Immigration has been central to the politics of the EU Referendum.
People in most political parties supporting the Leave campaign got involved in immigrant bashing. People in most political parties on the remain side talked about “controls on immigration”. We had vans being driven round our cities telling immigrants to “go home”.
Since June 2016, these discussions have continued. People from continental Europe and beyond reported increases in verbal and physical abuse as a consequence of their ‘foreign-ness’. People who look or sound like immigrants have reported more racial abuse.
This week, the UK Cabinet confirmed that, post-Brexit, continental Europeans will face the same immigration controls as non-EU nationals. Whatever happens with the Brexit negotiations, whatever the outcome of deals and votes is, whatever we think about Brexit, this should concern all of us who desire a prosperous, progressive Scotland.
As a South African national, I have first hand experience of a small part of the “hostile environment” that Theresa May and others have created. I say a small part because I look and sound like I could belong in the UK, according to the immigrant bashers. Despite the colour of my passport, as soon as I open my mouth at an immigration queue, I know I get treated differently to others who look and sound different to me.
That is wrong.
But this isn’t about me. What we should be concerned about is the huge negative impact that such an approach to immigration will have on our daily lives.
We hear some of the consequences of stricter immigration controls more than others. For example, we hear about how the NHS relies on doctors, nurses, cleaners and others from around the world. We hear about the benefits to our universities and colleges of international collaborations for our students, researchers and teachers. And we’ve heard, perhaps more so recently, how fruit has been left to rot in fields as the people to pick the fruit are not available.
We perhaps have not heard so much about the artists, dancers, musicians and others that were denied entry to the UK to participate in WOMAD, the global cultural festival, or the Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals. Our cultural lives are being curtailed by racism and xenophobia.
This is not what, I’m sure, many of us wish to see in any future Scotland, regardless of its constitutional relationship with either the EU or the UK.
We need a concerted, cross-party, pan-institutional campaign FOR immigration. The Scottish Green Party supports open borders. This might not be as far as many others wish to go, but we have to act, and we have to act now. And I’d like to suggest some of the things that we might seek to do.
Firstly, one of the aims of the right-wing Brexit supporters was to spread the hostile environment for immigration from the state’s approach to people, to people’s interaction with one another. They want an atmosphere of hate that drives immigrants out of the country. We should all take responsibility for making everyone welcome in our country. That means telling our immigrant friends that we value them, and that we reject wholeheartedly the anti-immigrant culture. It also means doing the really difficult work of challenging hateful attitudes towards immigrants. A campaign for immigration must equip us to tackle the disinformation about the impact of immigrants on the NHS. Immigrants are vital to making our health service work, much more than they are a strain on it. Where racist newspapers put the case against immigrants, we need to rebut that.
Second, we need the Scottish Government and institutions in Scotland to reject the hostile environment approach. In Scotland we should make it clear that teachers, doctors, lecturers, local authorities and other public officials will not be made to act as agents creating a hostile environment. The same should be true for others providing services. From landlords to employers, journalists to business people, we should be welcoming immigrants, not forcing people into an attitude of suspicion.
Lastly, we need a Scottish immigration policy. As a result of Westminster’s racist attitude to immigration fruit is rotting in the fields, people aren’t getting the care that they need and people are feeling unwelcome in our country. It needs to stop. We are globally embarrassed by the crass decision to deny artists the opportunity to come to our cultural events. But we know that Westminster politicians revel in this small minded attitude. It panders to the newspapers, and to the worst fears of their electorate.
We can build our own immigration system based on our humanitarian and welcoming culture and we can build a better society and economy with it. The urgency of this can’t be understated. Now is the time to act in our lives and through our government. I look forward to joining many others in this campaign and developing these and other ideas, to create a welcoming Scotland.