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Migration and Scotland

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 5:03 pm, 11th February 2020

No it would not, nor is there any requirement for it to be so. This is very much the season of dead cats, and I am not going to respond to that one being thrown on the table; I am going to focus on the arguments about having a Scottish visa.

There are some arguments that have been put against this that I want to deal with. The first is the suggestion that this is some sort of backdoor into the United Kingdom; that we are going to open a portal through which lots of migrants are suddenly going to come to the shores of Britain and then find their way to the constituencies of Government Members and cause unknown terror for their constituents.

Much as they might want to blow those dog whistles and whip up fears about immigration, that is not what is being proposed. We are proposing a simple measure that could be enforced through as simple a mechanism as the national insurance stamp, where somebody has the right to seek employment, be employed and pay tax in Scotland, but not in any other part of the United Kingdom. What would happen if they decided they were going to get on a train and take a job in London? They would give their details to their employer, who would say, “I’m sorry, we can’t actually make this offer of a job because you don’t meet the requirements to work in this part of the United Kingdom. You are only validated for working in Scotland.” It might be said, “But what would happen if people just ignored that and somehow unofficially or illegally went to seek work?” Well, that could happen, but that could happen now. This argument makes no difference to that actually happening. In fact, that is an argument for controlling the work permit situation within the United Kingdom to a much better extent than it is being done now.

The other point being suggested—we have heard this several times—is that somehow the SNP proposals are an alternative to the grand, yet-to-be-unveiled new immigration system that the United Kingdom is going to have. That has been said, I think, four or five times already in the debate, but Members are deaf to our arguments. We are not saying that this is a delete-all-and-insert policy; we are saying that this could be brought in in addition to the United Kingdom procedures to provide for the very particular circumstances that operate in Scotland.

The other argument that has been thrown against us is, “What’s so exceptional about Scotland? Why Scotland? You could make this argument about other parts of the United Kingdom.” Perhaps, but probably not a whole country and probably not a whole country where there is already a semi-autonomous devolved system of government—an Administration—where it would be simple to bring these proposals in. I say to Conservative Members: embrace this idea, because what if it worked? Then it would be an argument for having provincial government in England and for having differentiated systems that take into account the fact that this is a large country with very diverse economic needs in different parts of it. If Conservative Members and the Government are serious about their platitudes on investment and growth in the north of England, then this might be one of the vehicles they could choose to deliver that.

This debate takes place in a context. I said at the beginning that we were not advocating Scottish independence. This is a very mild-mannered proposal to try to cater for particular economic circumstances in Scotland: an additional power to a Scottish Government who already have significant powers in many other related aspects of social policy. But understand the context in which we are having this debate. I know that the Government have the numbers to defeat this proposal in the Lobby tonight. Everybody watching this debate knows that this Government have more votes throughout the United Kingdom than the Scottish National party. But understand and understand this well: while the Conservative party has a mandate in most of the United Kingdom and in England in particular, it has no mandate whatsoever in Scotland. It was roundly defeated in Scotland at the general election on 12 December when people voted for 80% of their representatives to this place to come from the Scottish National party.

People are watching debates such as this very carefully. There is a clear desire and aspiration now in Scotland for people to be able to choose their own future: to be able to make a judgment as to whether the course that the United Kingdom has set, by leaving the European Union and setting itself up in a fairly insular and isolated situation, is the path we wish to follow. Many people—a clear majority of people—would express the wish that we should choose a different path, an independent path where we control our own destiny, make our decisions, make our own mistakes and learn from them, because the people who live in that country, and only the people who live in that country, have the right to determine how they are governed. That sentiment is growing now in Scotland. Much as the Government may want to put their head in the sand and ignore it, that is happening. I caution them to engage with public opinion in Scotland. Every time they refuse to do so, they simply fuel the appetite for change. They fuel the number of people who say, “We don’t want to put up with this any more. We now look with fresh eyes at the alternatives on offer.”

In many ways, the Government, since the election, have been doing the SNP’s job for it. The opinion polls are rising. More and more people in Scotland are demanding and getting behind the cause of independence, and we have not even started the campaign. This is all the work of the United Kingdom Government. If they throw out sensible proposals such as this one—which would be to the benefit of the Scottish economy and the people in Scotland, and might also be something sensible while Scotland remains in the United Kingdom—and ignore the arguments that we are making, they will fuel that appetite and desire even more.