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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 February 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Stone Group, Prestwick Airport, Population Needs and Migration Policy, Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, Decision Time


Population Needs and Migration Policy

The next item is a Scottish Government debate on motion S5M-10571, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on Scotland’s population needs and migration policy.


I am pleased to have the opportunity to turn Parliament’s attention to Scotland’s population needs and migration policy. Our discussion paper of that title sets out in stark relief how crucial it is that Scotland has the powers that it needs to deliver a migration system tailored to the challenges that we face—challenges that are very different from those facing the rest of the UK.

Looking at the two amendments, I think that we can have a constructive debate this afternoon, because there is common ground. Like the Liberal Democrats, we think that there are parts of the overall United Kingdom system that have to change, and we set that out in our paper. Like the Conservatives, we understand that any variable migration scheme would need to be developed in partnership with the UK Government. We acknowledge the concerns about variation, but also the support that we have from business groups for tailor-made variation.

A growing population, and especially growth in the number of people who are of working age, is vital for a growing economy. Population growth has been the most significant driver of economic growth in both Scotland and the UK in recent years, ahead of productivity and labour market participation. That has been sustained by people choosing to come here from other countries to live and work.

The evidence is overwhelming, but it is not new. Indeed, I recall Kenneth Gibson MSP championing the need to address Scotland’s population challenges back in the very first session of this Parliament. Joint projections by the National Records of Scotland and the Office for National Statistics tell us that in each of the next 25 years there will be more deaths than births in Scotland. More than a third of Scotland’s local authorities face depopulation over the 25-year projection, and the age profile of the population will also change. The proportion of the population who are of state pension age will increase by 25 per cent as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement, and people aged 75 and over will be the fastest growing age group, with their number increasing by 79 per cent in 25 years.

Although ageing populations present a challenge across the UK, Scotland’s situation is particularly acute, given that our working-age population will grow only marginally compared with that in the rest of the UK, and the number of children being born in Scotland will decline. Unlike the rest of the UK, all the projected increase in Scotland’s population over the next 10 years is due to net in-migration.

Let me be very clear: the fact that people are living longer, healthier lives is an achievement to be applauded. However, as our population ages and the proportion of those in work decreases, it is incumbent on us, as a Government and as a just society, to ensure that we are able to maintain public services for those in their later years who have paid into the system all their working lives. These are long-term, enduring demographic issues that all developed countries will have to address eventually, and which Scotland needs to address now.

Children and families are essential considerations, and we have a comprehensive package of support for families. We are ensuring that children who are born today have every opportunity to lead productive lives. The importance of quality early learning and childcare cannot be overestimated. We are expanding the childcare offer and we have the best start grant. We are also developing skills in the workforce and promoting innovation. Just as population is a key driver for growth, so is productivity, and we have closed the productivity gap with the rest of the UK.

Nevertheless, those and other significant efforts in skills and innovation, however groundbreaking, do not fully address the impact of an ageing society. The weight of evidence is clear and cannot be ignored. Migration is a crucial component of Scotland’s current and long-term economic and demographic sustainability. Scotland faces different challenges in relation to population, demography and rurality from the rest of the UK. The Scottish Parliament and Government must have the devolved powers that they need to address those challenges with the urgency that they require.

We are not a lone voice here. A consensus has been growing for some time, with every major party now seeing the need for a differential approach to migration. Only last year, Ruth Davidson wrote that post-study work visas should be reintroduced, questioned whether the target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is correct and said that including students in the net migration target was

“distortive, counterproductive and sends out entirely the wrong signals.”

I support initiatives such as the post-study work visa, but does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that that scheme and other small schemes like it will not tackle the demographic challenges that we face north and south of the border?

I am not sure whether Willie Rennie has had a chance to read our discussion paper, but it is extensive and evidence based, and says exactly that. We need to decide right across Scotland what choices to make. I encourage Willie Rennie to read the discussion paper.

The consensus that we are building is growing. In a recent report, the Home Affairs Committee at Westminster stated that the one-size-fits-all UK system is no longer appropriate and that a different approach to migration is necessary. The Institute for Public Policy Research found that the UK immigration system does not cater for Scotland’s unique needs. Similarly, the all-party parliamentary group on social integration at Westminster said in a report last year that responsibility for immigration should be devolved.

Like many others from other political parties in Scotland and the UK, we are asking for the arbitrary and damaging net migration target to be abolished or, at the very least, for migration to Scotland not to be counted within it. The case for that could not be clearer. Scotland depends on inward migration to grow its population, but it is UK policy to reduce net migration throughout the UK. Those two contradictory goals simply cannot coexist.

Scotland needs working-age people to settle here in the long term and to raise families here. The net migration target forces the UK Government to focus on short-term work visas solely to address skills shortages. That does not work for Scotland. Indeed, Britain has hit its cap for skilled non-European workers for an unprecedented third month in a row, with the salary requirement leaping from £30,000 to £50,000 for February. That means that the UK is already turning away health workers, software developers and teachers, and that is before the UK leaves the European Union.

The situation of Sine Halfpenny is an example of the current system not meeting Scotland’s needs. She is the Canadian teacher who was willing to move from Nova Scotia to Mull to teach, and to teach Gaelic, in a primary school that has struggled to recruit to that post. However, the Home Office told her and her sponsor, Argyll and Bute Council, that her certificate of sponsorship had been rejected as it did not meet the required points for a tier 2 visa.

The short-term nature of UK visas does not address the issue of an ageing society. That is why we are also calling for the ability to take a different approach to family migration so that we can improve the rights of people in Scotland to bring close family into the country with them. We need families. We need children. We want people to stay, to settle and to contribute.

We also want people who have moved away from Scotland to build their skills and experience but who now want to return to be able to do so, yet the current rules on family migration mean that many UK citizens are unable to bring their family with them if those family members were born outside the EU. That cannot be right.

The Labour Party made that point only yesterday. In a speech, the shadow Home Secretary described the net migration target as “false and unworkable”, with Tory migration policy leading to the break-up of families, going against fair and reasonable values and discouraging people from choosing to live in this country at a time when we need them most.

We are also calling for a review of measures that are barriers to business, such as the immigration skills charge. We are firmly of the view that businesses should not be penalised simply for employing the skilled staff they need.

