Jean Urquhart has spoken out against the radical anti-immigration plans announced by David Cameron this morning, and pledged to investigate ways the Scottish Parliament could resist some of the proposals.
In a speech at the Home Office, Cameron said the Queen’s Speech next week would include measures to create a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ and confiscate the wages of undocumented migrants, adopt what he called a “deport-first-appeal-later” approach to immigration appeals, and make landlords and banks investigate the immigration status of tenants and customers.
“Cameron’s speech this morning scapegoated migrants, then used that as a pretext for shockingly draconian and unjust proposals. It’s hard to put it any more succinctly than the Sky reporter who summarised Cameron’s message to migrants as: ‘we are going to treat you like criminals.’
“His plan for a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ is nothing less than a back-door way of criminalising undocumented migrants. If undocumented migrants working in our businesses and contributing to our economy really was the problem he claims, he would punish the employers, not the migrants.
“From Legal Aid cuts to employment tribunal charges, the Conservatives in government have made a concerted assault on access to justice and today’s speech continued that effort. His plan to deport undocumented migrants without appeal, forcing them to attempt to appeal remotely from another country, radically reduces the chance of a fair hearing.
“Cameron’s plan to turn landlords into immigration officers by making them investigate their tenants, and to automatically cancel tenancies when visas expire, seems to cross the line from immigration policy to housing policy – which is a devolved matter. So I will be looking into what the Scottish Parliament can do to protect our migrant tenants from suffering this intrusion and threat of homelessness.
“I’m hugely grateful to all those who have already taken part in the #notmyxenophobia campaign online by calling out anti-immigrant attitudes in politics and the media. This renewed attack on migrants makes it all the more important that refuse to be quiet in the face of xenophobia.”
On Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament debated a Government motion calling for a return of the post-study work visas, once known as the ‘Fresh Talent’ scheme, that allowed overseas students who graduated from Scottish universities to stay and work in Scotland after their degree. Jean supported the motion, and called for Scotland to have control its own immigration policy more generally, so that we can have a welcoming system that meets our needs. The motion passed by 93 votes to nil, with 12 Conservatives abstaining, as did a Labour amendment recognising the work of former First Minister Jack McConnell in creating Fresh Talent.
On this page you can read Jean’s speech, and watch the video of the debate – Jean’s contribution starts at 1:58:35. You can read the full transcript of debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.
Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): This is a timely debate and it is heartening to hear that there is cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.
We have heard from all members who have spoken about the contribution that overseas students make, whether cultural, social, economic and educational, but in spite of the reputation of Scottish colleges and universities, we cannot assume that they will keep coming.
Competition in the education sector is tough. Many of our colleges and universities are making greater and greater efforts to attract students from around the globe, even to the extent of changing their names. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That change to the name was not made because people demanded it; it was made to attract students and so that they could better understand the college’s work and its potential.
It is no matter that our universities and colleges are the best or that they are opening branches in many other countries around the globe. It might be that the growing number of such courses will produce graduates there with degrees from the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh or, indeed, the University of the Highlands and Islands.
What will bring those students here? It is not enough to be the best, or to provide good student associations and a welcome. As the institutions know, they need all the support that they can get to maintain or grow the international student community. The post-study work visa is only one good reason to apply to one university over another, but it is perhaps the most important.
Some of the partner colleges in the University of the Highlands and Islands have developed the potential for business experience to follow the course as well as being part of the course. For example, were they allowed to stay after graduation, textiles students in Shetland could access equipment—large industrial knitting machines, for example—to develop better business skills and experience whether or not there was a market for their products.
Manufacturing must be one of the most important areas for us to cover, so the opportunity of getting such experience for the period after graduation is certainly an attractive option, and Scotland has a great deal to offer in that respect.
All the papers that we have received from NUS Scotland or business organisations show cross-sector and cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.
