Leader comment: Sturgeon has chance to do good on immigration

Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: John Devlin.
Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: John Devlin.
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In the immediate aftermath of last year’s referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, the Scottish Government’s spin machine went into top gear.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon flew to Brussels where she conducted a series of interviews with politicians and officials, with the aim of carving out a unique deal for Scotland (where the majority had voted in favour of remaining in the EU).

Ms Sturgeon certainly looked the part of the dynamic, can-do political leader but behind these meetings/photo opportunities lay the fact that, as part of the UK, Scotland was committed to departure from the European club.

Sceptics may have seen the First Minister’s tour of Brussels as more political stunt than sincere diplomatic mission but, regardless, she did – and continues to – articulate the feelings of a majority of Scots on the matter of Brexit. Most of us – almost two-thirds – believe the UK’s decision to leave the EU to be a mistake and Ms Sturgeon is perfectly entitled to argue that case.

But rules are rules and, while Scotland remains part of the UK, there would appear to be no mechanism by which the First Minister might negotiate special terms.

Yesterday, economist Joseph Stiglitz – the Nobel Laureate who advises the Scottish Government on how it might establish a fiscal framework for independence – suggested there was a case for Scotland to have a unique deal on immigration post-Brexit.

We have some sympathy for Professor’s Stiglitz’s position. Concerns over falling population – and its economic impact – have inspired successive Scottish Governments to encourage more skilled workers to come here from abroad.

So, yes, a unique deal for Scotland in this area would be a good thing. It is, however, impossible. The UK – not Scotland – is handling (or, perhaps, mishandling) Brexit negotiations. Ms Sturgeon has the power to dictate nothing. The First Minister, however, can play a positive role in making the case for a UK-wide immigration deal that might work for Scotland.

It might suit Ms Sturgeon, politically, to be at odds with the UK government but we wonder if she might rise above such matters and use her considerable political gifts to positively influence the shape of Brexit. The First Minister might not be able to get a unique Brexit deal for Scotland but, maybe, she can help the UK get a less dreadful one.