– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th December 2013.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-08323, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on discontinuation of the Home Office’s go home campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament welcomes the Home Office decision to discontinue what it considers its insensitive, callous and ill-thought-out Go Home poster campaign at its reporting centre at Brand Street in Glasgow; considers that, as the Scottish Refugee Council has stated, it caused distress to men, women and children in Scotland, some of whom are past victims of atrocity, torture and ill-treatment; notes what it believes is the shared will in Scotland and across the UK against such a hostile policy toward people who have claimed asylum in the UK; considers that the Go Home campaign messages echoed the language of the National Front in the 1970s, which was targeted particularly at non-white communities and recently arrived visible minority immigrants, and believes that what it sees as such an intemperate and appalling approach to refugees should be rejected.
I am an immigrant—I was born in Hong Kong to a Portuguese father and a Scottish mother. Although I came to this country in my teenage years—quite a long time ago, some might say—this is my home and where I choose to live and bring up my family. When the Home Office says, “Go home”, what is it saying to me? More important, what is saying to people who are seeking asylum? Many are fleeing from violence or to save their lives, and the reality is that many of them will not see family and friends again. Those are the tough choices that people face when they seek asylum.
Some of us are just about old enough to remember the 1970s and the hate-filled and toxic rhetoric of the National Front, telling the newly arrived visible minority immigrants to go home. I do not accept that the Home Office campaign is in any way a coincidence, which makes it all the more appalling. It is beyond belief that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition would borrow from such right-wing racist ideology.
For those who missed it, the campaign consisted of mobile billboards in London and a pilot poster campaign in the Glasgow and Hounslow reporting centres. The billboards asked:
“In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST”.
There’s subtlety for you. How about the posters in Glasgow? One said:
“Is life here hard? Going home is simple”.
“This plane can take you home. We can book the tickets”.
Yet another said:
“Going home is as easy as 1, 2, 3”.
One Scottish Refugee Council client, a woman awaiting asylum, had this to say:
"The signs were everywhere in the Glasgow Reporting Centre—on the back of chairs, on the walls and on the steps. I had my three year old with me and he kept asking me what all the signs said, where the footprints on the floor led. There were huge pictures of homeless people. I didn't know what to say to him."
What can one say about such a crude, insensitive and utterly appalling campaign? Theresa May should be ashamed of herself. It was, I think, a personal error of judgment; she signed off the vans, the slogans and the funding and defended them for months until her recent U-turn.
It is fair to say that the billboards triggered not only a storm of protest across the United Kingdom but successful challenges to the Government. First, the courts determined that the Home Office had acted unlawfully by failing to have due regard to its public sector equality duty. Secondly, the Advertising Standards Authority determined that the figures quoted for arrests could not be substantiated and should be withdrawn. The ASA also concluded that the Home Office must not run the campaign again in its current form.
The campaign had the potential to damage community relations and incite hatred against minority communities. Of course, it is part of a wider and more worrying approach by the UK Government, which I believe nurtures a deep and persistent hostility towards migration, especially those who are seeking asylum. Although the Immigration Bill, which is currently before the UK Parliament, contains provisions that would command support across the chamber, it also contains others that are deeply concerning. For example, the clauses on residential tenancies place a duty on private sector landlords and housing associations to check and monitor the immigration status of prospective and existing tenants, with little practical support from the Home Office and the prospect of a £3,000 fine for failing to do so. It will undoubtedly lead to discrimination in such housing, and it is totally impractical to burden landlords with no experience of dealing with immigration matters in such a way.
On Jackie Baillie’s point about the use of inflammatory language, with which I entirely concur, does she think that the phrase
“British jobs for British workers” falls into a similar category of politicians using rhetoric that really is rather irresponsible in a broader context?
I do not agree with the member, but I believe that we need to get beyond the populist rhetoric and come up with evidence-based solutions. Let me be clear: I think that we all accept that there are people who come into the country who do not have protection needs and should therefore return to their country of origin. However, that is best done as part of the routine assessment carried out between a Home Office decision maker and the person who is seeking asylum, not through generic advertising of the kind that we witnessed in the go home campaign.
I want to explode some myths on immigration. Myth 1 is that many immigrants come to the UK as benefit tourists. The truth is that only 38,000 claimants out of some 1.5 million people claiming jobseekers allowance came from other countries. Myth 2 is that immigrants are a burden on the UK economy. The truth is that immigrants contribute more than they take out of the economy—an amount that has been estimated at some £25 billion in the past decade alone.
