Kenny MacAskill: New plan on immigration is just another damaging, disruptive anti-EU stance

At first glance Tory plans to base immigration to the UK on skills, not nationality, sounds fair and reasonable. After all, who could justify going back to an era here and elsewhere that enshrined racial discrimination, an age when white Commonwealth migrants could almost stay without question but black or Asian ones were subjected to invidious criteria and often cruel exclusion.

Our largest migrant group, at 99,000, is from Poland and they are mostly young people. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But, all is not as it seems and the decision is simply a continuation of the blind rage, anti-EU sentiment driving so much of current UK government policy, ignoring not just the economic benefits of EU membership but social links forged over centuries, and most especially in recent years.

It panders to the myth of EU migrants coming here stealing our jobs as well as taking our homes, both of which were not just fanciful but false. Most live in private rented not council housing and contribute greatly through tax, while taking little in benefits. But why let those facts get in the way of prejudice.

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The idea that it’s fair and equal is also mythological. The supposed argument of moving from preferential treatment for EU citizens through existing free movement to a supposedly global level playing field is nonsense. This isn’t really about rejecting selection on the criteria of nationality or race and basing it instead on skills and wealth either.

Skills are in demand around the globe and talent, whether medical, scientific or even sporting will find themselves sought never mind fast tracked. The world’s their oyster for the qualified few who can pick and choose where they work as hospitals and other sectors here have found to their cost. This won’t change their options or entice them over: salary, conditions and quality of life do that. An atmosphere that demonises migrants doesn’t help, as recent departures of critical EU workers has shown.

Nor is it egalitarian. Oligarchs whether from Russia or elsewhere will still buy entry, never mind buy up huge swathes of real estate whether in London or the Highlands. Money talks in accessing most countries but this would institutionalise it, yet hinder the ordinary workers we require.

For it’s not just climatic conditions that have jeopardised the Scottish farming sector but the anti-EU migrant stance. Soft fruit remaining unpicked is a disgrace to the country, not just a tragedy for the farmer. Perceived, as well as some real hostility, allied to the collapse of the pound, reducing the pool of agricultural workers.

The idea that the berries can once again be picked by local workers, whether the travelling community or unemployed is absurd. Likewise, the idea of importing them from Asia, equally flawed with both foreign recruitment schemes and local infrastructure missing.

Yet, the self-harm to the agricultural sector would be replicated big time across the wider economy, if these plans come to fruition. Just as the cabinet were discussing these proposals that would hinder immigration, a leading think tank was issuing a document declaring that Scotland needed 400,000 new workers by 2030.

The figure from the organisation wasn’t really challenged by anyone as its self-evident that Scotland is an ageing society needing new blood. A walk around any community other than a student area confirms that. At the moment there are 29 pensioners per 100 workers. That’s going to become 32 by 2030, fewer arguably, to do more as the needs of an ageing society increase.

It won’t be offset by Artificial Intelligence reducing the need for employment or even increased productivity that’s badly needed and desired. Both of those might mitigate but won’t resolve the issue, and neither will simply increasing the retiral age, which in any event brings its own issues.

It’s a challenge to most western nations but worse here than most, given centuries of emigration. The idea that they can all just migrate north from England is ludicrous, as already many do and more are needed and welcome. But, still it won’t be enough. Scotland needs more people and that’s why EU immigration has been good for the nation and is still essential.

The most recent statistics showed 235,000 EU nationals living in Scotland, that’s four per cent of the population and they’re mostly young. 99,000 were Polish who were the largest migrant group, followed by 21,000 Irish and 15,000 Italians. It’s only a few years since ten per cent of births in Scotland were to a Polish mother. Some may have returned to Poland but many more have stayed on and contribute not just to the size of our country but the betterment of it.

That contrasted with 16,000 Indian and 14,000 Pakistani nationals who equally have added to our land. But, supporting continuing free movement for EU citizens doesn’t mean that others aren’t welcome. For they’ll be needed anyway never mind those coming from there to join family already here. Likewise accepting a reasonable number of refugees and asylum seekers is dictated by humanity.

But the EU is the logical place to start the acquisition of the necessary workforce. It’s their right if we remain members of the EU or may even be required to obtain the trade deals that even Brexiteers desire. But it’s also common sense. Whatever the Boris Johnsons of this world may think it’s often easier to integrate when you come from Europe.

That was one of the major reasons Sweden took in so many from the Balkans as war raged there a generation ago. They needed immigrants but saw that it was easier to assimilate them than many from elsewhere. Language and culture were often less challenging and they equally more often brought needed education and skills. It’s why in 2017 170,000 were from the former Yugoslavia, 50 per cent more than from war-torn Syria.

Supporting free movement for EU citizens isn’t just about abiding by the rules of the club but the benefit they bring to our land. It’s not racism but common sense to say they’re often easier to integrate. It doesn’t preclude immigration from elsewhere but it’s the sensible staring point that has already benefited us enormously.