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

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Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party

I am proud to say that, back in the 1990s, one of the SNP branches in my constituency put forward an amendment to recognise not the people of Scotland but the peoples of Scotland. That is a starting point from which members across the parties take our bearings in the debate. Having said that, I believe that we now understand how difficult it has been over Scotland’s history to live up to that potential.

Professor Tom Devine’s view about Scotland being a mongrel nation has been mentioned, and that was our thought when that amendment was proposed. His history of Scotland describes how the integration of Irish people, Lithuanians, Italians, Poles and Chinese, through to the present day, with the small Jewish population and now many people from African countries, has to some extent been prefigured by the difficulties that we have in celebrating diversity and promoting a living-together approach. I do not want to use the word “integration”, because we are talking about something more profound than that, but that is how the issue was thought of in the 19th century. Tom Devine points out that those people came from deprived and distressed communities that were brought low by corruption, discrimination and economic problems. They came to Scotland, a land of economic possibilities, and then they met the problems of becoming part of this multicultural nation, and some of them had difficulty in doing so.

I will mention particularly the recent coverage of the Spanish people in the Highlands. The slip of a word by the BBC is one thing, but the poll that it conducted earlier than that on immigration was flawed indeed. The coverage of Spanish migration to Inverness and of the migrants learning English was quite interesting. On the morning radio programme, Philomena de Lima, who is the director of the centre for remote and rural studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, said that we have to have a lot more research into the host community, how it sees such things and how it is attuned to thinking about the adaptation of people from many places, but that was not included in the television version of the same story.

One of the keys to talking about ways in which we can break down barriers and allow people a better chance to integrate is to recognise that many of the people who come here—European Union citizens coming here through free movement—are prepared to work hard and to earn regular pay in places such as fish-processing factories. That work might not be particularly well paid, but they will work regularly because they want to send money home or they want to bring their families here. That part of what they do for Scotland is a vital ingredient of our diversity. The fact that other Scots will not do those jobs is something for the host community to think about carefully. It needs to adapt to the fact that there will always be jobs at various levels. It is too much to say that it is easy for us to promote living together and integration.

Education is the key. It has helped many groups of people to move forward. If we are to move forward from where we are now, we must learn from some of the things that have happened in the past. There is plenty of space in Scotland for unity and diversity and for all the peoples of Scotland.