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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The tone of the debate has been excellent and has shown Parliament in its best light, especially as we are all united—right across the chamber—in the sentiments that we are trying to express through the motion and the amendments.

Patricia Ferguson’s last point was important because—as we all know—seven weeks tomorrow, we all go to the polls for the Westminster general election. As Jean Urquhart’s motion demonstrates, it is very important that in the heat of that election campaign we all stick together to promote exactly the values that we have all been sharing this afternoon, and that we conduct ourselves in a civilised manner that will do our nation proud.

I am very conscious of the other points that Patricia Ferguson raised in relation to the challenges and pressures that are sometimes put on public services when we have a high—and in some geographical areas, a concentrated—number of people coming in to Scotland. We have to face up to those challenges. They should in no way be seen as reasons for not encouraging people to come here and to emigrate to Scotland. Actually, the challenges represent a good opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment not only to welcoming those people, but to ensuring that they have a chance of getting a decent job, a decent house and a share in the public services that they contribute to the cost of providing.

As was pointed out by a number of members, in all the work that has been done—quite a lot has been done in recent years—on the economic contribution of migrants to the UK and to Scotland, every single one of the studies has shown that migrants’ contribution is very positive indeed. I think that we all know instinctively that that is the case.

Ken Macintosh mentioned the number of immigrants who work in the NHS—in particular, doctors. It is a very high percentage indeed. Of course, that goes back to a long tradition between countries including India and the UK, in which people come here for training and some go back to provide very high-quality medical services in their own country. This is what it is about: it is about being in a global economy, being a global people and being involved in the world. We benefit ourselves and others through such historical and future relationships.

There are two points to be made about the kind of prejudice that Bruce Crawford gave an example of when he mentioned what he witnessed recently in Stirling. First, the reality is that there is still too much of that kind of behaviour happening in Scotland, on too regular a basis, so it behoves us all to do everything that we possibly can to stamp it out. It requires a multifaceted approach. It is partly about bringing some people to justice, partly about education, partly about changing culture and partly about adopting policies that will lead to greater integration and better understanding among the different communities. The work of organisations including Interfaith Scotland, BEMIS and the Scottish Refugee Council is absolutely crucial in relation to that. All those organisations make an enormous contribution to achieving that objective, but we must be determined to eliminate the kind of prejudice that Bruce Crawford witnessed in Stirling.

Secondly, we have to ensure that, in encouraging people to come to Scotland, we do so on the basis that they come here as full citizens—I use the word “citizens” in the fullest sense of the word—and that they play their full part in every aspect of Scottish culture, Scottish life and the Scottish economy, right across the board, which will mean that we have the kind of diversity that we have.

If we go back to the history of Scotland, we are all descendants of immigrants because, by definition, our ancestors had to emigrate to Scotland for us to be physically here today. That is what Tom Devine meant when he said that we are a mongrel nation. We are all descendants of immigrants, and that is to the benefit of Scotland. This country is not owned by us just because we happened to be here earlier, or because we are from an earlier generation of immigrants who arrived before the current generation.

We have an international reputation for being a very tolerant nation, a seafaring nation, an internationally aware and conscious nation, and a nation that punches above its weight in its international contributions in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. That is all part of the same fundamental philosophy in which we all, on all sides of the chamber and throughout Scotland, believe: in the words of Rabbie, “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.”

In that spirit, the debate has been very good. It sends out a loud and clear message to the David Coburns of this world, and to people such as those in the example that Bruce Crawford mentioned, that the kind of ignorant prejudice that they have shown is not acceptable in modern Scotland and will not be tolerated. We want people to come to live and work here as immigrants, and we must treat those people as equals in every aspect of our lives.