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I t is a great privilege to begin this important debate and, in doing so, to recognise and emphasise, on behalf of the Scottish Government and many others, the huge contribution that European Union citizens have made to Scotland and continue to make today.
As it comes on the day after international migrants day, and just hours after the United Kingdom Government has finally published its highly concerning and wrong-headed immigration white paper, today’s debate is an opportunity for us, as a Parliament, to reaffirm our support for our friends, neighbours, colleagues and loved ones who have chosen to make Scotland their home, and for us to focus on their wellbeing and recognise the huge contribution that they make to modern Scotland.
I hope that every member will want to say something to people who have come to study at and enhance our world-class colleges and universities, or who have worked hard in businesses and public services right across the country, supporting their families and their communities, or who have been brought up here—or even been born here—and who speak with a Scottish accent but have a passport from another European country. Let us say to them, for it cannot be said often enough: Scotland is your home; you are welcome here; we want you to stay; together, we are stronger in diversity.
European migration has been good for Scots, and for Scotland. The Parliament knows the challenges that Scotland faces from long-term demographic trends, with an ageing population and not enough working-age people coming through to replace those leaving the labour market, despite more people coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK in recent years. EU migration has helped to sustain the working-age population and has boosted our economic growth. That is why today’s debate is important. It is also why the UK Government’s white paper that was published this afternoon is so concerning and wrong-headed and is deeply worrying for businesses and many others.
“no evidence that EEA migration has reduced employment opportunities”
for UK citizens,
“no evidence that EEA migration has reduced wages for UK-born workers”
“no evidence that migration has reduced the training opportunities”
that are available to British people. It is important that we tackle and address any misunderstanding on those points.
On the other hand, the key advisers to the UK Government emphasise that
“EEA migrants ... pay more in taxes than they receive in welfare benefits and consume in public services”
“EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services.”
The positive impact of migration is clear—in evidence and in principle—according to even the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee.
I heard that important intervention. I was going to say later—but I will make the point now—that Mr Javid’s comments are erroneous and inaccurate. Taking account of what is proposed in the white paper for Scotland, our modelling estimates that it would cost Scotland’s gross domestic product around 6.2 per cent by 2040, which is equivalent to a fall in GDP of almost £6.8 billion a year. It would have a significantly detrimental impact.
That leads me to this point. Scottish Government analysis shows—as many members will know—that each EU citizen contributes £34,400 in GDP a year and £10,400 in tax, so the contribution is massive.
Scottish Government analysis also shows that, because of the important part that EU citizens have played in our population turnaround, EU migration is relatively more important to Scotland than it is to other parts of the UK. I see that in my constituency, Edinburgh Northern and Leith, which is one of the most multicultural and vibrant places in Scotland; and we see it around Scotland, in our cities, towns and rural communities.
That is why it is so important for Scotland that, in the face of the current turmoil at Westminster and the two and a half years of uncertainty and anxiety that the UK Government has caused for EU citizens, we support EU citizens in Scotland and make sure that they feel, and know that they are, welcome. I was pleased to announce yesterday—as many members will be aware—that, as part of our responsibility for that, the Scottish Government will deliver an advice service for EU citizens in Scotland in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland and its network of citizens advice bureaux around the country. That will be over and above anything that the UK Government has planned—which has not been forthcoming. To be frank, the UK Government is not doing enough.
There is an urgent need for clear and trusted information about how people will be affected by changes in the immigration rules as a result of Brexit. The geographical footprint of Citizens Advice Scotland, together with its trusted status and existing network of advisers, will allow the service that we fund to be delivered quickly around Scotland. The service is a practical step that we can take to ensure that EU and EEA citizens in Scotland feel welcomed, supported and valued. I am sure that members will agree that it is the right thing to do.
I wish that it was not necessary, and that the people who have done us the honour of making Scotland their home did not need to apply to retain rights that they already have. However, faced with the situation as a result of Brexit, I hope that our commitment to provide support gives some comfort and surety amid the uncertainty.
Since 2016, the Scottish Government has been clear that it will do all that it can to help EU citizens through the process of obtaining settled status. That is why we have also made a clear commitment to pay the fees for that for EU citizens working in our devolved public services, including doctors, nurses and other public sector workers on whom we all rely.
However, this Government is also clear that EU citizens certainly should not be being asked to apply to retain the rights that they already enjoy—and have had for some time—and should not be charged a fee for the application. Parliament should be aware that I have raised the issue with the UK Government, most recently this morning with the UK Minister of State for Immigration, and I will continue to argue that there should be no fee. To be frank, it is insulting for the UK Government to ask EU citizens, relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues to pay a fee to keep making such a huge contribution to Scotland.
It is not just the Scottish Government that is calling for the fee to be scrapped. The overwhelming message from those to whom I have spoken, whether in businesses, in third sector organisations or EU citizens, is that it is unfair that people are having to apply and to pay simply to keep their existing rights to live, work and study in Scotland. The fee applies not just to adults but to children.
I thought that Adam Tomkins would raise that example.
The comparison is completely inappropriate and wrong-headed. When we buy a passport, we are not paying for our rights; to ask people who contribute huge amounts in GDP and taxation, as those individuals do, is insulting and wrong-headed. The Conservatives should think hard about their proposition because they are losing this argument.
In my concluding remarks, I will talk more about the fee and the disastrous white paper that has been put forward. The people of Scotland should be at the heart of this issue, and the people of Scotland of course include EU citizens who have done us the compliment of making their homes here. I hope—maybe I am being too hopeful—that Parliament will say today with one voice to our friends, neighbours, colleagues and loved ones: Scotland is your home; you are welcome here; we really want you to stay.
That the Parliament welcomes the significant economic, social and cultural contributions made by EU citizens to Scotland; acknowledges that they are a welcome and integral part of communities across the country; notes that EU citizens are important contributors to key sectors such as health and social care, education, construction, tourism and hospitality, culture, rural industries and financial services; recognises that EU citizens who have settled in Scotland have done so under freedom of movement; however, notes that the UK Government’s policy is for EU citizens, including children, to enter an application process to obtain settled status and pay a fee to retain their existing rights to live, work and study in Scotland; recognises the risk that this charge could create a barrier for families and for individuals on low incomes; notes the Scottish Government commitment to meet the settled status fee for EU citizens working in devolved public services and to provide an information and advice service to support them; however, believes that EU citizens should not have to pay to retain rights that they already hold, and therefore calls on the UK Government to scrap its fee for settled status applications.