I say to the Liberal Democrats that it is not an either/or between trying to influence UK-wide changes and pursuing tailor-made approaches to Scotland; it is both. I hope that the Liberal Democrats will not ignore the fact that Scotland needs that tailor-made policy, as we suggest.

It is telling that Scottish ministers have no say in the Scotland shortage occupation list, which is the only existing measure that is designed to address Scotland’s specific needs. It is vital that Scottish ministers have a say in the jobs that are included on that list.

There is some speculation that the UK Government might move to an even more sector-focused approach to migration. Narrow sectoral solutions will not work for Scotland—this is a whole-economy, whole-workforce, whole-society issue. I hope that the UK will take a broader view.

I want to touch on the post-study work visa, which was beneficial. It is to the credit of this Parliament and the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition that they addressed that specific need. Indeed, it was mainstreamed into the UK immigration system before its withdrawal in 2012. The Smith Commission, with the support of all major political parties, called on the UK Government to reintroduce the visa, but we have had no response—indeed, we have had indifference.

We need to make sure that we develop an evidence-based argument that brings the consensus from Scotland together to make sure that we can persuade the UK Government of the need for the change. We had a differentiated system in one area when we had the post-study work visa, so the UK Government cannot argue that we cannot have one now. That is particularly the case when employers are crying out for flexibility to make sure that they can tackle some of the economic and recruitment challenges facing them.

The immigration system is already overly complicated. We want to argue the case for reducing complexity and having simpler rules. We should use examples that exist already. The UK and Ireland operate their own migration system with separate visas, without compromising the principle of free movement within the common travel area.

We suggest a new route of allowing people to live and work here on the condition that they remain in Scotland. That would not cut off or replace any other routes within the UK-wide immigration system for people or employers. We now have separate tax codes for Scottish income tax payers—

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

I am in my last moments, and my time has been cut.

It is possible that we can have a differentiated system and if we choose to do that we have the tools to identify migrants, who would be part of an immigration system that was tailored to Scotland’s needs. Let us try to work together to achieve that.

It is of concern that the UK Government’s white paper will not be published until autumn. We have set out a credible, well-reasoned, evidence-based case in our discussion paper. We will continue to engage with businesses, trade unions, universities and other bodies with an interest in attracting international talent to Scotland, and we will build on the significant knowledge and experience in the area to shape that policy for Scotland.

We believe that people who have chosen to call Scotland their home are vital to us, not just because of their very significant contribution to our economic growth, but because they have enriched our lives and communities, and because Scotland is, and wishes to remain, an inclusive, progressive and outward-looking nation.

I invite everyone in the chamber to look at Scotland’s distinctive needs. We need a tailor-made immigration system in Scotland that recognises our needs. There are examples around the world of nations that have adopted differential migration systems. There are no practical reasons why such a system would not work for Scotland. This is about political will, and that political will is most likely to succeed if we have a united approach when we come to decision time.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the publication of the Scottish Government’s paper, Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy: Discussion Paper on Evidence, Policy and Powers for the Scottish Parliament, which details the unique challenges facing Scotland’s population and the potential economic gains if migration was sustained; notes the findings of reports from the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration, which agreed that the current migration system needs to change to reflect local circumstances; notes that the Fresh Talent scheme, which was introduced in 2005 by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition administration was both a recognition of the need for a differentiated solution to migration and a demonstration that such a differential approach is possible within a UK-wide system, and supports calls for a debate on the current UK-wide system and for that system to better serve Scotland through an evidence-led approach to appropriate powers for the Parliament, enabling the development of a differentiated, more flexible solution, which is tailored to meet Scotland’s specific needs.

I call Jackson Carlaw to speak to and move amendment S5M-10571.3.


Beautifully crafted speeches are being truncated this afternoon, so if it sounds a bit lumpy, that is obviously why.

Your speeches are always beautiful, no matter how truncated they may have been.

Almost 60 years ago, I was born in my Eastwood constituency. Eastwood, where I have lived for the vast majority of the years since, is a community that has been home for many who have migrated to Scotland from the rest of the UK and from the rest of the world, including Europe.

Let me tackle directly some of the myths that are often repeated to me as an MSP—myths founded on concerns that migration alone is responsible for the pressures on our infrastructure and public services, which is simply not true.

Yes, we have a housing shortage, but that is not because of migration. We have seen radical shifts in the way that we choose to live, with far more single home occupancy and longer life expectancy. Homes that might have been expected to appear on the open market two decades ago are now still happily occupied.

Yes, we have busy hospitals and general practitioner surgeries, but that is not because of migration. We have a population that is living longer but is not always well. Even in the lifetime of this Parliament, we have seen new issues that were not envisaged when we first met, such as dementia and diabetes arising from obesity, present enormous strategic and budgetary challenges to the national health service.

Yes, we have busy schools, colleges and universities, but that is not because of migration. Far more of our young people stay longer at school and proceed into further education of whatever kind.

The suggestion that migration is at the heart of the stresses in our public life and services is a fantasy, and a malicious and self-deceiving one at that. Let me be absolutely clear—I say this personally and on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives—that migration and immigration from wherever are good, necessary and desirable. There is a strong, powerful and unarguable case for migration to Scotland and we are on its side.

Has the member made that case to his Cabinet in the United Kingdom, and do its members agree with him?

I will allow myself to develop the argument, but I say to Mr Rennie that yes, I make that argument vociferously on behalf of the Scottish Conservative Party whenever I get the chance.

I turn to the Scottish Government’s discussion paper, “Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy”. There is much in the analysis of the changing demographics of Scotland, laid starkly for all to see in the paper, with which we whole-heartedly agree. Over little more than a century, Scotland’s demographics have changed extraordinarily. Whereas 100 years ago it would have been unusual to see a pensioner, let alone an octogenarian, on our streets, over the next 25 years the number of people aged 75 and over will increase by 79 per cent. The situation was described to me most vividly as a demographic population pyramid, which will be inverted in the next 25 years.

That is the least of it. As Scotland leaves the industrial revolution and becomes embedded in the early years of the successor technological revolution, all manner of change lies ahead. Again, that was vividly described to me by a characterisation of the change over the next 30 years as being every bit as complete and profound as all the change that the world has seen since the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

A constant will be our need to have as entrepreneurial an economy as possible, with an engaged and productive workforce that is capable of sustaining our public services financially and with people. To put it bluntly, our natural population growth will not meet the task.

