commissioner after independence. Operating independently from the Scottish Government, a commissioner would make sure the voices of people who have moved to Scotland are heard. They would listen to individuals and families and identify issues with the immigration system so that we could work to resolve them.
Inward migration is vital to addressing Scotland’s population challenges. We need to attract people to live and work in Scotland to boost economic growth, enrich communities and help deliver public services. A Migrants’ Commissioner role will mean these individuals know their rights will be protected.
Creating a Migrants’ Commissioner for the whole UK was one of the key recommendations in the 2020 independent review of the Windrush scandal. The review – which examined the series of appalling events during which people of Caribbean heritage were wrongly detained, denied rights, and even deported – recommended that this role should be established to advocate for migrants and identify any systemic issues.
The UK Government initially agreed to implement this, but earlier this year they changed their mind. Their plan to create a Migrants’ Commissioner, along with two other crucial recommendations from the review, was abandoned. As long as immigration policy is in the hands of Westminster, Scotland can’t do anything to change the hostile environment the UK Government is creating.
However, independence would give us the chance to help ensure the equality of migrants is protected through this role. Part of the commissioner’s job would be to speak up for the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who have made their home in Scotland. For many of these people, the period since the Brexit referendum and through the pandemic was very difficult. Having to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to stay legally resident in Scotland has been an added complication.
From the day Scotland becomes independent, we’d put new rules in place to automatically grant settled status to all EU citizens who were living in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK before 31 December 2020. There would be no deadline in place, meaning no EU citizen could be classed as illegally resident due to a late application.
Of course, people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay EU citizens. This government wants Scotland to regain EU membership as quickly as we can, and when we do, EU citizenship rights will apply once again.
Whether you were born here or emigrated here, and whether you decide Scottish citizenship is something you want to pursue, your national identity would never be a barrier to being welcomed and valued in our independent nation.
Shirley-Anne Somerville is SNP MSP for Dunfermline and Social Justice Secretary
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.