With those closing remarks, I am sure that the whole of the Parliament will speak with one voice. Tens of thousands of European citizens live in Glasgow, the city which I represent, and more than 220,000 live across Scotland. The minister is absolutely right to say—and I agree with him—that they are our friends, colleagues, partners and neighbours; they work in education, health, banking, finance, manufacturing, hospitality and construction; and they enrich our universities, our workplaces and our communities.
Ever since the June 2016 referendum, the United Kingdom Government has been clear about how important it is to secure the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and of UK nationals in EU member states. It has been the first priority in bilateral negotiations between the UK and the EU, and a priority that has been repeatedly stated by the Prime Minister. For example, in her Lancaster house speech in January 2017, Theresa May said:
“We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets – but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.”
“Britain is an open and tolerant country. We will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, we will always want immigration from Europe, and we will always welcome individual migrants as friends.”
On that issue, I think and I hope that every member of the Parliament will agree.
No, I do not think that talent begins only at £30,000 a year. That proposition has been put out to public consultation today—as I understand it—and I urge every member of the Parliament, and indeed the Scottish Government, to take part in the public consultation and to express their views forthrightly and robustly.
In her Florence speech of September 2017, the Prime Minister said:
“I want to repeat to all EU citizens who have made their lives in our country—we want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for your contribution to our national life.”
Mr Macpherson did not say this in his speech but, when he used those words, he was, of course, quoting the United Kingdom Prime Minister.
More recently, in November—just last month—the UK Government said:
“EU citizens are valued members of their communities and play an integral part in the economic, cultural and social fabric of the UK, as do UK nationals living in the EU, who are equally valued by their host countries and communities.”
I think that the Prime Minster herself has distanced herself from those remarks and has apologised for them.
The withdrawal agreement—successfully negotiated by the Prime Minster and her team with the European Union—provides that all EU citizens lawfully residing in the UK at the end of the implementation period will be able to stay in the UK. It also makes extensive, detailed and welcome provision for family members, children and dependants. Of course, that is what Scottish National Party ministers called for. Therefore, the question is, why are SNP MPs now set to vote against the deal?
I have already given way twice.
The withdrawal agreement provides that EU citizens who have been living lawfully in the UK for five years at the end of the implementation period will have the right permanently to reside in the UK. Again, that is what the SNP demanded—rightly, in my view—so why is the SNP now minded to vote against it?
Perhaps the minister will respond to those points when he winds up the debate.
The withdrawal agreement protects existing rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination for EU citizens residing or working in the UK and their family members. Broadly speaking, they will have the same entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits as they do now, subject only to any future domestic policy changes that would apply equally to UK nationals. Therefore, I ask again, and perhaps the minister will respond to this when he winds up: given that that is what the SNP, rightly, called for, why is the SNP now minded to vote against the withdrawal agreement? It delivers exactly what the SNP said that it wanted.
We agree with the first half of the Scottish Government’s motion, but we do not agree with the portion that I must describe—with all due respect to the minister—as rather empty virtue signalling about fees. EU nationals with indefinite leave to remain will not have to pay a fee, and those who need to pay will pay £65 if they are over 16 and £32.50 if they are under 16, which is significantly less than a British citizen would pay for a passport. Nor do we agree that the United Kingdom needs a differentiated or devolved immigration system. Experts have warned that increased deviation is not helpful to the economy. For example, a report that was published by the migration observatory at the University of Oxford said that it is
“not clear that significant regional variation would lead to a better match between policy and regional economic needs.”
It also said that
“regionalisation has an economic drawback, which is that a more complex immigration system would increase administrative burdens for its users”— that is, not just employers but migrant labourers, too. The director of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland has said the same thing, as have the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, Scottish Chambers of Commerce and NFU Scotland.
Whether we voted for it or not, Brexit has facilitated the biggest change in our immigration system in more than four decades. The new system will be based on the skills that an individual can bring to this country, not on their nationality or where they were born or come from. That means that, as we continue to grow the UK economy, we can seek out people with the correct skills and ask them to make Britain their home.
“, and notes and welcomes that the first priority of the UK Government in the process of leaving the EU has always been to secure the status of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK nationals living in the EU.”
I welcome this afternoon’s debate, which recognises the value of EU citizens to Scotland and makes it clear that they are welcome here. At this time of continuing indecision, uncertainty and even chaos and conflict in British politics, we must not lose sight of the impact of the political debate on people—people who were born and raised in the UK and those who choose to come here to contribute to our society, invest in our economy and enrich our culture.
The debate is often framed in terms of economic growth, which is an essential part of the contribution that is made by EU citizens. However, we cannot ignore the importance of the diversity that they bring to our culture and our society, and its ability to enrich and enliven our everyday lives.
It is depressing to look back over recent years at some of the reasons why we find ourselves in this fairly desperate situation—facing the possibility of leaving a union in such a way as to make us poorer, less diverse and more isolated in international trade and relationships.
The negative portrayal of migrants in the right-wing media is deplorable, but goes some way towards explaining the support for leaving the EU in areas to which there have been low levels of migration. We have all had conversations on the doorsteps of constituents who are concerned about their jobs and their housing needs, and who tell us that migrants are causing those problems. I always explain as politely as possible that that is not the case—that migrants put more into our society than they take out, and that the problems that they identify are more about the need for investment in our public services and our economy. However, those views still exist.
As Tom Arthur will hear in my speech, I recognise the value of freedom of movement. I was hoping that today’s debate would be consensual. We will also respond to the white paper on the UK’s future skills-based immigration system that has been published today.
Last week, I was at the launch of the forthcoming report on Brexit and EU citizens living in Scotland. The report focuses on their experiences, concerns and support needs since the EU referendum. I am co-convener of the cross-party group on Poland, at which we discussed the early stages of the research earlier this year. The final report of the EU citizens’ rights project Scotland, which has support from the Scottish Government, is due to be published soon. It is a detailed piece of work that draws on conversations held with EU citizens living throughout Scotland after the EU referendum. My amendment acknowledges that work.
People reported feeling stressed by the lack of reliable and sufficiently detailed information on the EU settlement scheme, and reported lack of awareness of how to apply for settled status, particularly among vulnerable groups—perhaps people who are isolated and/or have a poor knowledge of English. Challenges including completion of applications for people who have little understanding of English, low computer skills and limited access, and lack of ability to pay the application fee were also identified. The minister’s announcement yesterday, which addressed some of those concerns, along with those of Citizen’s Advice, was welcome.
The decision to leave the EU will remove the existing rights of EU citizens who live in Scotland, many of whom have lived here for a number of years. They have children at school, they have jobs and they run businesses. They are on community councils and they have been elected to local councils. Their connections to this country run deep. Through no decision of their own, their status is changing: surely we want them to stay and continue to contribute to our society. Making them pay to retain their rights is unjustifiable. The fee is significant when a family needs to apply, and it is difficult to meet the cost from a minimum-wage salary or when one is on a zero-hours contract.
