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Migration and Scotland

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:25 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Independent, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath 6:25 pm, 11th February 2020

I shall begin my remarks this evening by paying tribute to the many people who have come to Scotland to build a life among us. Each plays an important and valued part in Scotland’s story and their contribution to the tapestry of Scottish life makes Scotland a richer place to live, work and thrive in. I know that because, while I was not born in Scotland, Scotland made me welcome and it will forever be the place that I call home.

While I spent my early years in the north of Ireland immersed in the Unionist tradition, the years in Scotland that followed made it clear to me that there is no homogenous British identity: no such thing as one nation. We are very different countries with differing values, principles and politics.

In the early ’90s I, like so many in Scotland, left for work, moving to London to pursue professional opportunities not available to me at home. My return in 2009 was a revelation. The success of the devolved Government with their limited powers had begun to bring life to our distinct body politic, and this was inspiring. However, that optimism was quickly tempered in 2010 by the return of a Tory Government Scotland did not vote for, and it is my view that since that day this place has worked to stymie the advances Scotland has made and to pour scorn on our ability and our ambition.

The most recent example of that is the offhand contempt the UK Government have shown the people of Scotland in their response to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a Scottish visa scheme in a post-Brexit UK. It is simply not credible that any meaningful consideration of the proposal took place; we must wonder if the Government’s policy on Scotland is filed under B for bin. In this particular case they dismissed the views of the organisations that support the Scottish Government’s proposals, including business and rural communities, the Scottish TUC, FSB Scotland and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

As noted in the motion, Scotland has distinct and different migration needs to sustain our population and help meet demographic challenges. The sole concession is alleged recognition of the need for “some regional variation” and claims that Scotland benefits from a separate shortage occupation list.

The first issue I have with that position is fundamental: Scotland is not a region, it is a country. The second point illustrates the complete lack of understanding of Scotland’s needs by the Government and, indeed, the Minister. Perhaps he should have a chat with his hon. Friends the Members for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) and for North Dorset (Simon Hoare). While the Government continue to promote their reductionist and hostile environment, Scotland wants to encourage and welcome people to build their life with us, among us, as one of us; if the Government can add “new Scot” to their shortage list, that would be a start.

Turning to the local impact in my constituency, Innovate Foods in Dysart is a company that manufactures food for restaurants, retail and catering wholesalers. It employs 65 people, almost half of whom were born overseas. Some of the workers have been with Innovate for nearly 20 years, and the company has translated instructions and recipes into Polish, with some Scottish staff learning Polish to speak to their colleagues in the workforce. The director, Tony Dumbreck, told me that having a large migrant workforce has been a positive experience, remarking that they are generally well educated, they have brought skills that are in demand and they work very hard. He wants them to have as much stability and security as possible and considers them as part of the Innovate family. That attitude is emblematic of the warm, inclusive attitude of the people and the communities I serve to those who choose to make Scotland their home. Since Brexit, he has lost some staff as a result of the toxic hostile environment rhetoric. However, that is not his only concern. He told me:

“Even with the reduced earnings threshold of £25,600, that will be a constraint to try to employ production workers. We perceive that fewer people will be coming here.”

Of course, that is not a surprise. Although my immediate predecessor made no reference to migration in this place in her two years as an MP, save to criticise fellow Scottish MPs standing up for Scotland, her predecessor, Roger Mullin, did give this matter appropriate focus both here and at home. In a debate in this place in 2017, Mr Mullin stated:

“Scotland has different productivity needs, one of which relates to our attitude towards immigration. I would argue that we need more immigration, of the right type.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2017;
Vol. 622, c. 199.]

Locally, Roger convened meetings with groups of constituents to listen to and support them in their anxieties about a post-Brexit Scotland. He also worked with Fife Migrants Forum, based in Kirkcaldy, to better understand the challenges of the communities it serves.

Under current UK immigration rules, highly talented workers are subject to the costly and bureaucratic tier 1 exceptional talent visa process. The Migration Advisory Committee has said that this system “does not work well” and found that only 600 main applicants had been admitted, despite a cap of 2,000 visas. The UK Government have announced that a new, global talent visa will be launched on 20 February 2020 as part of a post-Brexit immigration system, but many believe that with it being open to highly talented individuals only, it will still fail to address chronic skills shortages. Of course visas serve an important function, but when they set the bar at an unrealistic or unnecessarily high level, they become an impediment to growth and ambition. Recognising that there are differing needs across the nations and regions of the UK while applying a one-size-fits-all is as senseless as it is reckless.

Inward migration is undeniably important, but Scotland also faces a retention challenge. The process to ensure that applications for settled status are completed before the 30 June cut-off is sadly farcical. Yesterday, representatives from Fife Migrants Forum attended the EU settled status conference here in London in the hope that it would get answers to vital questions. On 31 March, its funding runs out and, having already suffered due to impediments placed on it by the Home Office, it has only been able to process about 700 of the expected 3,000 applications from some of the most vulnerable people across Fife. Without appropriate funding, some of those constituents may fall through the cracks if the knife falls in six weeks’ time. They are particularly concerned about those members of our community who may now be in care homes. Who will fund them? Will they be removed? These are outrageous suggestions, but it is the reality of UK Government policy. It also applies to students, employees, older people and those in the rural parts of my constituency. Yesterday they were told that “everything is in the hands of the politicians”. Well it certainly is not in the hands of the politicians they elect.

The Government’s continued hostile, unhelpful and toxic environment, which weaponises the word “migrant”, is anathema to me and many in Scotland. We do not call them migrants in such a pejorative way. To us, they are friends, neighbours, partners and workmates. When we ask where you are from, it is with warm and genuine interest rather than suspicion and mistrust.

Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Kevin Foster, erroneously claimed that the independent Migration Advisory Committee has consistently recommended against regional differences in salary thresholds for skilled-worker visas, but its most recent report to the Government on a points-based system and salary thresholds did recommend that the Government pilot a separate visa for remote areas of the UK, including and involving all the devolved Administrations. The current buzz line in the Government is “oven-ready”. Well, they know that Scotland has an oven-ready scheme—why not try it?