The SNP, as usual, have framed the argument around the constitution and Scotland’s position within the UK. The truth of the matter is that the diverse needs within Scotland need to be accommodated within a flexible policy framework based on reality rather than academic theory. The fishing communities of North East Scotland have far more in common with their equivalents in the South West of England than they do with the industrial heartland of the central belt. Similarly, that economy has more in common with the West Midlands than the remote island communities of the Hebrides. Simply transferring responsibility for Scotland’s immigration to Holyrood, as the SNP propose, entirely misses the point of how a UK-wide approach will ensure a positive environment to attract the people our economy needs. We cannot afford to have different systems operating within a United Kingdom where people must be able to move freely within it.
That being said the current proposals for a future immigration policy will cause real damage to the UK economy and must be changed.
The most obvious problem is that it excludes everyone who earns less than £30,000 a year, classifying them as “unskilled”. Some of the most skilled people I know earn less than £30,000. With the average salary in Scotland being just under £23,000, these proposals would wrongly classify the majority of Scots as “unskilled”. That would be a travesty. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The people who run our hotels, maintain our national infrastructure and care for our elderly are skilled, they are hard working and they are compassionate. These are the qualities that we want to attract with our immigration policy. A simple salary cut off point is far too blunt an instrument to deal with the problems we have in attracting and retaining talent across the Scottish economy.
The tourism and hospitality sector is an excellent example. These businesses need to be able to attract talented people from around the world. They must have the ability to grow and increase the value that tourism adds to our economy. In my constituency, hotels, tourist attractions (of which we have many of the best) and the outdoor activity sector need staff who have the qualities needed. We must have an immigration policy that works for those businesses.
Similarly, companies needing pharmaceutical lab assistants, food production technicians, moulding engineers, fitters and construction staff, to name just a few, cannot afford to be excluded. To label all these people as “unskilled labour” is simply wrong. A top priority for the new prime minister must be to insist on a flexible and adaptive immigration policy that accommodates the needs of UK business in all of its complex diversity – whether that be agriculture, tourism, building, care, manufacturing or any other sector, it needs to take account of sectoral needs and move away from a simple earnings threshold.
By yet again focusing on constitutional arguments, the SNP continue to let Scotland down and fail to stand up for our interests in the UK. We need positive engagement on the issue of immigration, a rational debate and acknowledgement that the current proposals are unworkable.
Stephen Kerr is Conservative MP for Stirling.