Professor Alan Manning, who is the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, gave evidence to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee recently. Members were astonished by his analysis of the Scottish economy. I support his expressed desire for a high-skill and high-wage economy, but I cannot support his analysis that the result of free movement of EU citizens is that their jobs are unskilled and are therefore redundant to our economy. We do not know where the Brexit negotiations will end up or what the outcome will be, but under the white paper that has been published today, we will have a very different immigration policy. Unless we see a policy that recognises the needs of the different parts of the UK, there will be greater and greater calls for flexibility.
Scotland will face significant demographic challenges in the coming years: our population is ageing and our birth rate is not meeting predicted demands from our economy and our society. We face skills shortages in specific areas. At the moment, we have EU citizens working in many sectors across Scotland. They are working in education and in our health service, and they are creating businesses and providing employment. As citizens of the European Union, they are free to do that, so the UK will feel like an extension of their home countries.
That is all about to change, so we must redouble our efforts to make migrants feel welcome in Scotland. We must make it clear that they are a valuable part of our society and that we recognise and value the contribution that they make, and we must be clear that they are welcome to settle here. They are not welcome just in order to meet an economic need and then be required to go when that need has been fulfilled, but to live here, to raise a family here and to be part of our community. Their contribution is valued and we want it to continue.
I move amendment S5M-15184.1, to insert after “freedom of movement;”:
“commends the work of organisations such as EU Citizens Rights Project, in partnership with stakeholders, to address the needs and concerns of EU citizens, ensuring that their voice is heard throughout the negotiation period;”.
The three opening speeches have all gone over time, which will have a knock-on effect on colleagues who will participate in the open debate. I ask members to stick tightly to timings, please.
They have made Scotland a better place—culturally, socially and economically.
We have had cause to debate the issues that face European citizens repeatedly in recent months. Each time, I have talked about the benefits that free movement has brought to our education sector, in particular. I have highlighted how West College Scotland takes part in Erasmus+, which allows students from Scotland to develop their skills in Denmark and Finland, and vice versa. I have talked about how the University of the West of Scotland works with Dundalk Institute of Technology and Queen’s University Belfast to conduct award-winning research.
It is not just EU funding and the Erasmus+ scheme that have driven those opportunities: free movement has also done so. Free movement has allowed our universities, colleges, schools and research centres to benefit from thousands of talented staff from across Europe. Almost a quarter of research staff at our world-class universities, and 20,000 university students, are EU citizens from other countries. If we want to enjoy the full benefits of that talent, we need a system that is welcoming and attractive—one that attracts and retains workers and which allows students to stay here after their studies. I believe that that is the instinctive desire of the majority of people in Scotland and, certainly, of the majority in Parliament.
Across our society, we see the benefits that EU citizens have brought to education, to health and social care, to hospitality and tourism, to construction and to every other sector of our economy. All those benefits are being endangered by the crude racism of the UK’s Conservative Government. EU citizens who want to come here after Brexit—if we do not stop it—will be subjected to the same degrading and inhumane hostile environment that people from the rest of the world currently face.
Despite scandal after scandal—from the Windrush generation to EU citizens being sent letters ordering them to leave the country—the situation is only getting worse. The Tories’ Home Secretary might prefer a new term—the “compliant environment”, as if that does not sound sinister enough to have come from the pages of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”—but the same policies and practices of humiliation and callousness remain. Employers, landlords, the national health service, charities, banks and other services are expected to act like border force officials, by carrying out immigration checks. The Tories’ priority is to deport first and let appeals happen later, as we saw with the Windrush scandal and elsewhere.
Not that long ago, a woman who is originally from Singapore but who has been married for 27 years to a British citizen whose primary carer she is, who is a grandmother and who is the mother of two British children, was torn from her home and put on a flight. That woman has finally been granted a UK visa—more than £55,000 later. She was fortunate to have raised the money through public funding, but no amount of money can undo the trauma of being forced from one’s home and deported. We cannot crowdfund everyone’s basic rights.
The immigration system is cruel by design, but it also has a shocking level of incompetence almost baked into it. The UK Government’s new procedure for offering settled status to EU citizens is meant to allow applications via smartphone, but it works on only one operating system—so, no luck for people who have an iPhone, which is the most popular handset in the country. People who cannot use the smartphone app can go to one of the Government’s locations that offer identification document scanning. However, there is only one office in Scotland—in Edinburgh. That is not much use to an EU citizen in Ullapool, Stromness or Stranraer.
They will also need to pay for the privilege, as Adam Tomkins said. Even children will be charged. The UK Government will not let EU citizens in our public sector have their employer—the Scottish Government—pay for them. That is an ideology of hostility. No wonder there is no faith in the Home Office to administer the settled-status regime.
It is no surprise to see the latest decision to impose a £30,000 minimum income threshold for migrants, including EU citizens, after Brexit, and to restrict lower-skilled migration to single-year visas, which will only compound the problem of precarious work. That is the kind of crass and cack-handed intervention that tears people’s lives apart, undermines our culture and society, and hammers our economy.
M any EU citizens in Scotland today will have first earned far less than £30,000 when they arrived, or have had no job at all. I earned far less than £30,000 before I had this job. The policy will cause a decline in our working-age population and will undermine our economy for absolutely no good reason. It is clear that this Parliament must have the powers to set our own migration policy—one that is humane and meets the needs of this country.
I listened carefully to what Adam Tomkins said. It is rare for me to listen to him, but it happened this afternoon. I am sure that he is sincere when he talks about immigration and being a welcoming country, but it would be better if he had more influence over his colleagues in Westminster.
There is no doubt that the white paper will be damaging to our country. Earlier today, CBI Scotland called it
“a sucker punch for many firms”.
The Federation of Small Businesses has said that the proposals do not meet its needs and that it will be nigh on impossible to access non-UK labour with the required skills. The British Retail Consortium has said that the policy will put pressure on the price of goods and services. Today’s white paper is going to have a significant impact on our economy.
Charging EU citizens to keep the rights that they already have is rather an insult to them and their contribution to our country. Even to qualify for settled status, people will need to have lived here for 5 years in a row. Surely people who have contributed to the country for that long, and who have paid their taxes, contributed to their communities and undertaken important roles in public services and businesses, should not be thanked with an invoice for £65. Of course, the simplest way to abolish the charge would be to abolish Brexit. I am sure that many members will agree that that would get rid of the problem in one fell swoop: that is what I am determined to continue to pursue.
