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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th December 2013.

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Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

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.