Myth 3 is that most immigrants to the UK are somehow unskilled. The truth is that 32 per cent of European Union immigrants and 43 per cent of non-EU immigrants held a university degree in comparison with 21 per cent of the UK population. Myth 4 is that most immigrants come to the UK and do not work. The truth is that, in 2012, labour market participation for foreign-born people was 73.7 per cent and their unemployment rate was 9.3 per cent—statistics that almost perfectly match those for the rest of the UK population.
It is appropriate to have controls and to tackle illegal immigration, but we need a mature debate and policy that is based on evidence and understanding rather than ill-informed rhetoric.
The debate is heavily subscribed and a number of members wish to speak, so I ask members for speeches of four minutes or less.
I welcome the debate that Jackie Baillie has brought to the chamber on the discontinuation of the Home Office go home campaign. This is our last day of debates in the chamber before Christmas, and I have a message of good will for Jackie Baillie: “Feliz Natal!”—a merry Christmas from a new Scot born in France to an MSP to highlight our shared Portuguese identity.
Those last remarks require a wee explanation. My mother, like Jackie Baillie’s father, is Portuguese. I am sure that Jackie Baillie and I share some of the same childhood memories of fados, strong Christian faith and dried figs. I like to think that the main reason that I decided to pack my suitcase and leave to settle abroad was the fact that my Portuguese grandfather did the same thing before me. The Portuguese tradition of considering the world as a good place to live is very much the same tradition that I found here in Scotland. Jackie Baillie and I must have many relatives in South America, just as most Scots have many relatives in North America. I see Scotland as the Portugal of the British isles, although fortunately for the people in Portugal decisions are not taken in Madrid.
That is what the debate is about. The poster campaigns in Glasgow originated not from this Parliament but from the Home Office in London. Like the Scottish Refugee Council, I was appalled by the Home Office go home campaign, but it did not come as a surprise to me. The rhetoric around refugees and migration south of the border has been hotting up for some decades, and the campaign is just the logical progression of the debate that is taking place at Westminster.
The first mistake—I do not know why I give the Home Office the benefit of the doubt by calling it a mistake—is to mix two separate issues into one. Jackie Baillie made that mistake in her speech. We need to separate migration and the right to asylum. The second mistake is to make the issue a political argument—we have just heard an intervention in that vein—in order to win votes. The last mistake is not to realise that, once a negative campaign of fear against a group of people has been started, it is very difficult to stop.
I heard a lot of ideas from people who were offended by the go home campaign. We might have had to start our own campaign—“Welcome to Scotland: we want you to stay, we need you to stay”—if the Home Office campaign had not stopped.
We in the chamber all agree on the valuable contribution that refugees can make here in Scotland. Recently I ventured out of my own region to visit a very active group of refugees and asylum seekers in Maryhill in Glasgow. I made them laugh when I told them that I became an MSP without having to prove my identity—my French passport was not needed. That is an example of how inclusive a society we are, and we should celebrate that more often. That was one of the conclusions that was reached at the our day: migrants in Scotland event that was held in the Parliament last Tuesday, at which the Minister for External Affairs and International Development spoke.
We, as politicians, have the biggest responsibility in keeping political debate free from negative campaigns of fear towards refugees and migrant communities. We must debate the issues but with a different tone. I, for one, do not blame the media down south, because the media reflects only what the political establishment in London is saying day after day. We cannot help what the Westminster message is, but we can ensure that every political party in Scotland takes another direction when talking about refugees and migration.
My message to the media in Scotland is that we want it to report the positive message coming out of this chamber, which is based on facts. Page 118 of the Scottish Refugee Council’s report “In Search of Normality: Refugee Integration in Scotland” shows how refugees see Scotland: they say that they feel welcome and that the problem is the Home Office. In the report “New Scots—Integrating Refugees in Scotland’s Communities” from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Refugee Council and the Scottish Government, we can read of the vision of how we can do things better in Scotland than they are done at Westminster just now.
We can read about the same thing in “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”.
I am afraid that Jackie Baillie will not be happy with me. I am not going to give her a Christmas card, but she will get an email that will explain that, instead, I chose to drive to Peterhead and give a cheque to the local fishermen’s mission. I learned there that there will be a very special Christmas lunch for all the foreign crews working in the fishing industry. That is an industry that is dear to me and which would not have survived over the years without the migrants who chose to come and work in Scotland. What a wonderful Christmas message from the blue toon—Peterhead—in giving a message of thanks for all the people who have chosen to come and live here in Scotland.