As we know—it has been pointed out by members this afternoon—immigration can be good for the country. It helps to address the demographic challenges of an ageing population and a workforce that is shrinking relative to it, which is making it more difficult for us to raise the taxes that we need in order to pay for services that are being subjected to ever-growing demands.
We also know that many workers from Europe provide a fantastic service to many local firms, including the fruit and vegetable firms in my constituency, which are part of a growing food and drink sector that hopes to double in value by 2030. With new technology, we can extend the growing season, which means that we need more workers. However, because of changes in the exchange rate and the impact of Brexit, fewer such workers are coming to this country, so we are left with rotting vegetables and fruit in our fields. The new seasonal scheme for non-EU workers is a step in the right direction, but it fails to make up for losses of EU workers.
It is true that we were always going to have to look beyond the EU for more workers, but the Brexit scenario has crushed things into a very short period, so we will have to deal with the consequences by bringing in even more people to make up for the loss of people from the EU. The Conservative Government shows no sign of understanding the real needs of businesses—which is another thing that Adam Tomkins should be saying to his colleagues at Westminster.
Of course, this issue applies not only to seasonal workers. Processing plants such as Kettle Produce and Marine Harvest in Fife require large numbers of people all year round. One thing that we can be sure of is that insisting that people have assets of £30,000 will repel an awful lot more EU people. It will be much easier for them to go to France and Germany, where there are no such requirements. Many such workers come here from Europe. We should be welcoming them to this country instead of repelling them.
According to a recent report, the local authority area with the highest proportion of its EU nationals in employment is Aberdeenshire. I cannot overstate the contribution that people from across the EU make to my home in the north-east, and the life that they have injected back into sectors including nursery care, fish processing, healthcare, public administration, higher education, transport, hospitality and the various skilled trades in construction, all of which have struggled to compete with the oil industry in recruiting people.
The message needs to be emphasised continually, loudly and clearly that more than 95 per cent of EU nationals of working age are in employment, and their tax revenue helps us to fund the services that care for us, for our ageing population and for our children. The EU nationals who have made the north-east their home are our colleagues, our friends, our children’s teachers, our nurses and our doctors. Councillor Anouk Kloppert, who is a Dutch national and adopted Scot, and former MSP and now Aberdeen City councillor Christian Allard, who is a French national and adopted Scot, are serving as elected representatives.
I am sure that my colleagues in Glasgow would proudly namecheck Provost Eva Bollander, who is a Swedish national, and Ayrshire Councillor Joy Brahim, who is originally from the Netherlands.
I pay tribute to the many students from other EU countries whom I have taught as a college lecturer. Our classrooms and lecture halls have been all made richer by their presence.
A great many of the people whom we call neighbours, colleagues and friends who have come to Scotland from other EU countries would have found it impossible under the proposed immigration system that the UK Government is set to adopt post-Brexit, which includes a proposed £30,000 income minimum for skilled migrants. I genuinely do not know what is proposed for students and people who want to stay, work and contribute here post-study. Also, £30,000 might be a pittance to the likes of Theresa May or Sajid Javid, but it is not for most of our citizens.
I have spoken many times in the chamber about the detrimental impact that Brexit will have on university research. Most postgraduate and doctoral researchers are not on salaries above £30,000, but their research work has led to breakthroughs in many fields.
The Scottish Government has made it clear that we want EU and EEA citizens and their families to continue to make their lives in Scotland but, as we know only too well, our Government does not have powers over immigration. I agree with Ross Greer that we desperately need those powers, particularly after what has been published today.
This time last year, Navin Aziz, who is a dentist with a practice in my constituency and a number of others around the north-east and the Highlands, expressed to me concern about how he will fill vacancies. He told me that, since the Brexit vote, interest in vacancies from EU-trained candidates has completely fallen away, and that the problem is made worse by changes to the visa rules that limit the number of visas that are available for dentists from outside the EU. At that time, we checked with the Home Office about the number of visas that were available for dentists. It was the same number as are available for ballet dancers. I am not making that up.
Changes in NHS dentistry by the Scottish Government have meant an end to people queuing along the street for precious NHS places, and have ensured easy access to oral health. However, we cannot staff the vacancies with Scotland-born graduates alone. Replicate that story across all areas of healthcare and we have a looming crisis.
None of this is of our making. The last sentence that I want to say in the chamber in this year of particular Brexit mismanagement is this: Scotland did not vote to leave the EU, yet we are paying the highest price.
I am pleased to be able to take part in today’s debate on the contribution of EU citizens to Scotland.
That contribution has indeed been extremely beneficial and positive, economically, socially and culturally. The UK Government has always recognised this as an important fact. It has been quite clear from the very start of the negotiations on our withdrawal from the European Union that securing the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK is a priority.
At the same time, the UK Government wanted to ensure protection of rights for those UK nationals currently living in other parts of the EU. Indeed, the rights of EU citizens are protected by the proposed withdrawal agreement that has been negotiated. The agreement demonstrates that there is a clear willingness and commitment on both sides to guarantee the rights of EU and UK citizens and their families who make their current contribution and have been doing that through freedom of movement prior to our withdrawal from the European Union.
The paper sets out many priorities and we will have plenty of time to discuss them in the future, I have no doubt.
People voted to leave for many reasons. For some it was a question of sovereignty. For others, it was about the economic opportunities and, yes, for some, it was about greater control over immigration. However, it was not about rejecting immigration altogether. A vote to leave the European Union has often been mischaracterised in that regard; it simply was not the case. In fact, public polling has consistently shown that the majority of people in the UK are in favour of no restrictions on skilled migration, but want to see elements of controls over unskilled migration. That is a reasonable, considered and mainstream position.
I would like to make some progress. Time is tight.
Having the ability to reconsider approaches to immigration in the United Kingdom will allow us to make systems fairer for those who wish to stay.
The UK Government has set out a sensible approach that takes the needs of all sectors of the economy into account. There remains a demand for unskilled labour from outside the UK for work in particular sectors and at particular times of the year—in fruit and vegetable farming, for example. That has already been discussed. The UK Government has recognised that and is trialling a scheme that will allow farmers to employ migrant workers for seasonal work for up to six months, to alleviate labour shortages during peak production periods.
However, we must remember the significance of migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK. That is very important. In 2016-17, 33,000 people moved to Scotland from overseas, but 48,000 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK. Just as with trade—we trade four times as much with the rest of the UK as we do with the EU—the United Kingdom is the most important single market for labour to Scotland.
That is why those who call for a distinct migration system for Scotland are mistaken. Concerns have been raised by representatives of important organisations in our economy, including CBI Scotland, the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and NFU Scotland. Such a system would create unnecessary additional bureaucracy, particularly for firms that operate both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and it is unlikely that it would address the wider problem of Scotland’s poor economic performance.
