Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

Speech: Scotland needs its own immigration policy

At the risk of being confused for a ray of sunshine, can I lay out some of the grievances rightly held by Scots on the issue of population and demographics, and put them in some kind of historical context? Not all of them are the direct fault of this place and some of them might even be someone else's fault, but hear me out.

At the beginning of the 18th century Scotland had a population roughly a fifth of that of Englandshire - one million against five million. That ratio stayed the same right though that century and into the beginning of the 19th century but Scotland's relative population shrank during that century until the ratio had gone out to one to seven - the Clearances set Scotland's population growth back on its heels.

Private greed played a part in that but so did governmental decisions like The British Fisheries Board establishing fishing stations at Wick, Tobermory and Ullapool, dragging people from the land, and the determination of the government to end the clan system whose organisation seemed all too militaristic and whose loyalty to a clan chief rather than the crown could not be tolerated.

The Clearances were the biggest drag on Scotland's population growth until the deindustrial revolution of the Thatcher years when the crushing of communities echoed the Clearances.

Scotland's population shrunk under Thatcher as young Scots were forced out and sought opportunity elsewhere, removing, of course, a breeding population as well as an economically active population.

It took until 2010 before Scotland's population recovered to pre-Thatcher levels and now there is another Tory threat to Scotland's population and prosperity – Brexit.

Look at population growth from the year 2000 until 2015 and you'll find that the UK has roughly a third each of native-born, EU-born and those born elsewhere. Half of all of Scotland's population growth is EU nationals and only 14 per cent are native-born.

Scotland needs those people, those workers - only 4% of EU nationals in Scotland are over 65 and 16% under 16 - the working age population of EU immigrants is 80% of the total with a 79% employment rate - six points ahead of the Scottish average.

Scotland's whole population has almost one fifth over retirement age, and we need the supply of young, energetic workers from the EU that is now under threat from a Brexit which might only mean Brexit to the Prime Minister but means a major economic threat to Scotland.

From the Clearances through Margaret Thatcher to Brexit Scotland's population has been getting a raw deal.

Scotland needs to get out from under that and create a welcoming, entrepreneurial environment to grow our economy and provide a secure future.

We need an open door for immigrants and immigration policies which are clearly very unlike the policies touted in this place by the Government and its loyal opposition these days.

We can't be left subject to this, frankly xenophobic, regime if we are to build the population and the economy that Scotland needs.

I would prefer that we agree that we can be friendly neighbours and Scottish independence creates a new relationship but it's possible to do it before then, it's possible for the UK to have different immigration systems for different areas.

We know it's possible because it already happens; the UK runs different immigration regimes for Gibraltar, for example, for the Channel Islands and for the Isle of Man.

The circumstances are not the same but the precedent is there and the example shows that it is possible. There is no reason why Scotland cannot have an immigration regime tailored to our needs even while we are stuck in the UK.

We need to keep the door open for the free movement of the peoples of the European Union – of the four pillars of EU membership it's the one that Scotland needs to keep most of all.

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Sunday, 25 June 2017

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