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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,
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
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
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?