Edinburgh is one of the most attractive cosmopolitan capital cities in Europe with nearly four million tourists a year contributing £1.2 billion into the economy. With occupancy levels running at around 90 per cent for many months of the year new hotels seem to be opening right across the city. Restaurants covering dozens of different national cuisines cater for visitors and residents providing a taste of the world.
As EU citizens we are free to visit or work in the other 27 European countries and the free movement of people, one of the principles of the single market, allows citizens of those EU countries to visit or live and work here. More than 25,000 EU nationals have chosen to make Edinburgh their home and of those 7000 are working in the hospitality industry in hotels, restaurants and bars.
Edinburgh is a year-long festival city ranging from the Christmas and New year celebrations, to international events covering film, TV, science, the Tattoo, the Fringe and the International Festival. They all depend to an extent on EU nationals, many of them students, to staff these events in some cases up to a third of the workforce.
Tourism is big business in Edinburgh but could it be under threat from a hard Brexit?
The UK Government seems to be heading for a hard Brexit that could result in visas being introduced for visitors with the cost of a short stay visitor’s visa starting from £87, a substantial additional cost, to what is usually a short break of up to five nights. Many European tourists may choose to take their weekend break elsewhere.
So tourism could be hit by a drop in visitors and be starved of key staff if the UK Government carries out its threat of reducing EU immigration.
But it’s not just tourism that could be affected, as EU nationals are employed in many key sectors of the Edinburgh economy and are paying taxes to support services in this country. What would be the impact if the 40 per cent of European citizens employed in food manufacturing or the 20 per cent of university academic staff, to name but two areas, decided they no longer wanted to be used as pawns by the UK Government in Brexit negotiations and chose to leave?
So far the UK Government has refused to confirm that our European colleagues will have a guaranteed right to stay and have the same rights and access to services as UK citizens. We can’t afford to lose a key part of our workforce and the UK Government should stop playing politics with people’s lives.
Migration is key to supporting sustainable population growth and any move to limit migration, whether from within or beyond the EU, has the potential to seriously harm our economy. The fact that the UK Government can’t give simple assurances that European citizens will be welcome to stay in this country if we leave the EU is unacceptable.
Scotland is one of the oldest European nations, we are European citizens and so are all our colleagues from other EU countries who have made Scotland there home.
Gordon MacDonald is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands