IT is a humanitarian crisis on which the British public is clear. People are dying in the seas, bodies of toddlers are washing up on the beaches as they run from unspeakable horrors in their homelands. We need to help.
And finally, yesterday, amid much public pressure, Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to do the right thing. He will, he says, give sanctuary to “thousands” of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn homes for hope of a life – not just a better life, but any kind of life at all – in Europe.
While a major step in the right direction, Mr Cameron should give a clearer indication of how many refugees he is willing to take in. He should also make it clear whether he is extending his latest “moral responsibility” to refugees solely from Syria – or from a wider area.
But most importantly, he – and certain others – should reconsider what the influx of refugees could mean to our country.
Yes, creating an infrastructure to accommodate them will be a challenge. But the benefits they could bring – particularly in Scotland, where the population needs economic stimulation from people of working age – are immense.
There are many examples of thriving societies worldwide which have demonstrated economic growth as a result of immigration. The US, the biggest economy in the world, has based its growth almost entirely on people who have entered the country from elsewhere.
Almost two years ago, Britain opened its borders to workers from Bulgaria and Romania and waited expectantly for a flood of “benefit scroungers” looking to milk our social services system for all it was worth. Instead, there was a steady stream of people who, like those before them from countries such as Poland, mainly came to work. Many have set up their own businesses. It does take some adjustment in local economies but overall and over time the benefits can be great.
Most of the people coming from Syria and elsewhere want to work. They want to provide for their families. They want their children to have an education and grow up into intelligent citizens who will also, ultimately, contribute to the economy. Few will have risked their lives to travel for days on end across treacherous seas in the hope of benefits. They do not come from a benefits culture. Undoubtedly, there need to be stringent rules put in place: who can claim benefits and how much they can claim and for how long. British society cannot become an open cheque book for anyone who turns up.
People migrating and becoming economically active is how countries grow. Our economy needs more people working and paying taxes, that means more people need to come in.
This harassment has to stop
Although welcome, the head of the army’s demands that the services should undergo a culture shake-up and accept “everyone in an inclusive way” is a sad indication of how things currently stand.
In a recent army survey, some 40 per cent of female servicewomen said they had faced unwanted comments of a sexual nature in the past year, while the negative experience of gay men and women in the services has been well documented.
General Sir Nicholas Carter, who has been described as a “moderniser” since he took on the position last year, is right – this cannot continue.
Like some other industries used to have, the forces have an engrained macho culture, but that does not make it right.
However, the fact that the situation is so dire that troops need to be told to adhere to a code of conduct that prevents women from being bullied –not only by men, but by other women – shows that macho culture is outdated and needs to be stopped immediately.
Critics of General Carter’s attitude claim that the army will “go soft”. They say “banter” among male soldiers is considered to be an integral part of army life and argue that the camaraderie it generates helps soldiers’ performance in a conflict zone.
Yet women – and gay men – are with their male counterparts on the front line and surely they cannot perform at their best if constantly bullied and undermined.
Society has moved on: sexual harassment in any environment is not acceptable, even if it comes with an establishment tag.