I am not sure about the Smith Commission process. It occurs to me, particularly after listening to Lord Lang on the radio this morning, that that process might not be the quickest method by which to put in place the developments that we need. It is incumbent on all members to show that there is real urgency about the issue. The fresh talent initiative has been referred to—all credit to Jack McConnell and the Labour Party for it. It is important to acknowledge that they brought it about, but it is also important to note that if we had the powers over immigration that Scotland needs and clearly deserves, the fresh talent initiative would surely still be in place and we would not need to have this debate.
It was disingenuous of Liam McArthur to try to somehow link all the evidence from academics, businesses and agencies that support the post-study work visas with the danger that not everyone will agree. By way of evidence, he cited BBC Scotland’s evidence that people in Scotland are not unlike people south of the border in their views on immigration.
Liam McArthur: The point that I was trying to make is that the assumption that the population in Scotland takes a radically different approach to immigration from the approach of the population south of the border is not borne out by the BBC survey or by attitude surveys over a number of years. Kenny MacAskill made a fair point about the leadership that we need to show, and it is worth acknowledging that we do not work with a more enlightened or progressive population on the whole.
Jean Urquhart: I thank Liam McArthur for that. In fact, I was just going to refer to Kenny MacAskill’s point that it is up to us to take a lead. It ill behoves us to constantly hark back to what is in some ways a bigger issue. We had a debate on immigration last week, in which we were all very much agreed, and those points were well made by members at the time.
Joan McAlpine talked about MIT, which is a great example of the fact that, where creativity is developed, it can flourish. Scotland needs to have control of immigration if we are to realise our full potential. We must push for the issue to be considered outwith the Smith Commission process. It is a serious and important issue for Scotland and for our colleges. More than that, it is seriously important for the kind of economic development that we want. We have acknowledged that we are talking about thousands of students. Why on earth would we want that talent to be educated in Scotland and then insist that they leave? That cannot be right. I hope that we will push for the issue to be dealt with in the House of Commons and for our case to be made outwith the Smith Commission process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
After the Minister answers she will be entitled to ask a further ‘supplementary’ question.
“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.”
Jean has also written to the Scottish Daily Express, criticising their front-page description of Scots-born children of migrant parents as “hidden migrants”.
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?
Jean has congratulated the hip-hop group Young Fathers, which was formed by Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi in Edinburgh in 2008, on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut album, Dead. They are the first Scottish act to win the Mercury since Franz Ferdinand in 2004.
Jean, who is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Culture, lodged a motion in the Parliament celebrating the trio’s success, and also recognising the enormous contribution that immigrant communities have made to Scottish arts and culture, today and throughout our history. Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia, and Kayus Bankole was born in Scotland to Nigerian parents.
The motion, which has so far been co-signed by 11 other MSPs, reads:
Motion S4M-11362: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014
Congratulations to Young Fathers on Winning the 2014 Mercury Prize
That the Parliament congratulates Kayus Bankole, G Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of the Scottish hip-hop group, Young Fathers, on the group’s debut album, Dead, winning the 2014 Mercury Prize; believes that this win is indicative of the strength, innovation and diversity of Scottish popular music today; notes that Alloysious and the parents of Kayus were immigrants to Scotland, and celebrates the enormous and essential contribution that immigrants make to Scotland’s culture.
I would like to congratulate my colleague Christine Grahame on bringing this debate to the floor- timely, I believe, as it was announced on Monday that the Great Polish Map has been awarded listed status. It is undoubtedly worthy of protection, and I am delighted that future generations will be able to admire the attention to detail of this unique structure. The use of gravity-driven water to recreate our rivers and lochs is truly magnificent,
I am sure that those speaking this evening will all concur with the historic importance of the map, not only as a feat of architecture and a reminder of the sacrifices made by Polish soldiers during World War II, but also as a symbol of the long-standing links between Poland and Scotland forged in that era that have remained strong ever since.
It is this connection that has continued to this very day that I wish to concentrate on. While all of Scotland has benefited from its special relationship with Poland- I think particularly of the Polish food shops that can be found in any city across Scotland, and the dedication of our supermarkets to providing Polish produce- the Highlands and Islands in particular has attracted a large number of Poles.
