Home Office Go Home Campaign

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

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Photo of Christian Allard Christian Allard Scottish National Party

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.