We need our own immigration policy in Scotland - Lorna Slater

The last few weeks will have been particularly stressful for thousands of people across Edinburgh, with last Thursday the deadline for applications for the UK government’s European Settlement Scheme.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 7:00 am
Lorna Slater (Green)
Lorna Slater (Green)

Time and again we were told that Brexit posed no risk to the rights of people who have made their lives here. Yet, many of our fellow citizens have been left with this uncertainty hanging over them as they wait to hear back from the Home Office, which has had its phone lines jammed with calls and has a large backlog of unprocessed applications.

But what about those who have been unable to apply? Experts warn that 100,000 people may have found themselves in this position, including many from vulnerable groups: children, people in the care system, elderly citizens and people in coercive and abusive relationships. Many of them could have their right to work and live here stripped away or lose their access to benefits or the NHS.

This is not ok. The right to free movement in Europe was one of the greatest political achievements of the last 60 years. It has had a positive and transformative impact on our society.

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All too often, discussions about immigration become a technical debate about numbers and financial data. People who have made Scotland their home have played a vital economic role, but they are not just numbers on a spreadsheet. They are human beings. They are our friends, our families, our neighbours and many of the key workers who have got us through the last 18 months.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote there was a sharp increase in reported hate crimes and xenophobic abuse. And now that we have been taken out of the EU, it hasn’t gone away.

Only last week the Edinburgh Evening News reported a young Polish woman being racially abused on a bus when speaking to her mother on the phone. When she told the driver he said to ignore it. This should never have happened. That kind of abuse is absolutely unacceptable.

But it is only the tip of the iceberg. For every case that is reported, there will be so many that aren’t. And the day-to-day anxiety that comes with such prejudice has an individual and collective cost.

Unfortunately, this has not been helped by a Westminster government that brought us the “hostile environment” and Windrush.

I was born in Canada and have been living in Scotland since 2000. But as a white woman from an English-speaking country, I’m aware that there are some who may treat me as a ‘good immigrant’ while supporting reactionary policies, restrictions, and hostility against others.

It doesn’t need to be this way. We can build an inclusive Scotland that extends a hand of friendship, rather than one that detains refugees in prison-like conditions and sends vans into our communities to remove residents in dawn raids.

Things need to change. A vital part of that change can come from a Scottish immigration policy. With our own system we could have a humanitarian and welcoming policy that reflects the better society and economy we want to build.

When I think of the tens of thousands of our citizens who are anxiously waiting for a response from the Home Office, or people being abused like the young woman on the bus, my heart goes out to them. We can do so much better than this.

Lorna Slater is a Green MSP for Lothian