We need to ask why it is that only 5.9 per cent of the UK’s European Union citizens settle in Scotland when, based on our population, our share should equate to 8.1 per cent. After all, we have taxpayer-funded university tuition, taxpayer-funded care for the elderly and taxpayer-funded universal prescriptions.

Will the member give way?

I want to proceed. It is surely not that we offer a less attractive standard of social provision, nor is it a result of Brexit—it long pre-dates Brexit, even though Brexit undoubtedly compounds the challenge.

We have to face up to the fact that, in the words of the Scottish National Party, we have to have a mature discussion on why people leave Scotland, why a smaller percentage choose to come to Scotland and what we need to do over the next two or three decades to change that.

We agree with others about the advantages of the post-study work visa. I welcome the support of others, which underpinned the agreement that has now allowed the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh to be included in the pilot arrangements. We, and Michael Gove, also accept the need for a seasonal workers scheme embracing agriculture and hospitality, which my colleague Peter Chapman will speak to later.

However, the SNP invests heavily in proposals that would remove all the existing restrictions and devolve migration to Holyrood—where it would apparently establish a unique system for Scotland. The discussion paper does its best to make that case, but I do not believe that it convinces. Removing all existing controls to create a carte-blanche regimen is frankly reckless.

Will the member give way?

I want to proceed—I really am short of time now.

Although the demographic challenge might well be marginally more acute in Scotland, the issue is, nonetheless, a challenge for the whole UK. Although the potential sectoral employment shortfall in capacity is undeniable, it is undeniable in the same employment sectors across the UK, and the public accepts that. That is why Professor Sir John Curtice’s report, “Just 15 Months to Go: What Scotland is Making of Brexit” states that 63 per cent of Scots said that they do not believe that Scotland should have an easier migration system than elsewhere in the UK. It also states that some 59 per cent of Scots believe that EU migrants should have no greater or lesser a status than migrants from the rest of the world. The Scottish Government has spent the past 18 months making the alternative argument, but it has failed to convince Scotland.

Will the member please give way on that point?

I will give you the time back, Mr Carlaw.

We are not saying that the migration system should be easier. We think that migration should be controlled. We are not saying that we should take away the whole system, and the question that Professor Curtice asked would have been about replacing the whole system. We are talking about a tailor-made system.

I want to come directly to that point. Let me be clear: the UK must design a future migration system that meets the needs of the UK. That system certainly needs to ensure that, as a nation, we have the required population to meet the sectoral employment needs that we face, that the demographic challenges are met and, importantly, that we continue to allow migration to influence and enrich the shape and tone of our national life.

Let me be generous to the discussion paper again and argue that the seven principles that are detailed on page 19 as being the characteristics of policy and systems on future migration are an equally sound basis for a policy across the UK as they are for a policy for Scotland. If I had the time, I would detail them, but I think that they address directly some of the points that the cabinet secretary made, which are challenges to the UK and which I support.

My final argument concerns the willingness of Scotland and Scots to enforce any variable or unique system. The paper rather coyly suggests that although the Scottish Government would set the policy, it would leave it to the UK Home Office to enforce that policy. I have to ask a question because I think that it is one that others will have: when has any SNP MSP or MP ever supported a Home Office decision to remove anyone from Scotland? I cannot recall such an occasion. Unless a policy such as the bespoke differentiated policy for Scotland that is envisaged is underpinned by enforcement action, it is simply not practical and I do not believe that it could be implemented.

Presiding Officer, I see that I am now out of time. Against a background of unprecedented change, of the emergence of a world of wholly different styles and patterns of work, of social engagement and integration, of transport and communications that we cannot yet foresee but which most of us here will live to see, we need to recognise just how much Scotland will need to change, and how much harder we will need to work to make Scotland the destination of choice for entrepreneurs, skilled workers and talent in all its representation. Even in an age that is increasingly populated by drones, we must acknowledge and accept that our social and public services will continue to need ever-more dedicated individuals to sustain them. That is why my amendment encourages us all to seek, identify and agree upon an approach in Scotland and across the UK isles, and it is that ambition behind which we will put our support tonight.

I move amendment S5M-10571.3, to leave out from “unique” to end and insert:

“challenges facing Scotland and the rest of the UK’s population and the potential economic gains if migration was sustained; notes the findings of reports by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration; further notes the concerns of the public and numerous business groups regarding the practicality of significant internal deviation within the UK’s migration system, and recognises that any variable migration scheme for Scotland must be developed in close co-operation with the UK Government and within an overall framework.”


By the sounds of it, we all agree in the chamber that immigration enriches our lives. However, it is disappointing that the Conservative Party as a whole does not support that position. Jackson Carlaw has a minority view. I am glad that he is making the case, but he needs to make it to people such as Boris Johnson, who, during the EU referendum, made the case that 80,000 Turks would come over the border and flood the United Kingdom. Nigel Farage stood in front of the Brexit breaking point poster and said that all those immigrants would come into this country. Jackson Carlaw needs to make the case to those people and persuade them that they are wrong. So far, he is not succeeding, because his is a minority voice in the Conservative Party.

We face twin challenges on immigration. One is the demographics, about which we have heard quite a lot. By 2041, there will be 10,000 more deaths than births per year. The other is the economy. We have a shortage of workers in key sectors. On the demographics, we need to accept that immigrants are not a burden but an asset to the country. They tend to be healthier, many do not have families here and, often, many go back home once they have done their job. They are not a burden to our society. The Government’s figures show that the average annual contribution to Government revenue is about £10,500 per immigrant, and that each immigrant contributes about £34,500 to gross domestic product.

Therefore, we need to continue to have immigration to deal with the demographic challenge that we will face by 2041, when we will not have population growth but population decline. Immigrants are boosting tax revenues and they pay for the public services that we all rely on.

On the economic challenges regarding workers in the key sectors, we face problems not only in the NHS and social care but in areas such as the agricultural sector, where there are thousands of immigrant workers. In the food and drink sector, there are about 10,000 immigrant workers, which in the past few years has led to that sector growing to be worth £14 billion; it is expected to double in value by 2030. As a result of Brexit, the exchange rate is already driving some of those people away, so we are already struggling to get the workers that we need in order for that sector to thrive. It will not grow if we cannot get the workers in this country.

