Scottish Tory MPs’ shame over aid cuts - Lorna Slater

There are very few things I agree with David Cameron and Theresa May on, but one of them was their commitment to ensuring the UK continued to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on aid and international development.

Green Party MSP Lorna Slater
Green Party MSP Lorna Slater

In theory it was something Boris Johnson believed in too – in fact, it was in the last Tory manifesto.

But last week the PM led his Cabinet colleagues as they marched through the voting lobby to cut aid payments to people in need. Shamefully he was joined by every single Scottish Tory MP, all of whom were prepared to break a promise to people in some of the world’s poorest countries.

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It gets worse. This week Westminster will vote on the Nationality and Borders Bill, which is being brought forward by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

If it comes into force it will add even more cruelty to an already extremely harsh and hostile system. It will further criminalise and punish people seeking sanctuary from war, poverty and exploitation while doing nothing to make it safer for displaced people to move here. The Edinburgh Trade Union Congress warns that the Bill “criminalises the very act of seeking asylum.”

As the Scottish Refugee Council has argued, this is a dangerous Bill that “puts in its place a regime of punishment for people who are simply looking to rebuild their lives in safety.” Is this really the message that the government wants to be sending?

Last year 1400 people died crossing the Mediterranean. Every one of those people had a story and people who loved them. What they needed was safe and legal routes to asylum and to be reunited with friends and family. They should not have been met by shameful political attacks.

Whether it is Bikes for Refugees Scotland or Refugee Action Scotland, there is a deep well of solidarity and community groups doing crucial work in Edinburgh and beyond. Unfortunately a lot of that work is made even more vital by decisions made in Westminster.

I moved to Scotland in 2000 with nothing but my backpack and a lot of student loan debt. It was daunting, but I faced far fewer hurdles than many. Why should I have had an easier time moving here from Canada than people who are escaping from the worst conflict zones?

Two weeks ago, I used this column to argue for Scotland to have control over immigration, and that need has only become more urgent.

I believe that at heart we are an empathic and welcoming country that stands by and stands up for our refugee communities and people who have chosen to make their lives here.

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It’s much easier for politicians to attack people they will never meet and who they don’t have to look in the eye. It is much easier to demonise people who are nameless and faceless to you.

Yet, there are many people across cities like Edinburgh who have lived experience of conflict and repression, and close friends and family in the countries where the cuts and hostility will be most strongly felt. For them, it will be deeply personal. Their voices must be at the heart of the debate, and the fairer and better future that we build.

Lorna Slater is a Green MSP for Lothian