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Migration and Scotland

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 5:41 pm, 11th February 2020

I am glad to follow Andrew Bowie, because he makes some interesting points. Although we disagree on how these issues might be resolved, it is interesting to hear his views.

Of all the constituencies in Scotland, Glasgow Central has the most constituents who were not born in the UK. I have been totting up the Library’s figures from the 2011 census and, with 21,283, I have more people in my constituency who were not born in the UK than the five previous Conservative speakers put together, so I will take no lessons on the value of immigration to my constituency from people who have so little immigration and, I am sure, so few concerns raised at their surgeries.

Week in and week out, I have people in tears at my surgeries because of how this UK Government and the Home Office have treated them. They have been treated without respect, they have been treated arbitrarily and they have been treated cruelly for many years. Something has to change, and this is a small proposal from the Scottish Government to mitigate some of that damage. One of my reasons for supporting independence is that I do not want people to go through what my constituents have been through at the hands of the UK Government.

Have no doubt, the SNP believes immigration is a good thing. As the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine said, we are a country that has suffered from emigration over many years, with our people leaving and going to other countries. We have no right to deny people the chance to come and make their home in Scotland, and to do us the privilege of making their lives here.

Not only is the UK Government’s policy on immigration immoral in many ways, but it makes no economic sense. As we are all aware, Scotland has an ageing population. We need to grow our population to keep our economy afloat and to help people have a decent standard of living in old age. The Tories have decimated support for families and, through policies such as the two-child limit and the rape clause, they have actively discouraged people from having more children. The only remaining option is to encourage migration, but they have not done that, either. Instead, they have imposed arbitrary targets on migration over the years, which is sheer economic illiteracy. It is completely unsustainable.

Conservative Members have talked about attractiveness, but we are fighting that battle with one hand behind our back because of the hostile environment, the “Go Home” vans and the Home Office’s policies. We can only do our best to try to mitigate that. We can only do our best to say that Scotland is a welcoming country, that we want people to come and we want them to stay.

For Mr Harper, who has 3,014 non-UK citizens, to tell me that my constituency and my country are unattractive is, frankly, insulting. Unless substantial changes are made to Scotland’s ability to encourage immigration, we are looking at a ticking demographic time bomb. Average earnings in Scotland are less than £24,000 a year, but the immigration salary threshold is £30,000. What is that a measure of? It is certainly not a measure of how much a person is valued. How precious are the workers and care nurses in hospitals to a family? How valuable are social care workers to our future? It is shameful that any arbitrary value has been put on people who choose to come to build their lives here. That arbitrary target is above what can be reasonably earned by skilled worker.

Recently, a constituent came to my surgery who worked by day as a mortgage adviser in a bank—one would imagine that is a fairly good, high-profile, skilled job—and by night as a shelf stacker in a supermarket. He was working all the hours he could get so that his wife and son could come to live in Scotland. He should not be absolutely wearing himself down to do that. He is doing a good job that is valuable. We think it is important to society, but that is not how he felt. He felt as though he was doing everything he could against a system that did not even care—that did not even value him. I get this time and time again at my surgeries.