I am sorry, but because I was rather lenient with Monsieur Allard I am afraid that I can give other members only up to four minutes for speeches.
I congratulate Jackie Baillie on securing the debate and giving Parliament an opportunity to express our collective anger at an insensitive, callous and ill-thought-out campaign.
Like other members, I have substantial casework consisting of people’s complaints about the go home campaign. When I wrote to Theresa May to ask her to withdraw the campaign, I got a very cavalier response from the UK Minister for Immigration, Mark Harper, who argued that he felt that it was the majority opinion of the British public that the message should be promoted. I think that the Scottish Parliament will today speak out in stark contrast to that perceived belief.
I chair a national organisation called Movement for Change, which is all about community organising and empowering people to effect change in their own communities. There are numerous strands to the campaign, which include some of the work that I have done around payday lending and work around housing standards. There is also a specific stream of work around the refugee community in London, where we have been working very closely with the Refugee Council to help support destitute women in London.
One of those women is Trizah Ndwaru, who was a student at Napier in the late 1980s, where she completed a masters degree in water management. She is an incredible woman who has published several books and is highly intelligent and dignified. She went back to Rwanda and had a very successful career, but then things started to change in Rwanda. She faced horrific systematic abuse and had to flee the country and come back to the United Kingdom. She has lived in London for 12 years now without recourse to public funds. I met Trizah in the House of Commons when Stella Creasy and I were running a training workshop with women on how to empower them to take part in the political process.
The posters in the Home Office building in Glasgow’s Brand Street said
“Is life here hard? Going home is simple”.
Yes, life here is hard for Trizah Ndwaru, but she cannot go home—there is no way she can go home. She needs a Government that is on her side. She wants to be able to contribute to British culture and society, and to connect and integrate. If she cannot have that, she wants at least a Government that understands her life and how she finds herself in the United Kingdom and on what terms.
That is what the London refugee women’s forum exists to do; it is about building the womens’ confidence and giving them the power, skills and ability to articulate what their life is really like and to speak truth to power. It is about tackling the injustice of women who face destitution every day. At the moment, the women are working to make their own submission to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into asylum.
That type of work is critically important. I welcome the opportunity that Jackie Baillie has given Parliament to let me tell that story today.
I welcome the discontinuation of the poster campaign that the motion mentions. I think that the decision to do that was right and appropriate. However, the nature of the debate that has been brought before us today is one that I find difficult to accept.
Let me lay a few myths. As a Conservative, I am not opposed to immigration. I see Scotland today as a country that, in some of its regions, has a chronic labour shortage, and the movement of labour around Europe, particularly within the European Union, is a boon to many businesses in parts of Scotland that simply would not exist if they could not employ eastern European labour. Similarly, I believe that this country has a proud record of providing asylum for those who require it.
The Labour Party has questions to answer about its treatment of refugees when it was in government. It had a tendency to accept asylum seekers into the country, give them homes, give their children school places and then take years to decide that they were not entitled to asylum in this country. That resulted in people who had been here for many years being deported at short notice, which was, in itself, cruel and unusual treatment. The previous Labour Government did not have an unblemished record.
What we see today from Jackie Baillie is, as other members have said, an attempt to confuse and conflate a number of issues. We should be prepared to address the issue of illegal immigration in a sensible and fair way. It is reasonable that any country should have rules governing who can and cannot enter as an economic migrant, and those who seek to bypass the system with bogus asylum claims or by simply bypassing the entry points to the country altogether should feel the full force of the law. It is important that those who are not entitled to be here and cannot justify their presence are given the opportunity to return to the country from which they came.
I am concerned about the motion’s reference to the behaviour of the National Front back in the 1970s. I am just about old enough to remember how the National Front behaved in the early 1970s and I would not wish to compare anyone with it, although I understand that certain words on the posters may give the opportunity for such comparisons to be made. However, if we look at the Labour Party’s actions in opposition south of the border, we see it reacting to the proposals to change the rules in advance of 1 January with nothing other than procrastination. What is driving that other than fear of the advance of the UK Independence Party south of the border?
I believe that we need a much clearer view of what constitutes a legal immigrant and an illegal immigrant. We need to accept those who are part of our economic process and welcome those who are entitled to seek asylum in this country. However, synthetic outrage and failure to see the big picture does nothing to deliver for those people.
