Jim Sillars: Let’s be rational on immigration

Gordon Brown confronts Gillian Duffy on the campaign trail. Picture: PA

Gordon Brown confronts Gillian Duffy on the campaign trail. Picture: PA

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Remember Gillian Duffy, the woman Gordon Brown described as a bigot for complaining about immigrants from Eastern Europe?

She was simply expressing the anxieties people have, especially in England, about the changes immigrants bring to their communities, and the pressures on health, education and other services.

There is nothing wrong with immigration per se. The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand operate controlled immigration in favour of young, skilled people. Scots benefit from this policy, with our young, skilled people leaving here because there seem few prospects for good jobs paying high wages.

Controlled immigration allows local authorities, and health services, to plan rationally as they know how many new people are going to arrive. It also means the new citizens and local communities can achieve the necessary degree of integration. It doesn’t mean everyone being the same. In Western Canada, there is now a significant Chinese-Canadian community, but they are Canadians first. It is the same in Australia, where more people of Asian descent are settled in.

Uncontrolled immigration is a different matter. That is what the basic principle of the EU, the free movement of people, brings with it. We have to remember that when the EU was formed, as the European Economic Community, there were no substantial differences between the six countries in terms of living standards – so free movement was not likely to happen on a large scale. It was the same when the UK, Denmark and Ireland joined in 1973; and Sweden and Finland’s membership did nothing to alter the reasonable balance in living standards between the member states. This was not the case when the great expansion of members took place with the fall of the Soviet Union, and much poorer countries from the former Communist bloc came in. The disparities in wages and living standards between the Western members and those from the East, are big. People in those poorer states would be daft not to take advantage of the ability to move for more money and higher living standards. Those factors are, after all, what influences the Scots who head for Canada and Australia.

Rational discussion about uncontrolled migration, the movement of people from the poorer to the richer EU states, has been blocked in recent years. Those who tried to raise it, like Gillian Duffy, were silenced with the accusation of bigotry and, even worse, racism. Those who run the EU from Brussels were, and continue to be, in denial about any problems.

But problems there are. Immigrants do not arrive and settle in the leafy suburbs like Notting Hill, or Colinton. It is to the relatively poorer areas of the cities they go, or, as has been the case in London, they set up shanty towns that would not be out of place in India. The pressures on the NHS and schools is, in many cases, severe because there has been no chance to plan for additional population – and local government as well as central government are, well, skint.

Eastern European migrants don’t leave home because they want to. Living in their own country is as precious to them as it is to us. Going off into the unknown in another country, where you are cut off from your own cultural certainties, must be an unsettling experience. I cannot think of any society where large numbers of immigrants have not, at first, met hostility from local populations which all adds to the stress the migrant feels. Those problems and varying sensitivities were obvious in the policy of uncontrolled immigration.

It would have been better for local populations and potential immigrants if they had been addressed rather than dismissed both by Brussels and our own politicians. The EU rule about the unfettered free movement of people means open borders between the richer states and the poorer ones. To tell local government which has to provide housing, and education, and health boards which have to provide hospital beds and medicines that immigrants will come, but we don’t know how many, is a nonsense with bad consequences for everyone.

Blair’s pursuit of wealth is shameless

There never has been before a Prime Minister who, after leaving office, hawked his services around the world. There is one now – Tony Blair.

His fortune is estimated at £70 million. Some of it gathered from advising JP Morgan, an investment bank, the Swiss global insurance company Zurich, and the less than nice autocrat who rules in Kazakhstan, Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev. The man is shameless.

Meanwhile, in the Iraq he turned upside down, 9000 were killed in 2013.

More fuel us

People like me, whose pensions are adequate don’t need the winter fuel allowance. But if we means test it, there will always be some on the margins who do need it but are denied it. So how do we solve that conundrum? Easy. Tax it.