Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I suspect that when Jean Urquhart decided on the topic for today’s debate, she had little idea just how topical it would be. However, I thank her for lodging the motion and for launching her campaign. As she knows, I was unable to be at the launch yesterday, but she has my whole-hearted support.

This has been a consensual debate and one that has been very much worth having in order to demonstrate that Scotland’s Parliament is united in its view that new Scots enrich our country, and that the increasing diversification of our country and, indeed, our Parliament are most welcome.

Of course, that view stands in stark contrast to the views of David Coburn MEP—or, as I like to call him, that ignorant racist—which should have no place in modern Scotland. Sadly, however, they are held by a minority of the population, as Mr Coburn’s election demonstrated. As elected representatives, we have a duty to challenge those views whenever we can; the debate has given us an opportunity to do that.

Members who know my constituency and my affection for it know that it is enormously diverse—and all the more joyful, creative and dynamic for that. I draw Parliament’s attention once again to the excellent work of the Maryhill Integration Network, which has since 2001 worked with the local population and new Scots to help with integration and support. It does that by bringing people together to celebrate what they have in common, rather than focusing on what might make them different. It recognises that language can be a barrier, so it encourages sharing of food, dance, music and culture in order to bring people together. Over the years, I have had the privilege and pleasure of attending many of the network’s events and celebrations. It is wonderful to see people who do not share a spoken language finding that they share the language of food, dance or music and that they can work and learn together. We need more organisations like that and we need to ensure that we support them and resource them properly.

I am also proud that my home city, Glasgow, is the only local authority area to which asylum seekers and refugees are dispersed—but that, of course, brings with it its own challenges.

On Monday, I met a group of wonderful women from a selection of countries. One of the difficulties that they identified was the shortage of ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—classes. They were, in the main, educated women who want to work here and make new lives for their families, but their first hurdle is to acquire the language. That difficulty is brought into focus by looking at some of the numbers. There are now 130 different languages spoken by the children in Glasgow’s schools, and some schools have as many as 40 languages. Every year, 1,500 foreign nationals arrive in Glasgow and need to be integrated into the school system, which is the equivalent of more than one additional classroom per week.

To support that, Glasgow City Council employs 110 full-time-equivalent English as an additional language teachers at a cost of some £5 million per annum. That is estimated to be the same as the total number who are employed in the rest of Scotland, but it is still not enough because the women whom I met this week and the mums and dads of the school-age children need help too, and the organisations in my constituency that provide ESL—English as a second language—courses are inundated with people who need them in order to help them to find their way in Scottish life and in our communities. They need the courses so that they can play their parts in building the strong and diverse communities that we all want, but some organisations that have previously operated an open-door policy now have waiting lists.

The pattern of immigration has changed over the years—I recall when Chilean people came to Scotland because of the political difficulties in Chile—but the number of people who are coming to our country is not changing. People are fleeing Syria and others are escaping from Eritrea, where conscription to the army for more than 10 years is the norm and where young people see no future for themselves unless they can leave their country. It is clear that we have to do more to support those communities.

The motion is correct in identifying the importance of the context in which we have the debate: the general election. We all have a duty and responsibility to challenge the views of people who seek to drive a wedge between the communities in this country. They must not be allowed to succeed.