As usual in these situations, the debate has become polarised. On the one side are the individuals who believe that immigration to Scotland should be practically open to all, and that a multicultural society can only be healthy, vibrant and positive.
Challenging this positive view are those who consider their opponents to be wimpy liberals, unaware of the threats posed by, for example, militant Islam, which encourages its adherents to live in a parallel society. Economic migrants are described as taking the benefits from our tolerant culture, achieved by several generations who fought for them, but refusing to embrace its values.
This sort of polarisation clearly ignores the fact that humans and their societies are not usually that simple. But there is increasing evidence that some communities are developing along parallel lines, and suggestions from policy-makers that immigrants should be taught ‘British’ values – assuming we know what these should be.
There are examples in Scotland of what were originally immigrant communities who have managed to fit in successfully where they have settled, yet retained what is good and meaningful about their original culture: Italians, Poles, Chinese, Sikhs and Jewish people are all examples of this sort of assimilation. How can we use their examples to ensure that others successfully integrate?
If there were to be a set of ‘British values’ that all should embrace, it will never be successful if it is based on negatives: ‘You must not persecute others with different belief systems’ is an obvious example. Psychologists have demonstrated that telling people not to do something has the effect either of frightening them or provoking them to do the very thing they shouldn’t.
Sir Frank Worrell was the great Barbadian cricketer who in the 1960s turned a disparate group of talented but ill-disciplined players from all over the West Indies into a formidable team. His strategy was to focus not on the problem behaviour of some of the team but to get all the players to agree on what behaviour was appropriate for them to observe as ambassadors for their team and community.
Current political decision-makers in Scotland cannot all be inspiring leaders like Worrell, but they could develop the idea of a Citizens’ Charter which encapsulated all the actions and behaviours that mark a healthy society.
It may not be too fanciful to see it as the societal equivalent of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, a mosaic of positive images created by the people who live here, and who ultimately have a stake in the country’s future.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant. She lives in Banchory, Aberdeenshire