I add my thanks to those of my colleagues to Jackie Baillie for bringing this important debate to the chamber, especially at this time of year. Yesterday was international migrants day, and we celebrated the day in the Parliament on Tuesday night when, with the Scottish Refugee Council, Migrants Rights Scotland, Migrant Voice and a number of eminent academics, we debated with Humza Yousaf, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, the very positive impact that new Scots have had on this land. The warm stories of the welcomes that they received were tinged with the harrowing stories of the treatment that was meted out by the Home Office and the UK Border Agency.
Let us get one thing straight: as members have stated, migrants in Scotland contribute far more to our society than they take out—that is a plain fact. Yesterday, when we were celebrating the positives of migration, David Cameron and his anti-EU pals in UKIP were heading to Brussels to tell the EU what to do. How confrontational and nasty can they get? Some people describe UKIP as the tail wagging the coalition dog, but I would describe it as an irksome flea on the tail wagging the dog. We saw how nasty they can get with their go home campaign vans and posters on billboards. What a disgusting exercise. Using the language of the far right in such a campaign is absolutely abhorrent.
Today, the Migrant Voice website carried a blog post by Pinar Aksu. Its headline uses one of the tag lines of the Home Office’s campaign: “Is life here hard? Going home is simple.” The post continues:
“Once again, here I am—outside the Home Office at Brand Street in Glasgow. This is where I used to come with my family every Monday after school to let UKBA know that we are here and not running away. This is where I witnessed how some people on this planet have no feelings. Their hearts have been replaced with cold stones. They don’t believe you. They don’t listen to you. THEY treat you as a number. By ‘they’ I am referring to those who work for UKBA. If they were part of this world then they could understand the reasons why people seek asylum: Not for fun, but for their safety.
It has been 7 years that I have been involved with campaigning for asylum and human rights. Every time I come to Brand Street, I feel different. It brings back memories when I was an asylum seeker and how my family was treated. Nothing but a piece of paper. Sometimes it hurts being here, knowing that this disgusting treatment is continuing. Many families being sent back, many dreams being locked away: trust me UKBA you are not helpful at all. Once again this is why I am here again, standing shoulder to shoulder supporting those that must witness posters saying ‘Go Home’ in Glasgow and London. I find this disgusting and humiliating and I am not alone in thinking this.
The Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (and others) mentioned how she was unhappy with what was going on, meanwhile the Minister for Immigration, Mark Harper replied back to Ms Sturgeon saying ‘it was for failed asylum seekers to return home easily and with dignity’. I want to clarify something here, why would someone who runs away from a war zone or from any other difficulties want to go back? Why would someone want to leave their homeland and face difficulties in another country? I suppose no one will understand this unless they carry a brain and a heart with them.
I only ask for one thing: bin those posters! It is disgusting to see such a thing happening in a country with ‘human rights’. Let me tell you one final thing, no one in this world would want to leave their sweet home out of nowhere and move to another country to be treated like an animal. For those who came up with this clever idea saying, ‘Is life here hard? Going home is simple’, why don’t you go and see if ‘life is hard there’?”
To return to Christmas, would the UKBA have turned away Mary and Joseph if they had sought asylum in this country? I wonder.
I know that Jackie Baillie will not agree with me on this point, but the only way to move away from the anti-EU, anti-migrant, right-wing danger that is Westminster is to vote yes next year.
In view of the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the time for debate by half an hour.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by 30 minutes.—[Jackie Baillie.]
Motion agreed to.
I am conscious that Bob Doris and Neil Findlay also lodged motions on this subject, but I congratulate Jackie Baillie not only on lodging the motion but on securing this afternoon’s debate. I also thank the Scottish Refugee Council for its comprehensive, detailed and measured briefing.
The SRC condemns the Home Office’s campaign for its
“crude approach, insensitive tone, and the real distress and trauma it caused.”
That sums it up pretty much perfectly, and it also helps to explain the response to the campaign. That response came not only from Scotland; as Jackie Baillie’s motion acknowledges, the backlash was UK-wide and, as the SRC says in its briefing, it
“triggered a storm of protest across the UK, particularly in London.”
There are many aspects of the campaign to criticise, but the sheer predictability of the fallout makes it all the more galling. It is clear that Home Office ministers demonstrably did not seek views across Government, and certainly not across the coalition. However, to compound that—in breach of the public sector equality duty—they did not even bother to seek the views of those working in the sector. It is quite clear at this stage that the reputation and work of the Home Office have been undermined and that, more worrying still, those working on its behalf, including the likes of Refugee Action, which was contracted to run the assisted voluntary return scheme, have suffered damage as well.
We should not lose sight of the fact that, as the SRC and Jackie Baillie acknowledge, there are people who do not have protection needs and should return to their country of origin. However, that is best achieved through confidential dialogue between refused asylum seekers, their advisers and Home Office staff. Wider communications can also play a useful role in that, but not when they are as hostile and generic as those that were used in the go home campaign.
The evidence shows not only that the posters, billboards and leaflets were inflammatory and offensive but that they cannot even be claimed to have been effective. Refugee Action has stated that the campaign has
“diminished levels of trust in our service” and reduced the take-up of the assisted voluntary return scheme.
Of course, the language that was used in the campaign has, understandably, attracted most of the criticism. As Jackie Baillie highlighted, the “go home” rhetoric had uncomfortable echoes of the rhetoric that has been used by fascist movements through the years, notably in the 1970s.
The campaign has also allowed conflation of the issues of asylum and immigration to take place. As Christian Allard was right to say, we need to have this debate. The issues are serious, cannot be ducked and must not be oversimplified. They require all politicians to take care in the language that we use.
Illegal immigration is a problem that must be tackled. For example, the removal of exit checks was a mistake that successive Administrations made in the 1990s, and the situation now needs to be reassessed and addressed. That will be key to restoring public confidence in this area. From rogue employers to bogus colleges, action quite rightly has been taken by the UK Government to address shortcomings, but the debate, at all times, needs to be characterised by fairness and balance.
It is worth mentioning the welcome end of child detention as part of the coalition agreement. The practice at Dungavel and elsewhere was utterly reprehensible and a scar on our conscience.
There are issues that we must continue to debate and difficult decisions that we need to take, but the serious risk arising from the go home campaign is that we make the task more difficult and in the process cause unnecessary risk and anxiety to many vulnerable people who already feel under threat and others who have made and continue to make such a significant economic, social and cultural contribution to Scotland and the UK as a whole.
I welcome Liam McArthur’s comments. Does he agree that the housing provisions in the Immigration Bill are inappropriate, and will he encourage his Lib Dem MPs to vote against them?
Such a broad dismissal of the housing provisions in the Immigration Bill would be wrong. If specific aspects of the bill need to be reviewed I would support that, but I do not think that we should tread on eggshells. There are issues that need to be addressed, and some of them are being taken forward in the Immigration Bill.
I hope that lessons will be learned and that we will be spared any repeat of such a lamentable campaign in the future. In the meantime, I thank Jackie Baillie for allowing us all to get some of these frustrations out of our system, ahead of Christmas.
I express my thanks to Jackie Baillie for bringing to the chamber her motion for debate. I express my dismay that one member has chosen to describe the reaction against this despicable campaign as “synthetic”. It is very clear that the reaction comprised very genuine and sincerely felt anger, disgust and dismay at the nature of the campaign.
There is, of course, a distinction between the mechanisms of asylum and immigration, but there is an overlap in the way that those issues are politically debated. Why is that? It is because among the most powerful forces in both debates are racism and xenophobia, and the way in which those forces are manipulated and whipped up by certain elements of our political culture and media in the UK. We need to recognise that. I will concentrate my remarks on the asylum system, because of the particular viciousness of the use in Brand Street of images of homelessness to intimidate asylum applicants and their families.
We need to address what the asylum system is for, because that is what is challenged by this campaign and the years of policy that preceded it under the current and previous UK Governments. An asylum system should be founded on compassion. Its purpose should be to give asylum to those who need it, not to refuse it to everyone for whom an excuse can be found to give a refusal. The latter, I am afraid, is what we have in this country. We have an asylum system that has morphed into what is little better than a human stock-taking exercise, in which individuals who work in the system are under constant pressure to say no at every opportunity and in which applicants are forced to get over absurd hurdles. There are barriers to justice that a Scottish person—a UK citizen—who sought justice in our courts would never have to experience, such as issues around stress, translation and representation. There are things to which they should have access but to which they do not, which creates a lack of justice in the system.
