When I consider the whole issue of immigration in this country, the first thing that comes to mind is thwarted opportunity—squandered opportunity. I am reminded of Billy Connolly’s eulogy at Jimmy Reid’s funeral. He was talking about the conversations he used to have with Jimmy Reid, with one wonderful anecdote being about driving past a high-rise tower block. Jimmy was saying, “Think about this, Billy. When you look at all those windows, imagine that behind each of them is a world champion horse rider or a Nobel prize winning chemist. They are all there. They are all there with that potential, but they will never realise it because they have never been given the opportunity to achieve it—because society has determined from their youngest years that they will never realise their inherent potential to be as good as they can be and to realise their talents.”
That is a question of not only poverty, but our immigration system. The same dynamic plays out. Tragically, it is often a function of people in poverty finding the wrong scapegoat—the wrong enemy—for their situation. The perennial problem of labour versus capital is the root cause of many of the tensions in our society today and many that caused this country to vote to leave the EU. Unless we understand those reasons and those underlying dynamics, we will fail to address those tensions.
Before I was elected as a Member of Parliament, I had a tangential involvement with immigration in this country—many people do, as they do not have many day-to-day dealings with it—but I remember one case that came close to home. I was working in the shipyards on the Clyde, having joined after graduating from Glasgow University. My starting salary was just £24,000, which is far below the £30,000 threshold. Many people of all sorts of nationalities—Australians, Canadians and Malaysians—were graduates working in the shipyards on the Clyde. One colleague had been awarded a PhD in unmanned underwater vehicles by Queen’s University Belfast, and she was a fantastic researcher. She also happened to fall in love at the same time with a Brazilian man who lived in Dublin and was studying there. She was in the invidious position of having to choose between her career in Glasgow and getting married to her fiancé.