As late as 2004, the Highlands and Islands were threatened with yet further depopulation. However, this has dramatically changed, with Inverness still one of the Europe’s fastest growing cities, a growth that is concurrent with economic regeneration and attributable in part to its active, dynamic Polish community, forming roughly 10% of the population of the city. Across the Highlands and Islands, approximately 69% of all immigrants come from Poland, showing the strong ties that exist between our two nations. The mutual benefit of these ties is evident; they contribute hugely to civic life in Inverness and the surrounding region, and I was privileged to have the chance to recognise this by inviting along Zosia Fraser. Chair of the Polish Association, as my “local hero” for the opening of Parliament last summer. Among other activities, Zosia has organised translation services, accommodation and put in place other measures to help new arrivals to the early to settle and to truly become part of the local community.
Zosia is typical of the Polish community in Scotland in contributing so much to our society. I’m sure all of us in this chamber recognise the value to future generations of growing up in towns, cities and villages where many cultures are known and celebrated, where an awareness of our place in the world and that of others helps to inculcate a sense of internationalism and global citizenry- a sense, I am sure, will be all the more beneficial when Scotland regains its place among the community of nations.
In closing, Presiding Officer, I would like to once again welcome the continuing restoration of the Map, and support this motion.
Three Highlands and Islands SNP MSPs have decried the rigid and irrational application of immigration rules that could result in an Orkney-based family being torn apart by bureaucratic UK Border Agency Officials.
Mike MacKenzie MSP, Jean Urquhart MSP and John Finnie MSP have all signed a petition calling on the UK Border Agency to let common sense prevail in the case of the Boyd family, who could end up on opposite sides of the world unless urgent action is taken.
Gary Boyd, who was born and brought up in Leith, lives in Orkney with his Australian-born wife, Kristee, step-son Kyle and daughter Nyah, all of whom are currently in the UK on six-month visas.
As Mr and Mrs Boyd lived and worked abroad between 2006 and 2011, the Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) Visas for Mrs Boyd and her two children lapsed, causing massive complications within a complex and bureaucratic immigration structure that seems incapable of responding sensitively to individual circumstances.
There are self-evident strong ties of the Boyd family (who were resident in the UK between 2004 and 2006 before returning in 2011) to the UK, including strong extended family connections and Mr Boyd’s role within the local community as Depute Head Teacher of Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney.
However, the UK Border Agency’s strict interpretation of its immigration rules would force Mr Boyd’s family to either leave the UK every 6 months and return with new 6-month visas, or require the family to return to Australia, apply for new ILR Visas and wait for as long as it takes for those to be granted.
This would cause massive upheaval for the Boyd family, not least to Kyle who is in the final year of his Standard Grade education.
Mike MacKenzie MSP, who has been assisting the family in their endeavours, commented:
“The abject treatment by the UKBA of the Boyd family, who have contributed so much to their local community, has highlighted the problems of a remote national agency handling discrete cases such as the Boyd’s. Scotland is a welcoming country, and we should not be putting up extra barriers to those who wish to live and work here. The distress already caused by this case to the family involved has been unimaginable, and cannot be allowed to continue.”
Jean Urquhart MSP, who has also been in close contact with the Boyd family, added:
“The inability of the UKBA and the Immigration Minister to respond in a flexible manner risks tearing this family apart for no reason other than going by the book. It is not their fault that immigration rules are so needlessly complex. They should not be punished and have their family life completely destroyed in order to satisfy what appears to be unnecessary box-ticking.”
John Finnie MSP, who has also taken a strong interest in the case, concluded:
“The UKBA needs to show some common sense and recognise that rigidly applying the same regulations to different situations is creating discord and chaos. They must recognise the Boyd family’s particular circumstances and bring this madness to an end by allowing them to re-apply for ILR visas from the UK.”