The debate on ‘International Immigrants to Scotland’ held in the Scottish Parliament on 13 December was one of the many virtue-signalling events which have preoccupied this body recently. When I Ieft, it occurred to me this had been one of the most remarkable events I had observed in this momentous year. In having an uncritical view of the benefits of immigration, it showed just how antediluvian the Scottish elite was in a time of re-appraisal nearly everywhere else across the democratic West.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) has been on a permanent war-footing since the vote was taken for all of Britain to leave the EU. It has little appetite for governing at the best of times but new legislation has been shelved in order to concentrate on sabotaging Britain’s exit from the EU with whatever weapons comes to hand.
Without much success, Nicola Sturgeon has tried to spread alarm among migrants living in Scotland that the British government is out to get them and only the SNP will protect them. That afternoon, with the support of the much depleted Labour ranks, the SNP offered a self-righteous exercise in moral purity.
The tone was set by Dr Alasdair Allan, the minister for International Development and Europe. He sits for the Western Isles, a seat where it is mainly folk tired of the rat race in the English conurbations who desire to settle. But he insisted on:
‘Scotland’s duty to offer a place of protection and safety to send a warm message of welcome to all those who choose to make Scotland their home. That message of welcome extends to everyone who comes to Scotland from other countries, whether they are seeking asylum and refuge, choosing to work or study here, or joining family’.
Scotland’s low population growth and skills shortages requires more immigration. In the air of benign utopian goodwill that hangs over the chamber nobody had the temerity to ask whether the sprawling Scottish bureaucracy would be more effective in handling immigration matters than it had been in its stewardship of the under-performing health and education sectors. Would it be immigrants with the right economic profile who would come? Would immigrants be spread across Scotland rather than packed into inner-city areas. Would attention be paid to the experience of English cities where large-scale immigration had not always been handled with foresight as was admitted even in official reports, notably the one by Dame Louise Casey released on 5 December.
There were MSPs who felt there was no room for prudence or forward planning. Sandra White, the SNP member for the seat taking in Glasgow University, insisted the rogue state Britain had to pay reparations for all the misery it had caused in the world. She said:
‘…most of the wars that the migrants are fleeing from have been caused by the West. The wars were begun not for the sake of the people but for oil riches and similar reasons. We have a responsibility to tell the truth about that and to take the migrants and refugees into our countries’.
Labour’s Anas Sarwar, who inherited his father’s Westminster seat only to lose it and was now languishing on the Holyrood benches, painted a picture of Glasgow as a cosmopolitan world city:
It ‘is a shining example of how to create a diverse and open community that welcomes people. It is a community that says that, when people arrive there—no matter their background, race or religion—they are part of the “one Glasgow” approach’.
He passed over the social crisis in the Govanhill area of the city where politically-connected local landlords have profited by packing several thousand Roma from Eastern Europe into rented flats. For a decade the Scottish government and city council has made little effort to ensure that the rules making urban living tolerable were followed.
Tens of millions of pounds of public money have been poured into Govanhill in recent years to empower community organizers and left-wing activist groups who see the areas problems squarely in terms of inequality and prejudice. If this area is a microcosm of how the SNP handles immigration in the future, then the process will be chaotic and driven by short-term expediency.
Govanhill’s simmering tensions have never been debated at Holyrood. No speaker dwelt on the fact that a low-grade approach to immigration was only likely to flood the labour market with surplus labour, depressing wages and spreading poverty. It would in effect be a tax on poorer people living in the inner city who would also experience a deterioration in services and their overall quality of life generally. For some years English Labour MPs such as Frank Field, John Cruddas and John Mann have spoken up for hard-pressed inner city dwellers but they had no counterparts that day on the Labour side. When not laughing contemptuously at usually very moderate Tory contributions to the debate, Lewis MacDonald MSP threw his weight behind the idea emanating from Mayor Khan in London of having a work permit scheme specific to particular urban regions.
A rare chink of light was provided by Tavish Scott, MSP for the Shetland islands. He admitted that ‘my most difficult conversation…in the run-up to the Scottish elections back in May was not about domestic politics. It was with two young working guys who took me to task on immigration when I was—supposedly—cheerfully canvassing on a building site. I was not very cheerful after I had had that conversation’.
Rarely do the views of building workers get a hearing at Holyrood but Scott left me with the impression that they were ones that needed to be confronted rather than listened to. Pauline McNeill, a Labour MSP, at least put on record that ‘49 per cent of people in Scotland want less immigration, which is the same as the proportion across the UK as a whole’.
But the tenor of the debate indicated that however numerous they were, Scots who failed to be as welcoming and optimistic about immigration as most of the MSPs, were hard-hearted and reactionary people.
The parliamentarians seemed to be in the grip of a dogma that required no critical examination. How should immigration be handled to ensure that the social fabric can be protected rather than damaged? If a Tory MSP had asked such a question, I suspect there would have been uproar in the chamber. The hubbub would have got worse if someone had asked whether Scotland had the attributes which had enabled eventual progress to be made in integrating the Afro-Caribbean community in different English cities.
A common British heritage, expressed in sport, education, and religion, helped ensure that today members of this community are assimilating fast. In Scotland they had a near-counterpart, the Irish and their descendants who arrived in large numbers, also for economic reasons from the 1840s onwards. But for 150 years, they remained at variance with much of the rest of the population for religious, cultural and economic reasons.
Only today is the enclave outlook retreating, and this may only be due to the fact that the ruling SNP has legitimised key aspects of the anti-British grievance culture, which was a hallmark for sections of this community.
Currently, the SNP is trying to promote a new Scottish identity based not on cooperation with the rest of the Britain but rebelliousness, risk-taking, and celebrating differences. How will new arrivals be expected to assimilate when there is no ‘American Creed’ offering a route-map for upward mobility, and integration but instead an official culture revelling in fragmentation and division?
Politicians should proceed with caution and be open to a wide range of views on the downsides as well as the benefits of immigration. The noted US social scientist Robert Putnam has produced research indicating that the rapid onset of diversity in urban communities often leads to a decline in social trust.
Most people do not want to live in a highly-mobile cosmopolitan society, open to unlimited experimentation, and with no deep-seated loyalties or associations. Even in fast-paced America, most people live within 18 miles of their mothers.
The debate on immigration exposed a Scottish political elite with closed minds on the subject. The nationalists, in particular, are obsessed with promoting Scotland as a global brand open to all comers and ready to face down much of its own population if they resist schemes to rush ahead with a poorly-planned demographic transformation.
Even at the top of the EU, figures like the Council President Donald Tusk have admitted that the vision of endless globalisation is a utopian one which has run out of road. The SNP insists that Brexit must be opposed in order that Scotland can be saddled with a low-grade immigration strategy that has failed in too many other places. Hopefully, those who inform the Prime Minister about Scottish conditions will ensure that her Government listens to the views of the Scottish majority on the question of immigration.
Tom Gallagher is the author of Scotland Now: A Warning to the World, an updated version of which was published on Kindle this month.