Then there is the university sector. In my patch, 20 per cent of the staff and about 10 per cent of the students at St Andrews university are from the EU. They are already being repelled by the Brexit vote and the message that we sent out on the back of the Brexit vote, pioneered by many Conservatives.

Is the member aware of today’s figures, which show that we are now seeing a situation in which non-EU migration is higher than EU net migration? A lot of the issues that the member has raised are already being realised in the current immigration figures that came out today.

Yes. What is interesting about that is that, in his comments last year on the issue, Anton Muscatelli said that the vote on Brexit is not just repelling people from the European Union but is sending a message to the rest of the world that Britain is not a country that welcomes immigration. It has created uncertainty, and because of the potential lack of access to the European research area, it is deterring people from coming. I know many examples of academics who are choosing not to come here because they do not see this country as part of the European research area and they do not see it as a country that welcomes foreigners. That is what the Conservative Government is pioneering with its hard Brexit.

The real problem is that, during the referendum, people were promised that immigration would go down. People were promised that there would be fewer foreigners in our country. That was the aim of Boris Johnson’s claims and that was the aim of Nigel Farage’s poster—to get people on side on the back of immigration.

We now know the potential real cost to the economy of cutting immigration—and Jackson Carlaw agrees with us on that. Now that we know the real cost, there is a risk that we will face a choice of either meeting the aspirations of people who voted for Brexit and damaging our economy, or doing the opposite. That is what is potentially dangerous about this issue. We need a proper debate about it across the United Kingdom because it is a UK-wide issue—I disagree with Fiona Hyslop when it comes to that point.

Across the UK, the farm sector needs about 80,000 agricultural workers to work as pickers at seasonal times of the year. In Scotland, the sector needs between 10,000 and 13,000 workers, so the dependence on those people is quite significant, both north and south of the border.

Large numbers of people are leaving the NHS, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom, because of the Brexit vote. They are going back home.

Will the member give way?

Not just now.

The dependency ratio is growing faster in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK, but the predicted end point of the dependency ratio is still 67 dependents per 100 people of working age. In Scotland, it will go up from 58 to 67 and in the UK it will go up from 61 to 67, so the problems are very similar north and south of the border.

It depresses me that every time it faces a problem in this chamber, the SNP comes forward with the answer that we need more powers for this Parliament. We need to lead the debate across the UK to tackle the problem across the UK. Cutting ourselves off and looking after our own problems will not solve the wider issues across the UK. That is why I oppose the SNP’s motion. Let us lead the debate across the UK to make the change across the UK in order to get an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK.

I move amendment S5M-10571.2, to leave out from first “notes” to end and insert:

“believes that immigration has proven valuable to the economy, population and public services, including the NHS, in all parts of the UK; further believes that immigration and freedom of movement within the EU has enriched the country; notes that, while the Fresh Talent Initiative addressed a specific need, its scale was not sufficient to solve the population and economic challenges that exist in Scotland, and other parts of the UK, and that larger-scale, substantially differentiated approaches would pose a risk to the Common Travel Area, and considers therefore that what is required is a new UK-wide debate on the benefits of immigration and for the UK Government to cease its divisive rhetoric, abandon its arbitrary immigration cap and produce a statement on the benefits of workers from overseas, similar to that produced by the Scottish Government’s Chief Economist in January 2018.”


I welcome today’s debate. Migration always has the potential to be open to misinformation and exploitation. We must deal with the facts of migration, talk about its importance to Scotland, and face the reality of population decline and the impact that it could have on our economy, our public services and our society.

Although there are amendments before us, both the Liberals and the Conservatives seem to recognise the significance of the problem that we face. It would be a positive move if the Parliament could reach a consensus on the need for a more honest debate about migration and a mature approach towards how we resolve it, and that includes working with the UK Government and finding solutions that maintain the cohesion of the UK.

There might be suspicions about others’ motives, but there is a degree of common ground in the Parliament, and the motion gives us an opportunity to reflect that. I do not agree with every conclusion of the Government’s paper, but I agree that if we do nothing we will experience significant challenges in maintaining, never mind growing, our population.

At the end of last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research published “An immigration strategy for the UK: Six proposals to manage migration for economic success”. The report was a helpful contribution to the debate, which noted that immigration policy has too often been driven by political ideology, playing to prejudices and easy assumptions.

The IPPR set out options for addressing geographical imbalances. Crucially, it argued that the Home Office should retain responsibility for issuing visas and that non-labour migration should remain under the purview of central Government. That is the nub of the debate, if we are to reach agreement. How do we maintain a UK-wide system that provides the necessary flexibility for the UK nations and regions?

The reality in Scotland is that we need people. Population decline would have a serious impact on our economy, society and public services. We need people to settle in Scotland, to boost our population. Twenty years ago, Scotland was facing real difficulties, and without positive migration, Scotland’s population would be in decline.

The 75-and-over age group is projected to be the fastest growing age group in Scotland. That presents huge challenges for our working-age population. Last year, Audit Scotland published a report on NHS workforce planning and noted that the NHS has an increasingly ageing workforce. Some 38 per cent of staff are over 50, compared with 34 per cent in 2012. That issue is common across many sectors.

However, we have had recent population growth, which is attributed purely to positive migration. Whatever migration system we decide on, we must continue efforts to attract people to come here. We will be competing in an international market for skilled labour and we need to ensure that Scotland is attractive, welcoming, and rewarding.

I understand the caution that some people express about a differentiated system. Any additional powers must be justified and there must be a demonstrated need for any change to the migration powers of this Parliament. We could make progress on how the occupational shortage list operates, on our representation on the Migration Advisory Committee and on tailoring current visa arrangements to support our economy.

It is crucial that any changes maintain the cohesion of a UK migration system. They must maintain free movement within the UK, and they must be compatible with the UK system. This cannot be about disrupting the UK migration system. That might sound challenging to achieve, but there is much that we can do to tailor the current system and make it more responsive to Scotland’s needs, without our having additional powers, although I accept that there is an argument for having more flexibility.

The fresh talent initiative demonstrated such an approach. However, a cross-party group of members of the Scottish Parliament was frustrated when we were unable to advance the approach under the coalition UK Government, which did not engage fully with the issue—if it had done, it would have understood that our proposals would not impact negatively on the UK system.

The experience shows that we need to consider seeking greater flexibility in the system to respond to pressures that we face in relation to skill shortages and population decline. An evidence-based, robust case that is reasonable and that stresses the Parliament’s on-going commitment to a UK-wide system could lead us all to an agreement.

