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Migration and Scotland

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Whip 5:24 pm, 11th February 2020

I congratulate Miriam Cates. Listening to her describe her constituency, I was tempted to take her up on the offer of a visa, but I am a bit too attached to my own community, although others might take her up on that.

Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, to make my first full contribution since my return to Parliament. If you will indulge me, I shall take a moment to recognise the contribution made by Danielle Rowley, from whom I regained my seat in December. While I may disagree with Danielle on many subjects, there are probably more on which we agree, not least our wish to see the best for our community of Midlothian. I know all too well how tough it can be when the results do not go your way on election night—not only for Members but for their staff teams—so I wish Danielle and her former team the very best for the future.

Let me now turn to this afternoon’s debate. We have heard from my hon. Friends many of the reasons why it is so vital for Scotland to have an immigration system that actually supports our economy, not one that stifles it. Unfortunately, we find ourselves with an imposed UK Government who seem to care not one bit what is in the best interests of Scotland. Perhaps that explains why their party has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s.

The impacts of the Government’s narrow-mindedness will indeed be significant for my constituency of Midlothian. We know that migrant workers are more likely to work in sectors such as retail, manufacturing, education, health and social care, all of which are vitally important to the Midlothian economy. Nineteen per cent. of workers in Midlothian are employed in retail and wholesale, a figure that is over 5% higher than the Scottish average. Food and drink alone contribute more than £7 million to our local economy. We also have higher than average employment in education and in manufacturing, sectors in which we have long relied on international workers from the EU and elsewhere. So when we look at the approach taken by the Government, which completely ignores the needs of Scotland, it is easy to see the catastrophic effect that it could have on my community.

There are also a great many positive things happening in Midlothian. It is often said that we are the fastest-growing local authority area in Scotland. That may well be the case, and it brings real opportunities. According to research compiled for Skills Development Scotland, the largest contributing region to the Scottish economy in 2019 was Edinburgh, East and Midlothian, with a gross value added of £26.6 billion, or 19% of Scotland’s total output. The fastest growth is in the professional, scientific and technical activities sector, with an average growth rate of 3.3%, and that includes life sciences.

I know that some Members may wonder why this is such a big deal for a former mining community, but Midlothian is the local authority area in Scotland with the highest proportion of jobs in the life sciences sector. That includes the Midlothian Science Zone, the Roslin Institute, Moredun, the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Scotland's Rural College, and the Edinburgh University Easter Bush Campus. At Easter Bush alone, 26% of the workforce is from outside the UK. Employment in the sector has increased by 12% over the last year across Scotland, and exports have also increased by 12%.

This is a massive and growing success story, supported by smart policy from the Scottish Government, yet while the Scottish Government seek to drive forward our global competitiveness, barrier-building policies from this place are cutting the legs from under us. The lack of willingness on the part of the UK Government even to contemplate the proposals from the Scottish Government shows a contempt for the communities of Scotland, and they will pay the price for their narrow-minded intransigence.

We were told to live in a union of equals, to lead not leave, and that we would be pooling and sharing. That was all hollow rhetoric that we can now see through. Thankfully, however, our communities do not need to be saddled with the destructive polices of yet another Tory Government. Thatcher decimated the Midlothian communities when she obliterated the mining industry, and I am certainly not going to stand by and watch as this Government commit the modern-day equivalent. The people of Scotland, and the people of Midlothian, can follow another path—an independent path. That day is coming, and it is coming soon.