More heat and headlines than reasoned debate as we face a time for hard decisions on migration.
It is difficult to escape the feeling that Britain would be a better place to live if we could discuss the vital issues of the day without resorting to tribalism and party politics.
A country where people don’t harbour resentments that spiral into dangerous policies like Brexit, but instead where reasoned debate, compromise and acceptance of opposing views allows us to move forward in a sensible fashion.
The long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report – commissioned by the government ahead of Brexit – gives its view on the value of migration and the best way forward. There is much in the report that is worth considering.
But as usual, many politicians and interest groups have resorted to a slanging match generating heat and headlines, but not much light.
The report says there is no evidence that increased European migration has damaged life in the UK. It concludes that EU migrants pay more in tax than they receive in benefits, contribute more to the NHS workforce than the healthcare they access, and have no effect on crime rates.
But this doesn’t mean that migration concerns should not be raised. Just because the long-term effect is positive doesn’t change the fact that migration increases pressure on public services, on schools, housing and GP surgeries for example. Over time we may all be benefiting but it needs upfront funding; and in its absence complaints are often justified.
The cap on the number of high-skilled migrants coming to the UK should be scrapped, the MAC report says, and it sees no “compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules” for workers from the EEA.
“A migrant’s impact depends on factors such as their skills, employment, age and use of public services, and not fundamentally on their nationality,” the report reads. In other words a surgeon from India is as valuable as one from Poland.
The MAC is important as it is expected to shape the government’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
And crucially it says Scotland does not need a different policy to the rest of the UK. The report accepts that lower migration might lead to population decline, but says this is true not only of Scotland but also parts of northern England.
Scotland’s needs must be addressed. In areas such as tourism and agriculture there are real concerns about labour shortages and businesses need confidence that the UK government is listening.
But having a separate immigration policy for Scotland isn’t straightforward, opponents claiming it would require a “Border at Berwick” to make it work.
A UK-wide solution is the best option but with Scotland’s voice heard loudly and with a fair compromise achieved. But right now the chances of this happening seem remote.