The greater challenge is how we navigate a UK-wide system of migration post-Brexit. We are still waiting for a UK immigration bill, which is likely to restrict migration further and to focus on EU migrants. If the UK leaves the EU without a single-market arrangement, freedom of movement will come to an end. We will be in a very different landscape from the one in which we currently operate.

I have concerns that if we move to an exclusively sectoral approach or one that is overly restrictive, our system will not recognise the benefits that are gained from people coming here to work and then settling here, raising a family and being part of a community. That is an important aspect of addressing Scotland’s demographic challenges.

We need to be alert to future challenges, and we recognise the need for flexibility. Although so much is currently unknown, it is important that the Parliament is prepared to deal with this serious challenge.


I want to start by picking up on some of Willie Rennie’s comments, because I thought that his speech was going well until we got to the end of it. If this debate is not an example of the Scottish Parliament leading the debate on immigration, what is it? However, there is only so much that we can do when we start a conversation but get nothing back from the other side. I find that really frustrating.

Scotland needs inward migration. It is as simple as that. We know, from the recently published “Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment”, about the demographic challenges that Scotland faces. It is predicted that there will be more deaths than births every year for the next 25 years. We have an ageing population, and without migration we will struggle to grow our working-age population.

We need an immigration system that looks at all the constituent parts of the UK rather than just at the UK as a whole. We can see the increasing pressure on key sectors in Scotland and what the impact of a bad immigration policy will be on our agriculture, public services and wider economy. It is expected to cost us more than £10 billion by 2040.

I wish that Ross Greer’s amendment had been accepted, because he tried to make a valuable point about migration providing significant social, educational and cultural enrichment to our society. All too often, we think about the facts and figures without looking at the wider picture of what they represent.

What do we need in Scotland? We need a differentiated system that recognises our distinct needs. The effects of Brexit and the restriction on free movement are already being felt in spite of the fact that we have not yet left the EU. We are seeing it in key sectors of our economy, such as agriculture—other colleagues will talk about that later in the debate—and in other areas where Scotland takes the lead. For example, Dundee is one of Europe’s leading digital economies. Chris van der Kuyl, the head of 4J Studios, a video games company that has helped Dundee to develop that status, illustrated the issues that the industry is facing just now. He said:

“It is happening already. When we talk to people about the impact of Brexit they are already getting nervous about coming here ... It is really starting to impact some companies’ ability to hire”.

That is important because, as he goes on to say:

“In a global business it’s all about attracting the best talent.”

It is short-sighted not to address that issue in a way that has been shown to be achievable in other countries.

In her report to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee on options for differentiating the UK’s immigration system, Dr Eve Hepburn explored some of the systems that are already in operation elsewhere. In Canada, two systems exist. The Canada-Quebec accord puts responsibility for immigration into Quebec in the hands of the Quebec Government. It can decide the total volume of migrants, the selection of potential candidates and the management of sponsorship arrangements.

Quebec’s situation was historically very like that of Scotland, as it had a declining population with low fertility rates and outward migration. The system has been proven to work. Quebec’s population increased by 200,000 between 2011 and 2016, from 7.9 million to 8.1 million, all as a result of immigration.

Spain has systems in place for Catalonia and the Basque Country. After being granted a statute of autonomy to delineate powers on immigration, Catalonia authorises its own working visas for migrants who are employed there, with the Spanish Government making the final decision on permits. A second system covers the Basque Country.

Australia has a number of regional migration schemes that are broken down into subclasses, including the regional sponsored migration scheme, the skilled nominated visa, the skilled regional state/territory sponsored business owner visa, and the working holiday visa.

In Switzerland, individual cantons have separate policies. Vaud is an example of a canton that, like Scotland, welcomes migration and the benefits that it brings to the economy and the region as a whole.

Differentiated systems are working in other countries, and they can work here. We had a taste of it in Scotland with the fresh talent scheme, which was a successful post-study work scheme that ran for three years before being mainstreamed into the UK system and dropped by the UK Government in 2011. Universities Scotland estimates that the ending of that policy cost Scotland £254 million up to 2015 and lost us 5,400 students. It is claimed that the UK now has one of least competitive policies for post-study work in the English-speaking world. The Smith commission recommended that that be reviewed, so the only thing standing in the way of that is the UK Government and the lack of political will to make it happen.

The only place in existing legislation that gives any consideration to the needs of Scotland is the Scottish shortage occupation list. Although the Scottish Government can contribute to that list, it is essentially no more than a consultee, as it has no formal role in the determination of the occupations that are considered to be in shortage.

We are now at a critical stage in discussing the issue while the immigration bill is being drafted. Scotland is more dependent on migrants for growth than other parts of the UK, but UK policy is to reduce net migration.

I am sorry but you really must conclude there. Time is tight.

I am going to, Presiding Officer. We need any new system to recognise our needs in Scotland and, more importantly, we need the political will on both sides.

I am sorry, but I will have to be quite hard on members. The statement took a lot of our time out and we have virtually no time in hand. You have all been warned. Try to cut your speeches down to five minutes. I know that you are all capable of it.


I will try to cut my speech as I go, so I apologise now for the clunkiness of some of my comments.

I would like to bring some of my personal experiences to the debate today, because it is about migration and immigration, which in turn are about people and where they choose to live, work and travel to. I come from a family that largely emigrated to Canada, starting in the 1950s, when the first of them went over on a boat in search of a new and better life. Many of them never came back. In fact, our clan is as strong as ever, over there.

I, too, was one of the many thousands who left Scotland as a young man and headed for pastures new. In my 37 short years, I have lived and worked in many towns, cities and countries, including London, Bristol, Spain, Sydney and Ontario—and even, at one point, King’s Lynn.

Much of the rationale for differentiated immigration systems was shown in the previous contribution, in which the examples of Canada and Australia were cited. Having lived and worked in both those countries, I like to think that I can bring first-hand experience to the debate and put to bed some of the myths about how such systems work. I recall that when I was living in Australia and my visa ran out, officials gave me just three days’ notice to leave. I had to pack up my life, quit my job, empty my apartment, leave my friends and a relationship and get on an aeroplane to come home, never to return.