In conclusion, we all value the important contribution that is made to life in Scotland by those who have moved here from the rest of the EU, and we look forward to the contributions that will be made by future migrants who will come here. The UK Government is tackling future migration in a sensible and proportionate way, and we should all welcome the opportunity to shape a new, fairer immigration system.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate.
The minister and other colleagues, including Gillian Martin, have articulated well the benefits of EU citizens to our economy, our population levels, our businesses, our public sector, our culture and our sense of identity. They are our family and our friends, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that their rights are respected.
It will not surprise members that I will focus on the impact in my constituency.
Just two weeks ago, I held a surgery for EU nationals who live in Coatbridge and Chryston. I sent a letter to every EU national in the constituency to let them know the date of the surgery and that I am here to support them. I took those steps because it became very clear to me through case work that the Brexit vote and the current discussions—if we can call them that—have caused a lot of concern among EU nationals who call Scotland their home.
The event was very well attended. Normally, that would be something for an MSP to boast about, but it was very well attended because people are simply very worried. There were citizens from throughout the EU—from Spain, France, Greece, Poland, Romania, Portugal and Germany. All are valued members of our society who are frightened that they will not be able to stay where they have made their home.
It is very clear that there is a lot of confusion. I was asked by people who were there that day how much it would cost for them to stay, what would happen to the homes that they had bought, what rights their children who were born here had, where they stood with the permanent jobs that they were committed to and the pensions that they had contributed to, what access they would have to healthcare, and much more. Sadly, as others have said, there is not a straight answer to those questions because Theresa May’s Tory Government cannot come to any kind of agreement about how we will move forward through the mess. This is not just about party politics; it is about real people’s lives. What has happened is an insult to the hard-working, indispensable and skilled EU nationals who call Scotland their home.
That is why I have been glad to see some of the steps that the Scottish Government has taken, which Ben Macpherson outlined. They include the £800,000 released yesterday to citizens advice bureaux to help EU citizens.
I thank Maria from my constituency, who supported the event two weeks ago. She is a Polish EU national who provided a translation service, and she was absolutely invaluable. If the minister could use her advice and services at any point, I would be happy to pass on her contact details.
I want to finish by talking about the proposed EU settled status fee of £60. The more that I think about that, the more I think that it is some sort of joke. Sixty quid might not sound like a lot to the Tories, but to some folk at the EU surgery a couple of weeks ago, it is one barrier too many. People are struggling to find secure employment, or they have to negotiate the welfare system, including universal credit, and they are struggling to bring up their families and make ends meet.
As others have said, there is another issue here—the principle of the matter. We are asking people who in some cases have lived here for a long time to pay for the right to do so. I ask members to think about how inhumane that is. I spoke to two people who have been here for many decades and have made Scotland their home, brought up their families here and paid taxes through their employment. I hear the Tories huffing, but they might want to listen. One of them told me that although, through her work, she could afford the settlement fee, she no longer felt welcome. As someone who has been here since the 1990s, she was really upset by that. The other individual felt the same way.
For me, that is the issue. The rhetoric around Brexit has led to an uncaring and cold UK Government trying to appease the far right of its ranks. On the ground, the effect is that people are breaking down in tears at MSPs’ surgeries because they do not feel welcome in their own homes. That is not on. As other members have done, I ask for the immediate scrapping of settlement fees. If the UK Government will not do that, it must allow Scotland to take a different path. I echo the minister’s message to EU nationals in my constituency and across Scotland: this is your home, you are valued and I will support you and fight for your rights.
I commend Fulton MacGregor for his initiative of holding a surgery for EU nationals in his constituency. That is a hugely positive step, and I am sure that constituency members across the chamber might replicate that work, now that they have heard about it.
I fully support the motion, although I have a bone to pick with the minister over its title: the “Contribution of EU Citizens to Scotland”. I am an EU citizen—we are all EU citizens—and it is to my great regret that I will lose that part of my identity come next March. I still think that there is a glimmer of a possibility that we might stay in the EU but, as things stand, the reality is that, from March next year, there will be two types of people in Scotland. EU migrants will become something other—something secondary—because of what the UK Government is about to do to them, and I deeply regret that.
The Labour Party that I joined was passionately pro-European. It did not just support the concept of the European Union; it defended it and all four of the freedoms that came with it. The fact that the Labour Party no longer supports the free movement of people is also something that I deeply regret, and I find it very hard to reconcile it with not only my principles, but the economic and social needs of this country. I have said previously that I cannot believe that we now have a Labour Party that is more comfortable talking about the free movement of widgets than it is talking about the free movement of people, and I encourage more of my colleagues to speak up about that.
I want to talk about the remarks of Sajid Javid and the policy that has been announced by the UK Government, but before I do so, I want to thank the 39,000 EU nationals who live and work in the city that I am proud to represent. I thank them not just for their work, but for choosing to make their life in the city of Edinburgh. I do not think that that gets recognised enough. It enriches the city, and it enriches the lives of all the citizens in it and our collective culture. The last time that I spoke in the chamber, I spoke about the social care crisis in the city and how I feel about that, and I know that that will be compounded by the impact of the UK leaving the EU, because so many of the care workers in Edinburgh are EU nationals. We are talking about self-inflicted pain.
Today, Sajid Javid said that there was “no reason” to think that his plans to reduce immigration would harm the economy. I find that astonishing, because every bit of evidence that I have seen points to the exact opposite being true. It got worse. When Sajid Javid was asked about what level he thought that immigration should be set at, he said that it should be set at a level that
“meets first our economic need but at the same time is not too high a burden on our communities or infrastructure”.
Let us call that out for what it is—dog-whistle anti-immigration sentiment. The idea that immigrants are somehow a burden on our communities or our infrastructure is what got us here in the first place. It is not immigration that is a burden—austerity is the burden. That is what is compounding the problems that we face with housing and our NHS.
In the past few hours, some trade union leaders have talked about “metropolitan moralising” in an effort to discount the reasons for people being pro-immigration. I do not accept that—I think that, for decades, there has been a failure by all of us to defend the benefits of immigration. I take my share of the responsibility for that, but I am damn sure that I will defend them now.
In my final 20 seconds, I commend the minister for the stance that he is taking in trying to ensure than no public sector workers have to pay a fee in order to stay in work here after we leave the European Union. I ask him to say in his closing remarks whether such a commitment perhaps extends as far as operating a grant system to EU nationals working in the public sector, so that they get that money in advance and choose how to use it if they want to stay. I very much hope that they will stay and continue to contribute to our economy and our country.