There should be justice as well as compassion for the same reason that we say in our criminal courts that it is better that a guilty person occasionally goes free than that innocent people be convicted. On the same principle, it is better that some people who might not have a well-founded claim end up being given leave to remain than that people who face genuine fear of persecution be sent back to face it.
If we rebalanced that, we would have an asylum system that was based on compassion and justice rather than one that is based on shallow, self-defeating principles, which those who whip up racism and xenophobia in the debate have managed to achieve. I repeat that they have managed to achieve that. Let us acknowledge what has been done to the asylum system over the years.
The images of homelessness that are being used to intimidate applicants are vicious not only because they cause fear or are distressing but because they recall the fact that destitution—the reality of destitution, not just the image of it—has been a deliberate act of asylum policy in the UK for years. Those images are so capable of causing fear because the reality exists on our streets. It has existed for years and will exist this Christmas as it has done for Christmases past.
Whether in the context of the UK or, perhaps more easily, a Scottish asylum system, that must be reversed. Years of racism and xenophobia in the asylum system must come to an end.
Like others, I thank Jackie Baillie for bringing the motion to the chamber. When I came into the chamber for the debate, I did not expect the Portuguese theme that I have heard and, unfortunately—
I am going to continue it, yes. As many members know, I was over seeing my brother get married on Wednesday. Michael is an immigrant to Portugal. He has been there for nearly 40 years and has made a life for himself. However, more interestingly and because it is right that we recognise clearly that there is a distinction between immigration and asylum, Michael’s partner, Raul, stayed in London because he was a refugee from Salazar. He could not go back until the dictatorship had fallen, and that is when they moved over to Lisbon.
People we know are affected by asylum and immigration all the time, which made me think about the issue on a personal level. The difference between asylum and immigration must be at the forefront of the debate, because the two have been conflated by politicians for their own ends and we must acknowledge that there is an important difference.
I first heard of the campaign when a constituent contacted my office to tell me about the posters. Like most people to whom I have spoken and like everybody who has spoken in the debate so far, I was appalled that such messages were being used at all and particularly in Scotland.
I wrote a motion and wrote twice to the Home Secretary asking her for justification for the posters, but I am still waiting on a response. I feel a bit peeved: Kezia has had one and Nicola has had one, but I have not had a response from anybody.
My apologies, Presiding Officer.
I also wrote to the then Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Lib Dem Jeremy Browne, after some encouraging newspaper comments from him. Unfortunately, since then, he has been removed from office. I am sure that that is just a coincidence.
Of course, like everyone else, I welcome the Home Office decision to discontinue the go home poster campaign and the commitment by the Scottish Parliament to condemn the pilot programme. However, not only was the campaign appalling and insensitive, but its intent was clear: it was to say, “We don’t want you here.” The posters added more fear and distress for those who were already living life on the edge while seeking asylum in the UK.
Robina Qureshi from Positive Action in Housing said it well when she said of the rhetoric:
“As we all should know, ‘Go Home’ is a well-known racist taunt that has been used for decades in this country by fascists and racists against those of us from immigrant communities. That a government agency should decide to take up the same racist and xenophobic refrain while ‘processing’ would-be refugees to this country, is shameful and deeply offensive.”
More than being “shameful and deeply offensive”, it is harmful to the country’s reputation and, more important, to asylum seekers’ wellbeing. I doubt that it ever once crossed the mind of the Home Secretary and her officials what feelings the use of language such as, “Is life here tough for you? We can help you go home,” would stir up for people for whom that is not an option at all—men, women and children who have fled for their lives, been separated from their families or seen their families killed. It is that lack of compassion from Westminster that appals me the most about the campaign.
As well as being condemned by almost the whole chamber and the third sector, the campaign was condemned by The Herald. I think that its editorial of 30 August perfectly captured public feeling on the matter. It said:
“What is particularly offensive about this is that these adverts, which are also being piloted in London’s Hounslow, appear to be directed at asylum seekers who have fled their countries of origin because they were no longer safe there. These are people whose claims are being processed by the UK Government. What point can there be in urging them to return to countries where they could be tortured, imprisoned or killed?”
That ties in with the Home Office statistics that show that Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China, Syria, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—countries where significant human rights abuses have been and continue to be documented—are among the top 10 countries from which asylum seekers come. Are we really saying that asylum seekers from those countries should be pressured into going back there?
As we know, the majority of asylum seekers in Scotland live in Glasgow, where they form less than 0.5 per cent of the population. If all the asylum seekers in the city were put in Hampden stadium—which is in my constituency, in case I have not mentioned that previously—it would not even be 40 per cent full.
