Can we have a real Scottish Conservative approach to migration please?

Can we have a real Scottish Conservative approach to migration please?

by Dr Sutherland MacNeill
article from Monday 24, February, 2020

WELL THAT DID NOT LAST VERY LONG did it? Less than a week after being elected leader Jackson Carlaw’s ruddy red face is on show with his disdain at his Conservative Government’s migration plan with his aids darkly muttering “he must show clout with Boris Johnson by getting his immigration plans changed.”

No doubt Carlaw thinks he is being clever standing up to ‘the big man,’ flexing his muscles. Well, basically agreeing with the SNP that British migration policy is wrong is a rather odd way of defending the Union. Worse, it strengthens the implication that the ‘English Conservatives’ are somehow morally deficient compared with the more liberal and tolerant Scots and suggests that Scotland would be better setting not just its own migration policy but everything else too.

Perhaps a better line of argument for Jackson Carlaw would have been to lampoon the SNP for their false liberalism and so called tolerance? Firstly, Scotland has attracted fewer migrants than almost any other region of the UK. Since 1997 all EU nationals have had the opportunity to come and work in Scotland. Relatively few have. According to the Migration Observatory[1] only 9 per cent of people residing in Scotland are migrants, the lowest proportion in the UK outside Wales and the North East of England.

So the first question Carlaw should be asking is why is Scotland such relatively unattractive a place to set up work and home? And further, could it be something to do with the fact the SNP have consistently underperformed the rest of the UK on almost every measure from employment growth, business start ups, life expectancy, educational standards and more – despite receiving far more money, per head than the rest of the UK?

Second, Carlaw, rather than knee jerk attacking Johnson, might do better to encourage policy to raise the standards of the thousands of young Scots who leave school poorly prepared for the workplace.  On the face of it, like the rest of the UK, there is near full employment. This, however, disguises the fact that many thousands leave school every year poorly prepared for the work place and end up being semi-employed or very poorly qualified. A good government would encourage these people to work where opportunity existed and help with training, life skills and apprenticeship. Developing incentives for apprenticeship is a start – but there is a very long way to go.

There is no good reason why local school leavers cannot work in good careers in hospitality, care, agriculture and the like where they may be needed. Surely it is the duty of Government not to cast these local people aside to be replaced by cheap labour from overseas? The real question must be after over a decade in power why do the SNP continue to support the easy option of importing people, who are reluctant to come, rather than encouraging and training our own who are disposed to stay?

The third question is associated with the fact that relatively few migrants have chosen to come to Scotland is the appalling level of business start-ups in Scotland relative to the rest of the UK. People follow the jobs and growth not a snazzy sign that says migrants welcome which has no substance. After the North East of England, Scotland has the weakest concentration of business in the UK and less than half the business density rate of London per head of population[2]. The Scottish Conservatives could ask why the SNP thinks that is the case and why after a decade Scotland lags further behind?

A fourth question might be why has the SNP failed to encourage the 750,000+ Scots living in the rest of the UK home? Why it is the indigenous population leaves? Could it be higher taxes, less opportunity, fewer businesses, constitutional uncertainty and stifling negative politics? Let’s define a policy to arrest this; it can be done and quiet easily. Instead of encouraging enterprise and supporting a competitive tax regime the Scottish Conservatives are stuck with an indistinct policy set one timid step behind the SNP appealing to almost no one.

The truth is Britain is a remarkably tolerant country. London is perhaps the most international major city on earth. It is so international that only 18 per cent[3] of current school children in the capital are white British. The contrast with Scotland could not be starker. It is not that migrants cannot come to Scotland, it’s that they choose not to. Carlaw should celebrate fact that Scotland is part of a tolerant UK rather than undermine it.

Sturgeon and the SNP are as usual grandstanding. The tragedy is that the new Scottish Conservative leader has fallen into her trap. There are many good questions he could ask about migration, the chronic under-performance of the Scottish economy at every level, punitive taxes and why Scots choose to leave, often never to return. Instead he adds weight to the false argument that the English Tories are prejudiced, weakening the very thing he is supposed to stand for.

[1] https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/migrants-in-the-uk-an-overview/

[2]https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/852919/Business_Population_Estimates_for_the_UK_and_regions_-_2019_Statistical_Release.pdf

[3] https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/percentage-pupils-ethnic-group-borough

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