Packing up one’s things and moving countries is a big deal for people. It is a huge risk, and people do it for a variety of reasons—economic, social or cultural, for adventure and sometimes just out of curiosity. That is certainly what drove me to move overseas and set up a new life.

Therefore the debate about a country’s ability to choose what skills it needs and what economy it wants to create is an important one. I tried to intervene on the cabinet secretary in her opening remarks. I appreciate that time is tight but, from those remarks, I am still entirely unclear whether it is the SNP’s view that there should be no cap on immigration at all, or that there should be no migration targets. I want to press that point, because I would like the cabinet secretary to state it, if that is the case. Surely the whole point of a tailored system is that inherent in it is the ability to choose the type of skills that we want to come into the country, by having control over them.

The debate is about the suggestion that, in the UK, there could be differentiated immigration policies. It is fair to have that debate. Many people are opposed to Brexit in principle, but it opens up discussions on subjects—future immigration policy is certainly one. The cabinet secretary also opened by saying that there is consensus about a tailored system, but the definition of “consensus” is just as subjective as the subject that is being debated.

I would like to draw on comments by business and academia, whose opinions I value and trust. The Federation of Small Businesses expressed concerns about the effects on business of a differentiated scheme, such as the costs of managing and operating it. The NFU Scotland, which represents our farming communities, also seems to prefer a UK-wide solution that would take into account the needs and asks of Scotland. Scotland Food & Drink—many of whose members, I suspect, rely on a large migrant workforce—is also worried about companies that work across the UK and how visas for their workers might be implemented.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will, if it is brief.

I thank Jamie Greene for giving way. Without merely trading examples, I say that he should be aware that only this morning I met the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, which urged me—and, indeed, Parliament more widely—to lobby for a differentiated solution. Will he join me in doing so?

The devil really is in the detail of what such a differentiated solution would look like. At the moment, far more questions than answers are raised about how on earth we would enforce it. If there were to be a Scottish work visa, north of Berwick, how would that work in practice for people who enter the UK south of the border, and vice versa, if they have a permit to work in Scotland only? The suggestion raises substantial questions that we simply do not have time to go into in detail. We should have the debate, do the research and have the argument, but we should so properly and not just jump on the bandwagon of asking for the sake of it.

I appreciate, too, that there is desire for change. I come from a part of the world that was once the home of the electronics industry. Anyone who knows the area will remember IBM and National Semiconductor. Their sites now lie empty. Where should young Scots go when they want to fulfil their ambitions? Should they do what I did?

Will the member take an intervention?

I do not really have time—

I am afraid not. The member is in his last minute.

Should young Scots up sticks and move south of the border or overseas, or are we providing them with enough highly skilled jobs here?

In my final moments, I will say this. Let us future proof our Scottish workforce so that the jobs of tomorrow can be filled as industry changes. We do not need a new migration policy in order to do that: we can do it today, in schools, with the right skills and the right teachers to teach them. Let us start with the basics. Let us protect our existing single market in the UK and ensure that Scotland is an attractive place to come to, work in and live in. Let us have the debate—but let us have it for the right reasons and with the right motives.


This feels a wee bit like groundhog day. We are the best part of two years on from the fateful Brexit vote, and still we have no resolution on what migration will look like after we leave the EU. I find myself rising in the chamber yet again to highlight its implications for a key economic contributor in my constituency—the soft fruit sector.

In the time since I first raised the matter back in late June 2016, little has changed—apart, that is, from the growing evidence of the negative impact that Brexit and the accompanying uncertainties are having. Despite lobbying by the sector and Scottish Government support for its efforts to have Westminster recognise its need to access a seasonal migrant workforce, we are no further forward. Michael Gove may have promised Scots fruit farmers news on a way forward by the end of next month, but then he went in front of the English NFU and admitted that the decision is outwith his control.

Farms in my constituency are utterly dependent on people from other countries coming to pick the fruit that they grow—many of them come back year after year. However, the anti-immigration rhetoric that characterised the Brexit debate, coupled with the falling value of the pound, has already led regular returners either to opt for pastures new or to draw up plans for a future away from Scotland.

As is noted in the Scottish Government’s discussion paper that was published before the February recess, many businesses have expressed concerns about the impact that is already being felt—concerns that are rightly shared by the SNP Government. The evidence of the impacts goes beyond anecdotal evidence. As I laid out in a debate in November last year, the co-operative organisation Angus Growers, which is based largely in my constituency, needs 4,100 workers annually. Last year, 347 seasonal employees either did not arrive or left early. As a direct consequence, the farms took a combined £660,000 hit. Angus Growers and the wider sector are bracing themselves. The 2018 season is fast approaching, and next month is when the EU workforce returns. Last year set a trend, and no one seriously expects to see it being reversed.

I will share some bang-up-to-date supporting evidence from the major farm in the Angus Growers collective. On that farm in 2016, 296 of the workforce out in the field were returners from the previous year. In 2017, that number dropped to 267. The total that is confirmed for the coming year stands at 212, which represents a drop of almost 19 per cent in just 12 months. That simply cannot be allowed to go unchecked—not for Angus, not for Scotland and not, indeed, for the rest of the UK.

A recent report in The Guardian revealed that a soft fruit farmer in Herefordshire is to move some of his company’s raspberry and blueberry growing to China, which will lead to 200 seasonal jobs being lost. Citing the lack of clarity from the Prime Minister on the UK Government’s immigration policy, Angus Davison said:

“We are already out of time”.

Mr Davison has written to Theresa May, saying that

“Unless a seasonal workers scheme is put in place, you must expect to see the steep decline of this significant rural employer and source of food.”

Do we want to have to import from China food that can readily be grown on these islands, just because the UK Government is unwilling to recognise the needs of an industry? Is that to be one of the achievements of Brexit?

Of course, migration concerns are not restricted to agriculture and seasonal workers. The Scottish Government’s analysis paper estimates that Scotland’s gross domestic product will decrease by 4.5 per cent by 2040 if migration levels are reduced to the UK Government’s target levels. That is equivalent to a fall of almost £5 billion in GDP. Across the whole UK, the impact would be smaller—a 3.7 per cent reduction. If the UK Government were to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, as some people have suggested, Scotland’s GDP would fall by 9.3 per cent, compared with 7.6 per cent for the UK.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has developed proposals and a bespoke solution for Scotland in order to seek to address the matter. That is a sensible and necessary move, given the inertia at UK level. There is an indisputable need to plan for the UK Government failing to come up with a sensible UK-wide migration policy, which looks increasingly likely. As MSPs, we need to come together and pursue what is in Scotland’s best interests. Is not that what we were all elected to do?


