A whiff of hypocrisy and an SNP U-turn on its view of migration

By Graham Grant

THE seeds of Brexit were sown in the heyday of New Labour — as it engineered immigration on a massive scale.

Former Labour adviser Andrew Neather revealed in 2009 that mass migration was a deliberate policy with a ‘driving political purpose’ — intended to ‘rub the Right’s nose in diversity’.

In 2004, Labour opened the doors to migrants from former Soviet bloc countries joining the EU, and the Home Office discarded the option of transitional controls on workers — which were imposed by almost every other EU country, including Germany.

Now, Nicola Sturgeon — the nation’s self-styled ‘chief mammy’ — is taking a leaf from the New Labour playbook when it comes to ‘rubbing the Right’s nose in diversity’.

In her New Year message, she said Scotland will ‘always offer a warm welcome to the world’.

‘I want to make that especially clear,’ she said, ‘to the hundreds of thousands of nationals from other European Union countries who have done us the honour of choosing Scotland as their home.’

This approach, she and her acolytes insist, is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s policy that EU nationals will have to register to stay here after December 2020.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford seized on an online image of a concentration camp survivor’s tattooed identity number, posted by an EU migrant critical of the new registration requirement.

Retweeting the photograph, Mr Blackford said: ‘The UK Tory Government need to reflect on what they are doing and why so many feel their approach to EU nationals is so repugnant. Start showing everyone, EU nationals and all others, dignity and respect.’

And yet rewind to the SNP’s White Paper in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, and you find a slightly different approach to immigration.

That document (Miss Sturgeon’s work) said that in an independent Scotland, migrants here legally could ‘apply for naturalisation as a Scottish citizen (subject to meeting good character, residency and any other requirements set out under Scottish immigration law)’.

A ‘points-based’ system to ensure a greater number of skilled migrants was also proposed, making the SNP’s loathing of the UK Government’s planned restrictions on EU migrants (for example a minimum £30,000 salary and job offer for a five-year visa), well, a little harder to credit.

Back in 2014, Miss Sturgeon warned that keeping an independent Scotland out of the EU could mean people from other European nations living in Scotland would ‘lose the right to stay here’.

Remaining outside Europe was, of course, a distinct possibility: we now know that the SNP’s much-repeated claim that Scotland would automatically retain EU membership after independence was false.

Back in 2011, Mike Russell, then nominally in charge of education and now re-born as the SNP’s Brexit Secretary, spoke out against the £75million annual bill to teach EU students at Scottish universities (now £93million).

Mr Russell pressed for urgent reform, declaring that ‘we cannot allow Scottish universities to become a cheap option for students who have to pay to go to university in their home countries’. He said: ‘The Scottish taxpayer is now facing a bill of £75million a year. That is simply not tenable.’

Brexit Minister Mike Russell: his plan to curb the bill for EU students ran into the sand

Not tenable, indeed, and yet his plan to curb that bill ran into the sand — defeated by Brussels red tape.

Mr Russell now appears to have taken up semi-permanent residence on Twitter, mocking the ‘backward-looking… adventurism’ of Brexit supporters, apparently with a straight face.

Back in February last year, Holyrood Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville announced that EU students starting their courses in the 2019–20 academic year would get paid tuition for four years — something of a change from Mr Russell’s more strident tone seven years before.

This move dashed hopes, at least in the short term, that Brexit would free up more cash for university places for Scots students, by potentially reducing the number of their EU counterparts.

More than 1,000 young Scots are frozen out of Scottish university courses every year (according to a former senior Scottish Government civil servant), because of the ‘cap’ on the number of Scots students, forced by the SNP’s ‘free degrees’ policy. Meanwhile, it was also made clear in Miss Sturgeon’s White Paper that students from the rest of the UK who pay to study in Scotland (not such a ‘warm welcome’ for them), would have had to continue stumping up tuition fees after independence to maintain those ‘free degrees’ for Scots.

This was despite EU law dictating that RUK students should be exempt from fees as, after independence, they would be living in a separate EU state.

At the time, Mr Russell refused to disclose whether this plan — which reeked of the kind of bigotry the SNP is now so keen to disavow — had any legal basis, but he believed he could by-pass the law because Scotland is (naturally) ‘unique’ and ‘exceptional’.

Historically opposed to EU membership, with a large chunk of its support base in favour of Brexit, the SNP is only tactically Europhile because its current hierarchy believes — so far with little foundation — that this represents the best route to Scottish independence.

It will say whatever it believes is needed to achieve the eternal goal of separatism: its current pro-migrant rhetoric, given its policies of only a few years ago, may look good, but is ultimately rather hollow, and certainly strategic.

One wonders also — given that the public finance watchdog Audit Scotland has concluded the NHS is ‘not financially sustainable’ in its current form, and schools are struggling with teacher shortages — how the SNP plans to accommodate greater numbers of migrants, from the EU or elsewhere.

The most familiar refrain from Remainers is that the end of free movement will mean fewer fruit-pickers –demonstrating that their chief justification for continuing the policy is dedication to the circulation of cheap labour.

But they also refuse to countenance reform of an entrenched welfare culture that has led to an over-reliance on migrants for menial or manual posts: more than 150,000 Scots have never done a day’s work in their lives — a figure that has soared since the SNP came to power.

The SNP is also blind to the fact higher taxes in Scotland are a disincentive for migrants of all skills and backgrounds.

None of this means there isn’t a need for a legitimate debate about immigration, particularly in the context of Scotland’s ageing population.

But it has to be balanced –and free of the hypocritical cant dished up as syrupy ‘wha’s like us?’ fare by Miss Sturgeon and her cohorts this week.

  • This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on January 1, 2019.

*Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant