Scotland should be able to opt out of UK migration reforms - Stuart McDonald

The UK Government would rather risk population decline in Scotland than offer the tailored immigration system required north of the Border, writes Stuart McDonald MP

Pro-EU campaigners take part in 'Missing EU Already' rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

After the UK government’s dreadful immigration paper, more and more employers are keen to look afresh and sympathetically at Scottish Government proposals for an additional Scottish visa option.

And new research from leading immigration lawyers Fragomen LLP highlights that similar schemes operate perfectly well around the globe – including in New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland and Canada from where they draw inspiration for a host of possible options.

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Crucially, the report also makes clear that probably the most helpful and radical suggestion of all would be among the easiest to implement – free movement continuing to operate in Scotland. EEA nationals could come to live and work in Scotland just as now, or with very minor tweaks such as a requirement to register.

The old bogus idea that this somehow creates a “back door” to illegal work in England or other parts of the UK is easily debunked. As the report points out, the UK government will continue to allow EU nationals to arrive as visitors without visas, and to use e-gates on entry – in other words, if the labour black market is what someone is intent upon, they might as well fly into Heathrow as Glasgow. There is no need to use Scotland as a back door, when the front door is open.

And let’s not forget, nobody expresses any concerns about having an open land border and sharing a common travel area with a country that will definitely continue to operate free movement – Ireland.

And indeed, free movement also actually minimises problems with working on the black market and with exploitation – it leaves much less unmet demand for workers and gives those workers far greater rights, including the right to leave exploitative employment. So, it’s a win win.

But there are a whole range of possible options highlighted, from free movement to operation of different salary thresholds, a quicker route to settlement, lower visa fees, and Scottish Government-sponsored visas.

All of this would give Scottish employers additional options, over and above the limited choices that follow from the UK proposals.

Protests from the Home Office and Scotland Office that this would be “too hard” or “too complicated” are just not credible – everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we?

This is about political will. It seems that the Tory government would prefer to inflict population decline and a drastic economic penalty on Scotland, rather than put in place sensible, practicable proposals for a tailor-made migration system. Perhaps it fears the economic competitive edge it would undoubtedly give us.

Stuart McDonald is an SNP MP and the party’s spokesman on immigration at Westminster