“British jobs for British workers”: Wednesday morning’s headlines have been ringing through my head for the last two days. The UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced at the Conservative Party conference that the UK government plans to force businesses to publish how many foreign staff members they employ, in a bid to encourage them to hire more British workers. Not only that, they also plan to make it harder for businesses to recruit foreign staff, and even reduce the number of students allowed to study in the UK. And the Prime Minister has already made a stark threat to the foreign-born doctors making up 25% of the NHS workforce: you will be removed at the earliest convenient opportunity, with no thanks given for your contribution.
The message could not be clearer: if you are foreign, you do not deserve to work in the UK. If you are an employer, hiring someone who was not born in the UK is something you should be ashamed of doing – you will be under suspicion and scrutinised. And if you are a foreign student, you will be denied opportunities here.
Such naked discrimination would have been unthinkable before Brexit. A narrow vote — just 51.89% to Leave, a majority less than 2% — has proved to be the first brick in the wall that now threatens to shut us out from the rest of the world entirely. Already we have seen an uptick in racist attacks across the UK – but, encouragingly, not so much in Scotland.
Indeed, Scotland did not vote for this, and Falkirk did not vote for this. 62% of Scots backed the EU, with Falkirk contributing 56.7% of local votes. That the Scottish government has so vociferously defended Scotland’s place in the EU in the wake of Brexit is a cause for celebration, and the Scottish Greens welcome their commitment to exploring all avenues to retain our EU membership – but much more work remains to be done.
Much of my childhood was spent in Europe due to my father’s military employment. My family spent several years in Cyprus and then in Germany; not once did I ever feel as though we were unwelcome. Cypriots welcomed us with open arms, as did Germans. To me, the idea of slamming the door in the faces of our international neighbours is unthinkable. I am European, and they are European. We are all human.
So Theresa May’s quip of “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere” — encored by the French far right’s Marine Le Pen, of all people — is completely nonsensical to me. The world is not nowhere, it is everywhere – the one thing we all have in common.
The parochial approach the Tories are now taking can never work. These are times when we should be seeking ever greater international links to solve the many challenges we cannot solve alone — climate change, terrorism, corruption, poverty, hunger, homelessness and inequality — when we need to be erasing the petty differences that divide us. Sowing the seeds of division and shutting out the rest of the world will not solve any of these problems.
The Scottish Green Party, along with the Green Parties of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, are clear on where we stand: “This is not a time for parties to play games, or meekly respect the tired convention whereby they do not break cover during each other’s conferences. It is an occasion for us to restate the importance of working together to resist the Tories’ toxic politics, and make the case for a better future for our people and communities. We will do this by continuing to work and campaign with the fierce sense of urgency this political moment demands.”
“British jobs for British workers” is nothing more than a soundbite to usher in a parochial and isolationist Britain; to build walls around the shores of these islands. We must all work together to challenge the Tories and all others who seek to build those walls.