THE UK government’s immigration policies are “damaging” Scotland’s economy, Scotland’s external affairs minister Humza Yousaf claimed yesterday.
He said Scottish society was united in opposition to the “restrictive” approach to immigration being pursued at Westminster. The Conservative-led coalition government’s proposed immigration bill would force short-term migrants to pay for NHS care, compel landlords to check the immigration status of tenants and ensure that illegal immigrants could not get driving licences.
Mr Yousaf claimed the UK government’s approach would deter skilled workers from wanting to come to Scotland – and said independence was the only way to get an immigration policy suited to the nation’s needs.
Last week, the UK government put immigration at the heart of proposed new laws in the Queen’s Speech. However, Mr Yousaf said the Westminster stance was opposed by trade unions and charities, as well as the SNP Scottish Government.
He said: “There’s no doubt that the UK government’s restrictive immigration policies are damaging Scotland’s economy, but also the general message that Scotland is open for those who are wanting to come from overseas to make a skilled contribution to Scotland.
“Immigration is one of the only policy issues that I can think of that unites Scottish business, the trade unions, politicians, the universities – because they’re all feeling the impact of restrictive immigration policies.”
Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said tight regulation was important, but added that Scottish businesses were looking for skilled workers.
He said: “We have not had the experience of people coming in in large numbers simply to take advantage of the benefits system. And if we did see that in Scotland, I think public opinion would change radically.”
He added: “That’s what we have to defend against. So, tight regulation of immigration is important, but we must make sure we’re able to bring in the people we need to satisfy the demands of business.”
Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said attitudes to immigration differed in Scotland, as well as economic needs north and south of the Border. He said: “I’ve canvassed in Scotland and I’ve canvassed with my colleagues in the Green Party in England, and it’s very clear to me that there is a degree of hostility in some parts of England towards immigration and immigrants which doesn’t exist here, or not nearly to the same degree.
“Even when the Scottish Government and the UK government were dominated by the same party – Labour – when Jack McConnell wanted some degree of flexibility for Scotland so that we could meet our own needs within the immigration system, he didn’t get it.”