I am pleased to be speaking in the debate today, but I am also frustrated that the debate needs to take place. Surely, every member in this chamber can understand and appreciate how important immigration is to Scotland’s economy and society, and welcome the contribution of EU nationals to our country. Unfortunately not, is the clear answer that we have heard this afternoon. As is their wont, the Tories set out once again on a crusade to defend the indefensible.
I find the settled status fee that is being implemented by the UK Government to be nothing short of appalling. I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to meet the fee for EU citizens who are working in devolved public services as well as providing them with information and advice. I also welcome the £800,000 project that the minister spoke about earlier. However, it is unfortunate that those EU citizens need to pay to retain the rights that they already hold. If only there was a way to fix this problem.
Economic modelling shows that, on average, every additional EU citizen working in Scotland contributes some £34,400 in GDP, which is £10,400 in Government revenue. With a total contribution by EU citizens working in Scotland of approximately £4.42 billion per annum, I, for one, know that our economy—and our society—will be much the poorer as Westminster drives people away.
Today’s white paper published by the UK Government is clearly a pathway for the rich, but a closed door for the public sector. The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, is quoted as saying:
“We are deeply concerned about what is going to happen. High skills does not equal high pay. ... It is not just health workers, it is social care as well.”
Claire Baker mentioned the Migration Advisory Committee and the session that the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee had with Professor Manning a few weeks ago. In that session, I asked questions about the social care sector. To say that I was unimpressed by Professor Manning’s contribution is an understatement, particularly his comments regarding care providers.
Professor Manning suggested that care providers should simply pay more wages to their staff. I think that everyone would accept that paying more wages is a good thing, but that is not always feasible. A lack of appreciation of the contribution of Scotland’s tourism sector was also fully on show by Professor Manning, and certain issues raised by my colleagues Kenneth Gibson and Tavish Scott highlighted the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee has done no economic modelling for Scotland.
Migration and immigration are normal. The contribution by EU citizens to our economy and society is rich beyond any financial analysis, as Scotland’s tartan is rich in colour and vibrant in its culture. It is not just white with a bit of ginger on the fringes; it is white, black, yellow, blue, red, green, orange and brown. It is every colour and every creed. Growing up in Port Glasgow, I knew people from many different backgrounds, including Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, China, Kenya and Pakistan. Every person I have met has made my life, my community and our country the richer.
I want Scotland to continue to welcome more Fabianis, Allards and Ahmeds. They are all welcome, but unfortunately the rhetoric from the UK Government has not lived up to that. Let us not forget the UK Government’s comments from a number of months ago on the Brexit agreement:
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
EU citizens are scared about what is going on, and what was said in London today will not make the situation any better for them.
We know that EU workers make a fantastic contribution to Scotland’s economy, especially in the hospitality and tourism industry. We must continue to make the Scottish hospitality and tourism industry a welcoming and attractive sector in which to work for both EU nationals and those born and bred here. On that note, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
There are two main points that I must address in this debate. First, the Prime Minister has made it clear that EU citizens’ rights will be protected post-Brexit. Secondly, immigration policy divergence in Scotland would not be beneficial to our economy. That has been agreed by both Scotland Food & Drink and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
I hope to raise some points of accord in the chamber today. In that regard, I turn to the findings in the UKHospitality workforce commission’s 2030 report, which eloquently sets out recommendations that are aimed at ensuring that our hospitality industry is fit for the future. It highlights that
“Immigration policy must be evidenced-based, tailored to hospitality workforce needs”, that the industry should
“achieve greater workforce diversity”, both EU and non-EU, and that there should be
“Government support for workforce upskilling to encourage older ... workers into the sector, or back into employment”.
I do not think that I can, as I have a lot of points to make. I apologise to the member.
UKHospitality notes that
“MPs and witnesses suggested developing temporary visas”
for seasonal work
“similar to those called for by the agriculture industry, to support the industry post-Brexit.”
As we all know, there is a large demand for hospitality staff in the summer months, especially in the Highlands and Islands, with a dip over the winter months. That is the case across the UK, including in Pembrokeshire, Cornwall and London in particular. Industry has already welcomed that idea. For example, the boss of Costa Coffee owner Whitbread has welcomed so-called barista visas.
We now have an opportunity to inform a 12-month consultation on the white paper. We need to look closely at the current immigration tier system, as the MAC report suggests, and make reforms accordingly. It argues that we need to make changes to the tier 2 visa system, scrapping the cap for high-skilled workers, widening the range of jobs that are permitted and reducing bureaucracy. There needs to be a better understanding of what are low and medium-skilled jobs, particularly when it comes to chefs and sommeliers. The white paper is not final and we have the opportunity to contribute to the consultation. I hope that each and every one of us will do that.
One important fact remains. For too long, we have rested on our laurels with a plentiful supply of labour. The Scottish Tourism Alliance has warned for years that we will have a skills shortage in the hospitality industry. This has been going on for a decade, since long before Brexit. I do not want to take away from the debate today, but there has been a failure by this Government to ensure that we tackle the skills gap effectively. Marc Crothall of the STA has reiterated the concerns, yet it took until September for the First Minister to announce in Arran that she would commit to developing a specific campaign to promote tourism as a career choice.
It is vital that we recognise the contribution that EU workers make in Scotland and, in doing so, we must recognise that we need action to ensure that we have an immigration system that reflects the needs of the economy, and particularly the tourism and hospitality sector. I remind members that about 27,000 EU workers currently work in that sector. We absolutely welcome EU workers. Despite what the SNP likes to spin, the number of EU migrants in Scotland has continued to increase in the wake of Brexit, with 4,000 more moving to Scotland compared with the position in 2017. Again, that does not take away from the debate today.
We must realise that the UK Government’s first priority in the process of leaving the EU has always been to secure the status of EU citizens living here and UK nationals living in the EU.
The motion highlights the valuable contribution that our European friends have made to Scotland over so many years and rightly calls out the UK Government for its disgraceful treatment of people who call this place home.
Can members imagine how it must feel for someone to live their life with their family and friends in Scotland, making a huge contribution to what defines us as a nation and being a part of this place, only to suddenly be made to feel unwelcome and be told that they have to apply to keep rights that they had thought were theirs for so long? That one act has caused so much damage to relationships that have been built up over so many years.
The fee is not the important issue here—although, yet again, Scotland has stepped in and offered to pay it. It is the principle that is wrong. It sends out a message that our European friends are suddenly no longer part of us but are separate and are to be treated as applicants in a new process that reeks of division and brings credit to no one. Ending freedom of movement might appeal to right-wing Tories, but we think that it is a disgraceful policy that smacks of racism and xenophobia. It will seriously impact on our ability to grow our economy and it damages our country’s reputation. Scotland will fight the policy and reverse it as soon as we can.
