Jean’s debate: Celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities

Yesterday at Holyrood, Jean followed up the Tuesday launch of the Not My Xenophobia campaign by leading a debate on a motion entitled ‘Celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities’. You can read the full debate, in which many MSPs pledged their support to the campaign, in the Parliament’s Official Report. On this page you can watch the video of the debate, starting at 1:09:00, and read Jean’s opening speech.

There was an unusual display of unity after the debate, as MSPs voted unanimously to approve the motion, and to add both the Labour and SNP amendments.

In a world that is more interconnected than ever and in which historically our societies have developed as a result of the transnational mobilisation of cultures and peoples, it is intellectually moribund that we rarely hear politicians or the media make the positive case for immigration. It is with alarm that we are witnessing the development of increasing hostility, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance towards immigrants. I am gravely concerned that the tone of public discussion about immigration is contributing to a climate of hostility and fear. In this regard, we risk facing a race to the bottom. It is, it seems, politically fashionable to oppose immigration and, increasingly, the whole concept of multiculturalism.

I am proud today to be one of those who are making the positive case for immigration, and who are highlighting not just the economic benefits but the cultural enrichment that flows from embracing it, rather than proposing an agenda that is set on creating resentment and division. I stand as an advocate for multiculturalism who recognises the benefits of viewing integration as a two-way process, in which we learn and develop from our fellow citizens who hail from other countries and who bring with them their own heritage and traditions. The world is a more interesting place and our communities are made more vibrant and outward looking if we encourage understanding and tolerance and adopt a welcoming attitude to immigrants as citizens in equal partnership.

We barely hear such arguments. Instead we are faced, on a daily basis, with a toxic barrage of headlines demonising immigrants and an increasingly xenophobic politics that stems from the UK Independence Party but now, it seems, is infecting the mainstream parties, particularly in Westminster. The whole debate has been shifted rightwards, as it becomes increasingly popular to make opposing immigration a political principle. Even those who might have stood up for multiculturalism in the past find it difficult to do so now. That tide must turn, and we must challenge ourselves to testify for a modern, inclusive and humanitarian approach to immigration.

Of course, Presiding Officer, the scapegoating of immigrants at times of economic crisis is nothing new. Throughout history, immigrants have been a useful section of society for powerful interests to blame in order to rationalise their own failures. Far better that our attention is focused on blaming immigrants for the lack of job opportunities and deteriorating living standards than on our unbalanced economy or corruption in the banking sector—or indeed the political establishment. The economic facts, which are rarely exposed, show that, rather than representing a drain on Britain’s finances, European migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion to the Exchequer between 2000 and 2011.

However, it is in these circumstances that organisations such as UKIP thrive. They build on the fears that emerge as a result of economic precariousness and on the anti-immigrant sentiment popularised by sections of the media. The two have a near-symbiotic relationship, all set within a policy framework that has been shifting away from embracing multiculturalism and immigration for many years, under successive Westminster Governments.

UKIP now advocates the scrapping of the racial equality laws, a move that would regress race relations by decades. Unless partisans of diversity and racial equality make the positive case for immigration—challenging though that may seem—we risk sliding down the slippery slope of an inward-looking xenophobia. That is a xenophobia that detracts from our culture, economy and the important sense of human solidarity that has always been the bedrock for making progress in society. I believe that the majority of our population can be won to such a perspective if only we unite our voices to amplify our case beyond the parameters of the current stale, stultified and one-sided debate.

We so often hear the tiresome mantra, repeated throughout the decades, that immigrants are “stealing our jobs”. We should ask why the jobs market is so poor, how it came to be that our society is so unequal and why access to well-paid jobs is so privileged. We hear of immigrants “taking our houses”, but we must ask why our housing stock is so inadequate and underfunded, and why we do not put the necessary investment into building more high-quality, affordable homes. Why not inquire further, with a critical mind, to unearth beneath the waves of anti-immigrant headlines just how much of a contribution they make to our country?

Let us talk about how much our communities have gained from immigration—all the doctors, nurses and public servants who help us in our time of need, and without whom we would be much worse off. Let us talk about the music scene or our constantly renewing creative culture and the extension of our palate into the world as each period of immigration—if embraced—emboldens our human need to experience more than ourselves, and to explore the things that we do not yet know about, in the pursuit of knowledge. Immigration, far from being a burden, is a gateway.