It is clear that the pilot was designed not for Scotland, but for the south of England, where UKIP—as has been mentioned—is a threat to the political status quo.
Yes, I will do.
I am pleased that the white paper promotes the idea of a truly progressive immigration and asylum system that would consider each application on its merits and which would not ask people to go home, because we want everyone who lives in Scotland—for whatever period of time and wherever they have come from—to see it as their home.
I support the motion.
Good afternoon, Presiding Officer.
I thank Jackie Baillie for securing the debate. It is tremendous that she has taken the opportunity to lead a members’ business debate on the issue.
Just because Christmas is a time of good will and happiness for everyone, we should not allow that to confuse us about the extent to which the Home Office’s latest campaign has upset many among us in the community. In all my life, I never imagined that a British Government would allow one of its departments to be so cruel, crude, unkind and out of touch as to run such a campaign. I was ashamed, disappointed and shocked. I could not believe that, in this day and age, people would stoop to such levels, but they did. I hope that many other departments—not only in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe—will learn that such behaviour is unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated. It does not represent our people or our nation, and it certainly does not represent humanity.
It has been said that there is not enough evidence that the type of message that the campaign sends hurts people’s feelings. I do not need evidence to tell me that. Why? I have experienced that hurt for myself—I have real-life experience of it. I do not need to prove to any out-of-touch department or secretary of state that the campaign has hurt people’s feelings.
Many organisations—including the Scottish Refugee Council—and politicians around the world have advised the Government of the fact that its actions were ill designed and desperate. It is unbelievable that the safeguards that are in place in relation to equality issues and the legislation that is there to protect the vulnerable have failed to work in this instance. People talk about freedom of speech, but at the same time we have laws in this country to protect us against racial harassment, intimidation and bullying, and I am surprised that no one has gone down that route to take the UK Government to task over its campaign. Consideration needs to be given to the taking of such action, not just against the Home Secretary, but the people who put together the campaign.
Members have shared some of their experiences. When I was young, people would say to me, “Why don’t you go home?” I would say, “Well, I’m going home later on.” For me, home was Glasgow; it still is. However, people see you differently. That is the issue; that is the issue about harassment, prejudice and discrimination. We have to learn, live and teach and change the hearts and minds of people. Such a campaign does little to support or help with that. That is why it is important to challenge the campaign.
Even now, people will say, “Where are you from?” I say, “I’m from Glasgow.” They say, “Yeah, but I mean, where are you actually from?” I say, “Well, I’m from the west end—Maryhill.” They say, “No, no, I mean—”. I say, “Well, I was born in Govan.” They say, “No, I mean—”. I say, “What do you mean, you mean? I am telling you where I’m from—I’m from Glasgow.” However, that does not satisfy some people.
This type of propaganda encourages that type of attitude. That is why it is important for everybody to be absolutely clear about what they want to do. I hope and I wish and I pray that the fact that we are debating the issue will send the right signals to the UK Government and to all Governments around the world that we have to resist the temptation to go down that route. I commend the motion.
I congratulate Jackie Baillie on securing the debate and I recognise that a number of MSPs have put forward motions on the issue and run campaigns. James Dornan, who spoke earlier, has been particularly robust in the campaign in Glasgow. I commend them all for that.
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in and close the debate. There were some fantastic speeches from across the chamber from members who touched on their personal experiences, which I will also do.
There was almost universal condemnation of the campaign. It is a campaign so iniquitous, cruel and shameful that it is hard to believe that it came from a Government department. It is a campaign that genuinely—as Patrick Harvie said—threatened to derail much of the progress that we have made to reduce the levels of racist bigotry that we have seen in the past. It probably has derailed some of that progress.
Scotland has a long history of welcoming people from all over the world, whether they are visitors, students, migrant workers or asylum seekers. We want to be a progressive and socially responsible nation that provides a place of safety and fair, humane and sensible policies on asylum.
In response to Alex Johnstone’s comments, I do not believe—and certainly I do not think that any member in the chamber believes—that anybody in the Conservative party, for example, is a racist. That is not the point that we are trying to make at all. The point that we are trying to make is that that phrase—that language—has been taken from the National Front; it has been taken from the British National Party. It is a phrase that has been used by racists up and down the country over the ages and over the years and there is no way that anybody in Government, be they a minister, a cabinet secretary or even a civil servant, would not have known the impact of using that language and why it was so hurtful and so offensive.
Mr Malik was spot on in describing how it made him feel. Much like him, having grown up in Glasgow—having been born and bred in Glasgow—I have been called every name and every racist slur under the sun. I have been called the four-letter word for a Pakistani; I have been called a black b; I have been called anything that people can imagine from when I was in primary school to, most recently, a couple of weeks ago on social media. However, the one that gets to me the most—the one that hurts the most and the one that really grinds against the grain the most—is when I am told to go home. As Mr Malik was saying so correctly, when I have worked hard for this country, when this is my country, when I was born and bred here and am just as Glaswegian and just as Scottish as anybody else, and somebody tells me to go home, I think, “What the—”. Dinna worry, I stopped myself. I think, “What right do they have to tell me to go home?” It does hurt.
I respect that perhaps Alex Johnstone agrees that the language that was used in the campaign was not fair and not sensible and, more than that, it was offensive.
We cannot take that campaign in isolation. Members have touched upon this point. There is a sense that when it comes to issues of asylum and refugees as well as immigration—we do not want to conflate them but there are similar themes around both issues—there is a trajectory and the UK is regressing. We have heard EU commissioners saying that the UK is now being viewed as a nasty country.
That is the trajectory that the UK is on. My appeal to colleagues in the Labour Party is honest and sincere. There is no difference—not an iota—between Jackie Baillie and me in our belief about how asylum seekers and those who are seeking refuge in this country should be treated. We believe that they should be treated humanely and compassionately. However, I am genuinely worried that the UK political parties, including Jackie Baillie’s party, are on the wrong trajectory. I know that she says that that is not true, but I genuinely think that they are going in the wrong direction. I also believe that they are pandering to the UKIP agenda.
Diane Abbott, who is a very senior member of the Labour Party, said:
“Ed Miliband has made two speeches on immigration in recent months ... all parties need to be careful of ‘dog whistle’ politics on immigration where the text is fine but the underlying message is one that is not so fine.
The rise of Ukip has made people panicky about immigration but the truth is that the fear of immigration is just that—it is fear. The more immigrants who live in your area the less likely you are to worry about it.”
I will come to a point that Kezia Dugdale made.
I do not disagree with anything that the minister is saying, but I caution against perhaps portraying the sentiments of people south of the border as being somehow very different from sentiments north of the border. As the SRC made clear in its briefing, the outrage that was felt in London was particularly acute. I think that that reflects the fact that there are concerns right across the UK about the need to get the debate about asylum and immigration right.
I do not disagree at all with Liam McArthur’s points. I purposely referred to political parties; I did not refer to the British people, people in Scotland or people in England. I said that political parties have to be careful about the trajectory that they are on.
Liam McArthur’s point takes me to a point that Kezia Dugdale made. Kezia Dugdale’s speech and the story that she told were extraordinarily powerful. She talked about public opinion perhaps not chiming with the go home campaign. By and large, I agree with that, but the honest reality is that many members of the public have an irrational fear of immigration, who asylum seekers are, and why they are in the country. I think that the defining difference is in how politicians choose to respond to that. I do not believe that the language that is coming from politicians, particularly the Conservative-led coalition Government and the Conservative Party, is helpful.
We have seen an almost united front in the chamber—a pretty unanimous display of why we believe that immigrants and those who seek asylum should be welcomed to Scotland. That is the right political message, and I hope that it filters down to people. I appeal to those who have influence in their parties in the UK to try translate that tone and feeling to those parties, as they are not going in that direction. We have displayed something in the Scottish Parliament that I do not think would quite be heard in the UK Parliament, certainly not from senior members of the UK Government.
We have published “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”, a white paper in which we have very clearly given our priorities for asylum and immigration. On asylum, we believe in closing down Dungavel, which is a toxic institution. We believe in no longer allowing refugees to become destitute, but providing them with continued support, and in no longer carrying out dawn raids and dragging families and children out of their homes at 3, 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. That is not just a legal duty; it is our moral duty. It will help us to build a more successful nation that is based on diverse, inclusive and skilled communities that work not only for economic growth but for better social and cultural diversity.
I will end with the poignant and aspirational image that Christian Allard MSP painted. He said that, instead of having vans driving around that tell people to go home, he envisages a Scotland in which people drive around in vans that say, “Welcome to your new home.”
13:19 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—