I am grateful for the opportunity to debate migration, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s analysis paper and approach.

As, I think, I have told Parliament before, my mother emigrated from Glasgow to Hong Kong, where I was born. I then made the journey in reverse. In that respect, it could be said that I am a migrant to Scotland. Of course, Scots can be found in every corner of the world, and we in turn welcome people from across the world to this country.

However, there is no doubt that Brexit has huge implications for all of us, and there are some areas in which we can only begin to estimate the impact on our economy and on individuals. That said, although this is a time of huge uncertainty, we can be clear about Brexit’s impact on the labour market. Some 181,000 EU nationals live in Scotland. The majority are Polish, followed in succession by Irish and Spanish nationals, but I will talk about specific sectors in a moment.

As we know, Scotland’s population is projected to decline if we do nothing. We are also, unfortunately, ageing; indeed, our population is ageing more rapidly than the population elsewhere in the UK. As a result, we absolutely depend on inward migration to meet our population growth target, so if that migration is absent and EU nationals are unable to come here, our population will inevitably decline, which will have severe negative impacts on our economy. It will lead to labour shortages in key industry sectors and in public services that we hold dear.

Let me touch on some of the most affected sectors. As we have heard, the soft fruit industry relies on seasonal labour and the majority of its employees come from the EU. The industry has grown substantially over the past 20 years and now contributes more than £1 billion to the economy, so we simply cannot afford to lose it. The same applies to farming more generally.

However, that is not the only concern for our fruit growers; another is how we can deliver that fruit in order to add to our exports. In what is already a very constrained sector—Scotland is short of 11,000 lorry drivers—the impact of losing the foreign driving capacity that partly fills the gap will be severe.

The hospitality sector will experience the double whammy of losing not only EU employees, who make up a significant element of the workforce, but EU visitors to this country, which will have a material effect on the industry and the country’s GDP.

I also point out that EU nationals comprise 9 per cent of students and almost 25 per cent of research staff in our universities. We risk losing talented European staff and academics: no one can tell me that that will not be bad for the education sector and the economy.

There will also be an immense impact on our NHS. There has been a 96 per cent drop in the number of nurses wanting to come to Scotland, vacancy rates are up and one in five doctors is thinking about leaving. Brexit and the Tories’ lack of a response on migration are contributing to driving doctors and many other essential professionals out of the country.

What can we do? We should have a differentiated immigration system that is linked to specific sectors, but I take Claire Baker’s point that it needs to be flexible and go wider. I point out, however, that we have had a differentiated system before: the fresh talent scheme was introduced by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition, and we could have such a scheme again.

I agree with the seven principles that have been set out by the Scottish Government but, frankly, we need to get on with this and deliver practical action with a bit more urgency. Brexit is round the corner. I very much welcome the tone and tenor of Jackson Carlaw’s approach, but I absolutely urge him to use his influence—but soon—on the UK Government so that it comes to the table and creates a differentiated system that actually works for all of Scotland.


Probably around this time last February, I gave a speech on the potential impact of Brexit on Scotland’s economy. I gave that speech a cursory look as I was preparing for today’s debate and found that I could have recycled it and delivered it again, word for word, without any fear that any of my questions in it for the UK Government would be irrelevant or out of date. I rarely quote Theresa May, but the phrase “Nothing has changed” seems to be particularly relevant.

We are still in the dark about what will happen to our labour market as a result of Brexit, and about what plans there are to protect it. I say that having come straight here from the frankly odd experience of viewing the UK Government Brexit papers that the Scottish Office has finally delivered to the Scottish Parliament for MSPs to view in a secure room. It would not be fair to say that I know more now than I did before I went into the room, except to say that it looks as though UK Government officials, at least, are owning up to Brexit being an economic disaster. I say that they are owning up, but I cannot prove it because we cannot reveal any details. We have signed a pledge to say that we will not divulge anything that we read, so the public will know nothing of what is in the report—scant though it is.

Scotland has benefited enormously from migration—permanent and temporary—of citizens of other EU countries. I am in no doubt that ending free movement will have a detrimental impact on our economy, society, individuals and families. I represent a constituency that depends on that migration to sustain our agriculture, tourism, fishing, hospitality, health and care sectors. In particular, we have been fortunate in the north-east that many Polish, Lithuanian and Estonian people have settled there.

Due to the fortunate position in which we find ourselves as the energy capital of Europe, some other sectors have found it difficult to compete for workers in the north-east. In one of Billy Connolly’s stand-up routines, he tells the story of the Glasgow schools opening their gates and everybody going straight to the shipyards. Much the same happens in Aberdeenshire, where the schools open their gates and everybody goes straight offshore or into oil industry service jobs.

That means that the more traditional north-east sectors including farming and fish processing have struggled to recruit. That was certainly the case in Mintlaw, where the fish processing factory had to close its doors a few decades ago due to its inability to recruit locally. However, now, because so many eastern European people have come to work and settle in the town, Macduff Shellfish (Scotland) Ltd is thriving and exporting millions of pounds’ worth of shellfish all over the world.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of a visit by the Education and Skills Committee, Ross Greer and I met about 10 female students from other EU countries at the Peterhead campus of Nescol—North East Scotland College. They are training to be mechanics, accountants and nursery teachers. All had settled in Peterhead for years and wanted to continue to contribute to Peterhead life, but many of them told us that family and friends who had been hoping to join them were now changing their minds.

Rural areas like mine are more reliant on European Economic Area workers than non-rural areas. The interim report by the National Council of Rural Advisers said that, without migrant workers, many businesses would be “unviable”. The SRUC—Scotland’s Rural College—report that was published this week echoed that.

My colleague Graeme Dey mentioned the soft fruit sector: soft fruits are grown around Oldmeldrum, which is in my area. I was particularly struck by evidence that was given by Angus Soft Fruits to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee in 2016. It said:

“We could scale right back and match our production to the local labour. Or we could move abroad.”

