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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

I fear that sometimes in politics people oppose propositions for the wrong reasons. I do not regard myself as immune from that tendency by the way, but quite often, people are in a political bunker, and they have predetermined attitudes about the meaning of a proposition. Before someone expresses even a single word in support of that proposition, their mind is made up on the basis of who is making the argument.

I fear that this is one of those occasions. No matter how convincing the arguments from SNP Members, the Government will not listen to them—those arguments will fall on deaf ears. I am saddened by that, because it is not a good way to approach such a serious subject. There are probably Government Members—I do not know whether I would include the Under-Secretary—who simply reject any proposition on visa controls or anything else from the SNP, because they would regard giving in or moving towards that position as being the thin end of the wedge of Scottish independence, so no quarter must be given.

Let me be clear, SNP Members very much want Scotland to become an independent country with full and absolute control over all matters to do with nationality and the movement of people into and out of the country. I very much look forward to the day—I hope it will not be too long ahead—when we can establish an immigration system in Scotland that gives people Scottish citizenship with a very generous attitude and encourages people to come and make their homes in our country from all corners of the globe: a country made up of first-class citizens rather than there being different attitudes to different people depending on where they come from. But that is not where we are, and it is not what is being proposed in this debate.

What is being proposed is a simple policy to have a work visa in one part of the United Kingdom because of very clear, overwhelming arguments in favour of it. I might almost suggest that a Unionist-minded politician could support many of the propositions contained in this motion, because the purpose behind it is to try and make up for and deal with the consequences of Scotland being part of a centralised single state where economic planning, and strategic economic planning in particular, is very much done from the centre and where the Scottish economy risks becoming a peripheral regional economy in a much larger entity.

We all know the economic pressures that that creates. I moved to this city in the 1980s for work, as did many other people I know. It is still happening today—this gravitational pull that draws people in and overheats the south-east of England. That is precisely why a one-size-fits-all policy is not the answer to anything.

For the last 20 years or so the Scottish population has been growing slightly, but only as a result of immigration; had it not been for that, the population would have been in decline. For that period up until the end of this year, we have been blessed in many ways by having access to the free movement of people across this continent, which has allowed many people from other European countries to come and make their home and live and work in Scotland. But now that that is at threat of disappearing, it is all the more important that we address what sort of immigration system we have in the United Kingdom and whether Scotland, as part of that, is going to have its needs satisfied. And I would say that with the current proposals on offer—