Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th March 2015.
Today’s discussion about celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities is a welcome opportunity to highlight in the chamber the importance of a vibrant community life. In the Lothian region, which I represent, there are many active local communities working inclusively that set an example to us all. In addition, we should celebrate the fact that immigrants of various nationalities continue to make a wonderfully diverse cultural contribution to Scotland.
However, the debate also provides an opportunity to discuss how we can enable local services to be more flexible in the face of rising populations. I express my support for Liz Smith’s amendment, because the media should act responsibly and truthfully, but we should also ensure that the Parliament does not direct blame in a generalised, blanket fashion.
When I visited the Broomhouse centre in Edinburgh, with its cafe, kitchen, teaching room and various other facilities, it was clear to me that I was seeing community spirit at its best, with people of many nationalities in training. Whether they wanted a cup of tea, a hot lunch or an embroidery class, all comers were offered the warmest of welcomes at the centre, which is situated at the heart of the local community. Most important, the centre provides in-work training to many locals and other people who would otherwise struggle to gain extensive work experience. That inspiring and inclusive example of providing for and giving back to all members of the community is exactly what we should be celebrating today.
It is welcome to have the chance to celebrate the contributions that immigrants have made to Scotland’s culture, whether they arrived last century, last month or last week, from around the world or from closer to home. As a former consul for Iceland, I have expansive knowledge of the fantastic expertise that Icelandic people have brought to these shores in culinary matters and music, among other areas. There are numerous other examples that we could reference, such as unique shops that have been opened by Scandinavian immigrants, South African chefs at popular restaurants, Spanish classes held by teachers from across the Spanish-speaking world and, of course, all the brilliant international contributions to Edinburgh’s arts scene during the festival and throughout the year.
I could go on with many more examples, but the point is that there is much that we should celebrate. After all, the Italians were about the first race to come here, and the cafés, restaurants and fish and chip shops that were all started by them some 100 years ago are welcome. Of course, they are not considered immigrants any more.
I will touch on the issue of increasing local populations and how Scotland’s communities are impacted by and respond to that. Whether it is caused by immigration, internal migration, new housing developments or demographic changes, that increase can present local services across Scotland with significantly increased demand. However, the causes and the results of increased demand can vary significantly between different cities, towns and villages. As a result, it is apparent that the best way to respond is to grant local areas and their councils the flexibility to adapt and respond to each demand in the way that they think is most suitable.
It is important that the media report on immigration accurately and responsibly while ensuring that they do not casually stray into the aforementioned xenophobia. However, we must not seek to demonise the entire media. As Liz Smith’s amendment states, it is only some quarters of the media that we need to be wary of.
I reiterate my conviction that inspiring examples of community spirit, such as the Broomhouse centre, should be celebrated in the chamber and across Scotland. I hope that we can all share in celebrating the diverse cultural contributions that are made by immigrants across Scotland. We should also consider that local authorities and local services need to be allowed the flexibility to assess local needs, set local priorities and deliver local improvements. I agree with the sentiments that are expressed in every amendment and urge all members to vote for them.