We in Scotland should know that. Surely it is part of our DNA. Scots are immigrants. They are dispersed around the globe, where they have found and created work and shared their culture and made their home in another country. We should be among the first to recognise that the flow of immigration adds momentum to the progressive aspects of human history, and excites the potential in all of us, regardless of where we were born. Thus, I share the Scottish Refugee Council’s concerns at the recent poll conducted by BBC Scotland on Scottish attitudes to immigration, and I have signed Christina McKelvie’s motion questioning the methodology, outcome and timing of the poll.

I was taken aback, listening to BBC Radio Scotland’s morning news programme a few days ago, to hear the Spanish immigrants in Inverness referred to as an “invasion”. For many, that confirms that the BBC is not acting impartially.

It is time for a wholesale change in approach to how we discuss immigration and realise its benefits. I do not just want our Polish friends to be able to learn English—I want Scots to be able to take advantage of the diversity in our population to learn Polish. Imagine how our nation might develop were we to cut through the headlines of the Daily Express and Nigel Farage’s false narrative and recognise the potential that exists.

Is it not time to move on as a society? We must stop repeating time and again the age-old fallacies around immigration, and move to a period of enlightenment where, rather than creating fear and division around difference and the scramble for resources, we work together to solve the economic problems we face and, at the same time, enjoy our distinctive and valuable cultural identities.

UKIP is said to be making a “bold stand” on immigration. The truth is the opposite. It is those who stand up for the rights of immigrants and champion the benefits that they bring to a multicultural society based on social progress that are the 21st century’s trailblazers.

Many members would have joined with Sheena Wellington at the formal opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 in singing the words of Burns:

“That Man to Man the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

It is time to show that there is a difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament, by making and profiling the positive case for immigration and celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities. Please support the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that Scotland’s diversity should be celebrated and rejects the negative attitudes expressed in the media and politics toward immigration and immigrants; also notes with concern the impact of these attitudes in the context of the approaching general election; believes that there should be recognition of the very real and positive contribution made by immigrants from all over the world to Scottish society, culture and history; also notes that the Scottish population is comprised of a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world and believes that all immigrants and their descendants are an integral part of the Scottish identity; calls on politicians and the media to stop the demonisation of immigrants, and calls on media outlets to take a more responsible approach toward their reporting of immigration to Scotland and the UK.

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Jean launches new campaign against xenophobia

NMX - Roza Salih, Jean Urquhart & Maggie Chapman

Today at the Scottish Parliament, Jean launched Not My Xenophobia, her new campaign to challenge xenophobic attitudes in politics and the media.

Not My Xenophobia invites Scots social media users to name-and-shame examples of xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes they see being used by newspapers, adverts, TV programmes and politicians, using the hashtag #notmyxenophobia.

You can follow the campaign at the website www.notmyxenophobia.scot, the @notmyxenophobia Twitter account and the campaign’s Facebook page.

Jean Urquhart was inspired to create Not My Xenophobia by the success of the #everydaysexism social media campaign, and the Scottish Government’s See Me campaign against mental health stigma.

Jean said:

“From exploitative programmes like Immigration Street to the UKIP MEP David Coburn’s disgusting, racist comments about Europe Minister Humza Yousaf, we are surrounded with xenophobic messages in politics and the media.

“But speak to ordinary Scots and you will find a very different attitude. Most of us value our friends, neighbours and colleagues from all over the world. The xenophobia we are being bombarded with isn’t ours – it’s being imposed on us by people in positions of power and influence who want to set us against one another.

“This influence is especially pernicious in the run-up to the General Election, as the big parties compete over who can be tougher on immigrants, never mind that immigrants are and always have been an essential part of the country those parties want to run.

“I’ve started the Not My Xenophobia campaign to give a voice to the majority of Scots who reject these hateful attitudes, and to name and shame the media organisations and politicians who promote them for their own gain.

“I’ve worked closely with the Polish community in the Highlands, and seen first-hand the real pain that is caused by xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes. The Polish contribution to Scotland has been huge, from the Polish soldiers who defended our east coast in World War II, to the nurses who support our NHS today. Newspaper headlines that scream about the ‘problem’ of immigration insult that contribution and promote discrimination and even violence.

“The Scottish identity is defined by migration. Our own nation is a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world, and Scots have settled all over the world in return. We are an exceptionally international country, and are better off for that.

“I hope very many Scots, old and new, will join in the Not My Xenophobia campaign to challenge xenophobic attitudes head on, and to show that our diverse and beautiful nation will not be divided.”