Members should take a look around the Parliament complex here in Edinburgh. Many of our wonderful staff have come from different parts of Europe to live here and work with us. The UK Government should not be treating them in such a way and the application process should not proceed.
Of course, that is not the only example of how badly the UK Government is treating its people. Last week in the Parliament, I mentioned the case of my constituent Laura Nani, who, despite having lived in Scotland for 34 years—since she was four years old—has been told that she cannot demonstrate that she is habitually resident in the UK and has been denied access to the most basic of assistance through the universal credit system.
That is an absolute disgrace. Laura has provided all the evidence that she can find: employment information, family registrations—her children were all born in Scotland—general practitioner and dentist records and tax and national insurance information that stretch back years and years. She has attended college and university. She has provided all that information to no avail. What else does she have to do?
Laura and her family, and hundreds of thousands like them, have paid tax, national insurance and VAT for decades, with no questions being asked by the UK Government until now. That is a shocking way to treat a person who is as Scottish as we are, and the same treatment is being meted out to our European friends under the guise of taking back control of borders.
The UK Government’s white paper on immigration, which was issued today, makes matters even worse. What is proposed could reduce by 85 per cent the number of EEA workers who are allowed to work in Scotland.
I pay tribute to Laura Nani’s family: Italian dad Enrico and Scottish mum Rita, who decided to make Scotland their home in 1984. The many Italian people who came to Ayrshire—local families such as the Togninis, the Varanis, the Bordones, the Sinforianis, the Pedianis and the Guistis, to mention only a few—have shaped our communities for generations and we are all the better for it. The welcome that they received was warm and their contribution has been immense.
A policy that casts doubt over that enduring relationship must surely be the lowest of the low. We are witnessing the start of second-class citizen status, as Kezia Dugdale said, and it is being introduced by the Tories.
Scotland needs a healthy migrant population to come here and work, to help us to grow our economy. Our expected population growth over the next decade can come only from migration, most of it from overseas.
However, this is about more than economics. It is about citizenship, friendship, collaboration, shared values, sharing our cultures and traditions and living, working and studying together—and in Laura Nani’s family’s case, marrying and settling down to make Scotland home. We must not and should not put a price tag on any of that.
Grazie per ascoltarmi.
EU citizens are welcome here. They are valued. They are wanted. This country would not be the country that it is without them.
That needs to be said, and it needs to be the subject of consensus in this Parliament, because EU citizens need to know that that is the view of all the political parties in the Scottish Parliament. They have had a long wait to learn of their fate and how they will be treated.
It might be common sense and it might be a matter of philosophical principle to support EU migration, but the fact is that we need migration. Our economy needs it. We need the skills and we need to grow our population.
Our EU citizens made their homes here in good faith. They did not know that David Cameron would call a referendum—in which some of them voted—that would have a severe impact on their lives.
As members said, the language that is being used in the debate about migration is deeply concerning. It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister used the phrase “jumping the queue”, albeit that she has apologised. I think that the phrase will not be forgotten for a long time.
At last there is some clarity, at least for EU citizens, who are living here lawfully. They will have some understanding of their rights. The fee that they have been asked to pay is not for a passport. They are being asked to pay for existing rights that they thought that they already had. If you look at the arithmetic, it looks as if they are paying the administration costs to confirm that they have the right to settle. It is a wrong decision and a bad decision.
The scheme is going to be hugely complex, with a very tight timescale to boot. It is being built from scratch and has the potential to go seriously wrong. One wonders what will happen to those who do not register by June 2021. If even 5 per cent of EU citizens do not register, that represents a lot out of 3.5 million.
On today’s announcement, maybe there is consensus in the chamber that the establishment of criteria that define a highly skilled person as someone who earns more than £30,000 is deeply concerning. There is often no correlation between high skills and high wages; the earnings of early career researchers, technicians and people in many other professions will fall below that figure. It is not just members in this chamber who say that. It has been said by Universities Scotland, the NHS and so on. According to Universities Scotland,
“UK immigration policy post-Brexit will make it more difficult to attract talent”.
Today, the minister has set out the policy on immigration. As Kezia Dugdale said earlier, Sajid Javid has said that there is “no reason to think” that his plans would harm the economy. Is he serious? Whatever one thinks of the scheme that we are looking at today, it is utterly flawed to suggest that highly skilled people will always earn more than £30,000.
I have to say to Rachael Hamilton and Alexander Stewart, who on many occasions in this chamber have talked very eloquently about the problems of the hospitality industry, that they are completely underplaying the problem if they think that asking people to come here on a six-month visa, with no right to stay, is going to solve the problem. They really need to challenge their own Government and stand up for the sector that they have so brilliantly supported. It is just not going to work.
Scotland needs a regional immigration policy. Forty-eight per cent of people voted to remain and they support freedom of movement. Scotland needs to grow its population and, in the interests of the union, we need the UK Government to recognise that there should be a regional variation on the question of immigration.
I have appreciated the tone of most of this afternoon’s debate, especially on the subject of migration. Listening to the speeches, I believe that there is consensus in the Parliament on the overall premise that migration from other countries not only contributes immensely to meeting unfulfilled need in our employment sectors but—equally and just as important—adds to the richness of our society. The contribution from those who have made Scotland their home is overwhelmingly positive. No one on the Conservative benches has disagreed with that.
As someone who has travelled, lived and worked in other countries, both within and outwith the EU, I understand what migration means—to live and work in someone else’s country and to adapt to new customs, new languages and new cultures. The majority of people embrace that with both hands.
As we focus in the debate on the 223,000 people from the EU who have made Scotland their home, we should not forget the contribution of the 135,000 people from outside the EU who have also chosen to settle in this country and make it their home.
In the short time that I have, I want to mention a few important points that have been made in the debate. The first point, which was made at the outset, was about ensuring that the rights of EU citizens who are currently in the UK are guaranteed, whatever the outcome of Brexit. That was, and remains, the right thing to do. Many people have called for a guarantee on the rights of EU citizens and their families to remain in the UK; on the rights of those citizens, including their entitlements to work, study, and access public services or benefits to remain, regardless of what happens with Brexit; and on the rights of UK citizens, including many Scots, who have chosen to make other countries their home. They should all be protected.
The withdrawal agreement does that as a matter of priority. If we strip away some of the political heave-hoing on the deal or no-deal debate, a serious point remains: if the deal on the table does that—a deal that was mutually agreed between the UK and EU27—it remains a mystery why we would oppose that settlement.
The withdrawal agreement deals with our departure from the EU; it sets out the premise of the next steps on the negotiation of future trade relationships. The future trade relationship is another debate, for when we have much more time to debate it.
