Kenny MacAskill: Migrants help make Scotland a cultural melting pot

Every nation requires an immigration policy as an open-door plan is socially and politically unacceptable''Picture: Getty Images
Every nation requires an immigration policy as an open-door plan is socially and politically unacceptable''Picture: Getty Images
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Migration is the issue of our time, convulsing many countries as war and climate change wreak havoc. Fortress Britain is no more defensible than Fortress Europe, and an Immigration Home Guard is as ludicrous as Trump’s Wall.

Migration is the issue of our time, convulsing many countries as war and climate change wreak havoc. Fortress Britain is no more defensible than Fortress Europe, and an Immigration Home Guard is as ludicrous as Trump’s Wall.

The solution is ultimately to take steps to address the problems at source, so that people needn’t flee seeking sanctuary. But that’s not happening any time soon and issues remain with economic migrants – something Scots and Brits have been for centuries but memories are short and selective. So, action on controlling immigration is needed.

It is also best for nations to deal with major movements of people collectively, rather than individually. An irony of Brexit is that it was brought about through fears over immigration, yet the EU is moving towards far tougher controls. Many of the restrictions wanted by Brexiteers will be available or delivered anyway within the EU. Even the liberal and welcoming regimes in Sweden and Germany are feeling the challenge and action will be taken.

READ MORE: Report calls for ‘bespoke immigration policy’ for Scotland

For, action there has to be. Every nation requires an immigration policy as an open-door plan is socially and politically unacceptable. Racism has rightly to be condemned and requires to be opposed at every opportunity. But concerns over immigration are perfectly understandable and need to be addressed in a manner that is conciliatory, whilst challenging all the same.

Some of the fears are legitimate and many more concerns are perfectly reasonable. It doesn’t mean that these people are racist, just worried as some pressures mount and the society they are used to changes around them. Simply berating them for supposed shameful attitudes is more likely to drive them into the hands of racists than lure them away. That applies not just in Sweden or Germany but in England and even Scotland.

That’s why Jeremy Corbyn and Labour south of the border were right to change tack and acknowledge the concerns of many in deprived parts of England. It’s easy to be condemnatory when you’re comfortable and neither affected nor threatened by it. They were condemned by the SNP, yet they would seek to do likewise if the issues were as great here, as they are in many deprived parts south of the border.

Folk are the same the world over. In the main they seek to be warm and welcoming but can be cold and resentful if they feel threatened. The pressures are less in Scotland than south of the border, as they are worse in the east rather than the more affluent west of Germany. I recall as Justice Secretary meeting my Irish counterpart and in a discussion on immigration said that Scotland’s history of emigration mitigated against the imposition of tighter rules. A rather naïve and pompous thing to say to a minister from a land equally afflicted by that historical curse but also with enduring difficulties. He simply, and far too kindly, said “you’ll change”.

READ MORE: Paris Gourtsoyannis: Why we are all immigrants

So, it was good to see the statement and comments from the First Minister about a Scottish Immigration policy. They were sensible and stateswoman-like in both tone and policy. As every nation requires an immigration policy, so no country’s immigration policy can be entirely independent. Each country has to take cognisance of its situation and that of its neighbours.

The policy of the Republic of Ireland required to be tempered by both its land border with Northern Ireland and the Common Travel Area (CTA) it operated with the United Kingdom. Whilst it was distinct, it wasn’t entirely separate as to open a policy gap would have adversely impacted on the UK.

That would have jeopardised both the absence of a hard border and the CTA. Brexit has threatened that but a completely independent immigration policy – separate from the interests of the UK – there will not be. An independent Scotland would be likewise. However, that doesn’t mean that a devolved Scotland cannot have a distinct policy within the UK. After all, it happens in both Australia and Canada. The policy that operated in South Australia seemed apposite for Scotland. It had a demographic problem with Sydney and Melbourne, the desired destinations for immigrants. Accordingly, it was made easier to migrate to South Australia but with criteria that a set number of years required to be spent there. Seek to simply depart for one of the bigger more popular cities and you could be deported. But, arriving and settling, gaining work and sending the kids to school, meant that most stayed on. There’s no reason why that couldn’t work successfully in Scotland and indeed to England’s benefit. They have areas under considerable pressure, whereas we have population needs. Allowing them to come here, eases it for them and helps us. If immigrants abuse it then sanctions could be imposed but as in “Down Under” most might find they like it and stay. So, Nicola Sturgeon was right to raise the issue – even Westminster committees are seeing the possible benefits. What was also welcome in her comments was the arguments she used. It’s not enough to simply warn of economic disaster if we don’t allow immigration. For sure, there are real challenges and they’re already being felt in many areas of the economy. But, just as doom and disaster didn’t work with Brexit, they won’t work with immigration.

This is why her arguments for the social benefits of immigration were welcome. Our society has changed and for the better with past waves of immigration from Italy and Ireland but also with recent ones from Poland and elsewhere. For our society has also changed. Many years ago, I went out with an American girl for quite a while and had a dalliance with a New Zealand lass, perhaps reflecting the links that existed then. Now, my nephew lives with a Polish girl and my youngest son with a German lass.

That’s modern Scotland and those young women make our country a better place. It’s not just about our economy but our society and it’s why there needs to be a Scottish immigration policy.