Jean was joined at the campaign launch by Roza Salih, the Glasgow Girls campaigner who came to Scotland as a child from Iraqi Kurdistan and is now Vice President for Diversity and Advocacy at Strathclyde Student’s Union, and Maggie Chapman, the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party and councillor for the Leith Walk ward in Edinburgh, who is a South African citizen and grew up in Zimbabwe before coming to Scotland as a student.

Maggie Chapman said:

“As someone who came to Scotland from southern Africa over 17 years ago, I’ve always found a warm welcome in this country. Sadly my experience isn’t shared by others. The ward I represent is the most diverse in Scotland, and I want everyone in my ward to feel as welcome as I did when I came to Scotland. The crass comments by UKIP’s MEP for Scotland, David Coburn show that there is too much xenophobia in Scotland. Jean’s campaign is a great start to that, and I’m delighted to support it.”

The launch of the campaign will be followed on Wednesday by a Scottish Parliament debate, led by Jean, on the motion “Celebrating Scotland’s Diverse Communities”:

S4M-12677 Jean Urquhart: Celebrating Scotland’s Diverse Communities—That the Parliament believes that Scotland’s diversity should be celebrated and rejects the negative attitudes expressed in the media and politics towards immigration and immigrants; also notes with concern the impact of these attitudes in the context of the approaching General Election; believes that there should be recognition of the very real and positive contribution made by immigrants from all over the world to Scottish society, culture and history; also notes that the Scottish population is comprised of a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world and believes that all immigrants and their descendants are an integral part of the Scottish identity; calls on politicians and the media to stop the demonisation of immigrants and calls on media outlets to take a more responsible approach towards their reporting of immigration to Scotland and the UK.

Jean challenges anti-immigrant rhetoric

Jean is to question the new Cabinet on what they are doing to tackle the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes in Scotland.

She will put a question to the Scottish Government during a question time session at Holyrood, at 11.40am tomorrow. The Government will decide which Minister is best placed to answer, but it is likely that it will be answered by Alex Neil, whose new Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights brief gives him responsibility for equalities and human rights issues.

Jean will ask:

Question S4O-03758: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 19/11/2014 – To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle negative perceptions of immigration in Scotland.

After the Minister answers she will be entitled to ask a further ‘supplementary’ question.

Jean said:

“Scots are consistently more positive about migrants than the rest of the UK. For example, most Scots say immigration has been good for the country while most south of the border say it has been bad.

“And this week the Polish Consul General for Scotland, Dariusz Adler, said Poles find Scotland ‘more friendly’ than other parts of Britain, highlighting the Scottish Government’s positive attitude which is, he said, ‘exactly different from the approach of David Cameron’.

“There can be no doubt that people who have come from other countries to live and work in Scotland have made an enormous and essential contribution to Scotland’s economy and our rich culture.

“But there is a concerted political and media campaign to undermine our welcoming attitude, and it would be naïve to think Scots are entirely immune. Westminster politicians fall over each other to claim to be the toughest on immigrants, while newspapers scream misinformation and bigotry from the front pages.

“It’s hard not to see this as an effort by right-wing vested interests to deflect blame for economic problems away from the banks and governments who are actually responsible.

“Under this bombardment, even Scotland has now, for the first time, elected a UKIP MEP, though thankfully that noxious party remains a barely-relevant afterthought in Scottish politics.

“I am grateful that the SNP Government – unlike the Westminster parties – has always made the case for welcoming new Scots. But I want to explore what more can be done to push back against the tide of xenophobic rhetoric.”

Daily Express, Wednesday 26 November 2014. Headline reads: 'HIDDEN' MIGRANT MILLIONSJean has also written to the Scottish Daily Express, criticising their front-page description of Scots-born children of migrant parents as “hidden migrants”.

She wrote:

Dear Sir,

Yesterday’s front page screamed that children born in Scotland to migrant parents are ‘hidden’ from ‘official’ immigration figures.

They are not included in immigration figures because they are not immigrants. How hard is that to understand?
To single out some Scottish children, who are British citizens, and call them a problem because of where their parents are from is nothing but bigotry.

People from all over the world, and their descendants, have always made a huge contribution to our country.

The Express claims to be the ‘Voice of the new Scotland’. So why is it such a cheerleader for the campaign of fear and hate against new Scots?

Yours faithfully,

Jean Urquhart MSP
Ullapool

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, and recently highlighted the cultural contribution of new Scots in a Scottish Parliament motion congratulating the Mercury Prize-winning Young Fathers.