The deal guarantees the rights of EU citizens in the UK—that is relevant to the debate. I want to do that; I am surprised that Mr McMillan and other SNP members do not. It is a mystery.
Controlled immigration does not mean no immigration. Very few, if indeed any, countries in the world have unrestricted immigration. We will continue—we will have to continue—to welcome people to this country.
I have looked through the white paper, in which there are a number of key points that we have not talked about. A lot of negative views have been expressed on the white paper, which is a complex document. The first important point to highlight is that the cap on tier 2 workers will be lifted. Gillian Martin was concerned—rightly—about the number of dentists in the north-east, just as I am concerned about the number of consultants in University hospital Crosshouse, so surely the removal of the cap would be a welcome move. The current system gives suitably qualified doctors from Madrid more preference than doctors from, for example, Manila. That is a by-product of the status quo.
I want to finish.
The status quo is changing, so the visa system must change too, to deal with that change in circumstances.
Tier 2 workers make up about 40 per cent of healthcare workers. That is not an insignificant number. Scotland has a skills shortage across a wide range of areas—I could go into them in great detail. If the new system addresses some of those shortages, I welcome it.
As we have made clear today, there is little to disagree with on many of the points that have been made across the chamber. As Stuart McMillan said, immigration is normal. I do not disagree, but perhaps it is for the very reason that we have been too afraid to talk about it that we have been led to where we are today. If we wash away all the political dogma and have a sensible, evidence-based debate about immigration, there is a surprising amount of consensus. Whatever happens with Brexit, those who have chosen to make Scotland their home are welcome. I hope that we all agree on that.
I thank all those who have contributed to this debate about the 223,000 EU citizens from elsewhere in the EU who have accorded us the privilege of making Scotland their home. I welcome the supportive statements, the valuable conclusions and, indeed, the moving stories from around the chamber—and all of Scotland—about the huge contributions that EU citizens in our communities make to the enhancement of our collective culture. I will not be able to respond to all the points that have been made, but I will try my best. I will focus on four issues that were raised: the fact that we all welcome EU citizens here and issues related to that; fees; the white paper; and differentiated solutions.
On welcoming EU citizens, there is consensus in the chamber about the contribution that is made by EU citizens. I welcome that in good faith, but the Conservative contributions conflated two issues: guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights and the withdrawal agreement. The Conservative UK Government could have guaranteed the rights of EU citizens much earlier in the process, but it failed to do so. When it made statements, it was reluctant to come forward with details, which shows the underlying point that, unfortunately, the Conservatives—they have admitted this—have used EU citizens as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
I turn to fees, on which important points were made. There seems to be consensus throughout the chamber, apart from among the Conservatives, that to charge EU citizens a fee to continue to contribute the huge amount that they already contribute to our society—and to propose a fee for children, for goodness’ sake—is completely wrong-headed and makes no sense. It is a complete misnomer to equate such a fee with a passport fee; the UK Government’s justification for that is without foundation.
As members said, the Scottish Government, along with many others, has been calling for the fee to be abolished. The overwhelming message from businesses, third sector organisations, EU citizens and many others is that it is unfair for people to have to pay a fee simply to keep their existing rights to live, work and study in Scotland. In the chamber and beyond, I urge as many individuals, businesses, organisations and others as possible to make their voices heard by writing to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary or by using social media to call for the UK Government to scrap the unfair charge.
As members know, the Scottish Government has committed to doing what it can to help mitigate the hardship of the settled status scheme and to pay the fee for those in public services. We will come forward with more details on that point, but our clear position is that there should not be a fee.
One of the barriers that we face is that there is no way for the Scottish Government to pay the fee directly to the UK Government; there is no way for employers to do so either, which many of them want to do. That is a nonsensical position. It is also nonsensical that in order to pay EU citizens a refund on their fee, we would need to include a tax element, because, unfortunately, the fee is quoted as a taxable benefit.
Adam Tomkins said earlier that he wished that he had more influence on his UK colleagues. If we cannot get rid of the fee, I call on him to at least help make the case that we should allow bulk payment and that it should not be a taxable benefit.
It is important to emphasise that we in the Scottish Government were not adequately consulted on the white paper on immigration and we were given very little prior notice of it. That is why it is not referenced in the motion, but I am sure that we can have a debate on it at another time. As I have emphasised, our analysis shows a drop in real GDP of 6.2 per cent by 2040 as a result of what is being proposed in the white paper. That has a value of almost £6.8 billion a year by 2040, so it would have a devastating effect.
There has been a very concerning reaction to the white paper from business. The Scottish Tourism Alliance, the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and the Confederation of British Industry Scotland all raised huge concerns about what is proposed in the white paper. The UK hospitality industry, to which Conservative members referred, is also deeply concerned about what is proposed.
Many members on the Conservative benches took a dismissive approach to having a differentiated set of solutions for Scotland. Today’s white paper has brought many people to a place of much more open-mindedness about differentiated solutions for Scotland.
The CBI said that
“calls for devolved and regional immigration policies will only grow louder” if there are no changes to what is proposed in the white paper.
The FSB stated that there are distinct demographic and employment needs in Scotland and that
“a system in Scotland that responds to the particular needs of Scottish industry and demography” would potentially be welcome.
Importantly, CBI Scotland said that if there is a
“more restrictive system ... the case for greater flexibility for Scotland increases.”
Therefore we have a position in which not only is it important that we, as a Parliament, emphasise the contribution that EU citizens make to Scotland; we need to work together in a constructive manner to seek solutions that will make a difference for Scotland. That is what we in the Scottish Government—and indeed in other parties—are doing. It would be good if the Scottish Conservatives were to show some willingness towards doing that.
Let me conclude by reiterating how much the Government—and, I believe, the Parliament—has confidence in that from today. Indeed, Scotland as a whole welcomes and supports the many EU citizens who have built their lives here and call Scotland their home.
The story of Scotland’s population has long been one of outward migration—of Scots seeking opportunities abroad or being forced to leave their homeland. That is not our national story any more, and in large part we have people from other countries—especially those from other EU member states—to thank for that. We are in a more positive place because of migration. EU citizens are a welcome and integral part of communities across the country and are valued employees and employers in key sectors such as health and social care, education, construction, tourism and hospitality, culture, rural industries, financial services, agriculture, aquaculture and, indeed, every other part of our economy. They enrich our society.
I say again that our friends, neighbours, colleagues and loved ones who are EU citizens make a huge contribution that benefits us all. They are welcome here, and we want them to stay in a Scotland that looks out to Europe and the world in a spirit of friendship, openness and solidarity.