Leader comment: Rudd not speaking for all British people

The result of June's EU referendum sent a clear and unequivocal message that mainstream politicians could no longer dodge the vexed question of immigration.

Scottish Justice secretary Michael Matheson has urged Home Secretary Amber Rudd to give an undertaking on continued co-operation with European police forces. Picture: Getty Images

After years of largely unchecked migration from across Europe, there is now a political will – born out of Brexit – for the issue to be tackled head on.

But just as England voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted to remain. Regardless of political views on immigration, it is a fact that Scotland needs migrants in a way large parts of England do not.

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That is why Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s speech at the Conservative party conference is so troubling. Making her first significant policy address since her predeccessor took up the keys to 10 Downing Street, Ms Rudd set out a three-stage plan to dramatically cut the number of those coming into Britain, as well as a £140 million fund to ease the strain on public services in England.

That three-pronged attack will go after landlords, employers and banks which help foster illegal immigration.

But there was also tough rhetoric for universities who recruit foreign undergraduates unable to speak English, while Prime Minister Theresa May suggested the NHS in England may look to recruit fewer foreign doctors.

Much of that was quickly seized on by the SNP who know Scotland’s higher education institutions and hospitals do not share the same antipathy to those from overseas. Ms Rudd also reissued the Tory pledge to get immigration numbers down to the tens of thousands, but said this “will not happen overnight”.

She is in the difficult position of being a Home Secretary who backed the losing side in the referendum but must now help deliver an immigration system acceptable to Brexiteers.

However, her speech at conference yesterday suggested she is yet to understand the fundamental differences that exist on different sides of the Border.

She told delegates she would not back down in the face of those who oppose “any steps” to reduce migration and said she was committed to putting the interests of the “British” people first.

To be clear, reducing migration is not in the best interests of all British people. The Scottish economy needs inward migration not just from the EU, but from the rest of the world.

That is not to say Scots have a different attitude from the English towards immigration – there is plenty of evidence to suggest they do not. But with an ageing population, it is imperative this small part of the United Kingdom continues to attract those from overseas.

Scotland has not experienced the squeeze on housing, jobs and other public services that has been felt elsewhere in the UK as a result of immigration.

Ms Rudd would do well to remember that when she begins to draw up plans which will have implications for us all.