From Graeme Dey’s speech, which gave more up-to-date information from the soft fruit growers in Angus, it looks as though their worst fears have already been realised, and Brexit has not even happened yet. Imagine there being no Scotland-grown summer strawberries or raspberries. Aside from the huge impact on the local economy, I cannot say that I am excited about buying force-grown imported strawberries that taste like neeps.

The needs of Scotland are completely different to those of the UK as a whole: it is time that we had an immigration policy that reflects that. After viewing the Brexit documents in Queensberry house an hour ago, I am clear on another thing. We all know that the team at the Scotland Office has been increased in the past two years and, like many people, I am at a loss as to what on earth will be found for those civil servants to do, since we already have a Scottish Government. Here is an idea: the Scotland Office should use its army of civil servants to carry out a Scotland’s regions breakdown of EU migration, so that we can understand more fully the potential shortfall, and get a fit-for-purpose differentiated immigration strategy in place that takes into account the specific needs of regions of Scotland. That is not just necessary, but urgent.


The paper by the Scottish Government is a welcome contribution to the debate on migration and population in Scotland. It recognises in particular the economic contribution that migrants make to Scotland and how migration has shaped our country’s history.

However, the contribution of migrants to Scotland cannot be reduced to just economics, as the unselected Green amendment mentions and as the paper itself ably addresses. People who choose to come and live in this country contribute in many ways, including socially and culturally.

Large numbers of migrants to Scotland, from the EU and further afield, work in areas as varied as the creative industries, agriculture and higher education. More than one in three of the staff of some national performing companies are EU27 citizens, as are almost a quarter of university research staff. Without their contributions, would our university sector still be world leading or would Edinburgh remain a global cultural centre?

Migration also speaks to the kind of society that we want to be and to our collective identity and values. Thankfully, in Scotland, we have not witnessed a political race to appear tougher on migration, with parties stamping “Controls on immigration” on mugs or chiselling it into stones. The contrast between the political debate here and that at Westminster is stark. However, to those members who are speaking today and who know that their party colleagues in Parliament and in Government at Westminster take a very different approach, I ask what they are doing to challenge that. Standing here and challenging it is one thing, but challenging it directly in their party and making change is another.

The Government at Westminster has deliberately set out to create, in its words, a “hostile environment” for migrants. It has created an inhumane system in pursuit of statistical goals that are ultimately detrimental to the country as a whole. That is policy making at its absolute worst. Employers, public services and even landlords have been turned into the enforcement arm of the Home Office by being obliged to run immigration status checks on people. That not only risks migrants being turned away from housing or employment due to landlords’ or employers’ concerns about remaining legally compliant, but gives free rein to racists to justify discriminating against others, and we have already seen evidence of that with housing in particular.

Several months ago, I met EU citizens in Scotland at the Language Hub in Glasgow, who told me about the fear and anxiety that they have experienced since the European referendum because they do not know what their future status will be. They have had to disclose their nationality to access the NHS and they have seen advertisements for flats that say, “No EU nationals.”

However, they do not face the worst of UK immigration policy. Just yesterday, a long-running investigation by BuzzFeed exposed insights into the human suffering and misery that the Tories’ hostile environment has created. BuzzFeed has found that efforts to tackle modern slavery are being undermined by the Government’s aggressive obsession with deportation and it has revealed a case in which a victim of child sex trafficking, who is now in his 40s but who was trafficked into the UK as a child, had finally been granted official recognition as a victim of slavery but was still slated for deportation. Incredibly, only one in 10 recognised victims of slavery is granted leave to remain in the UK. That is only the most recent revelation of the harsh reality of the UK Government’s immigration and asylum system; there are many more examples of families torn apart and child refugees deported as soon as they hit 18.

It is imperative that powers over migration, and where possible asylum, are devolved to Scotland not just for the sake of our economy—although that is vital—but to ensure that those making their lives here are treated with the most basic dignity and compassion that we believe they deserve.

We need to stop the harm that is being done to vulnerable people and the damage that is being done to our economy, society and culture. We need to ensure that the needs of Scotland are met. Argyll and Bute, which is in my region, is identified as one of the most fragile areas, with an ageing and declining population. Its population is projected to decline by 8 per cent between 2014 and 2049. Scotland’s migration strategy needs to encourage people to settle in such areas to bring the benefits of migration to them and to ensure that many rural communities continue to exist at all.

We know that devolved approaches to migration work. As the motion highlights, the fresh talent scheme operated in Scotland with great success. However, at the time, the scheme worked in co-operation with a Home Office that was much more open to progressive migration policies than the current Home Office. We also know of examples from other countries. The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee took evidence on devolved migration systems that highlighted the success of examples of extensive devolution in Australia and Canada in particular, as well as various other schemes across the world, including in Switzerland, which Mairi Gougeon mentioned.

The UK Government should take action on the issue now; given the profound risk that the UK Government’s Brexit plan poses to Scotland, action must be taken now. There are actions that we can take here, immediately, with the competencies that we already have. It is great that the Scottish Government is consulting on the electoral franchise, for example. The right to vote must be expanded to all those who live in Scotland, including all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The right to vote should be based on residency, not nationality. I look forward to making that case as the consultation moves on.

We say it often, but it really cannot be said enough that Scotland is a welcoming country and an outward-looking and internationalist one. However, we need the powers to make that aspiration a reality, and it is time for the UK Government to listen.


It is heartening that, despite the best attempts of some populist parties and some sections of our press to frame public opinion against immigration, we as politicians have united today to talk up the positives of immigration rather than build on the anti-migrant rhetoric that seems to be ever more prevalent. The progressive narrative of today’s debate is entirely understandable, as there can be few of us in the chamber who are not descendants of migrants; indeed, I can trace my ancestry back to Ireland and Russia.

Scotland—and the wider UK for that matter—has benefited massively from immigration. Migrants originating from within and outwith the EU make a vital contribution to our economy and our culture; they ensure that we have the workers to meet the needs of our businesses and public sector.

In my Rutherglen constituency, we are fortunate to have friends and neighbours from across the globe, including from Poland, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ireland, Germany and Italy. However, our EU migrant workforce is under severe threat with Brexit and the associated curtailment on freedom of movement.

The economic impact of a Brexit-driven reduction in migration is estimated to result in a decline in Government revenue of 3.5 per cent in Scotland, but 2.7 per cent in the rest of the UK. From those figures, we can conclude that Brexit will disproportionately affect Scotland, so one could argue that we require a different arrangement to protect our economy, which is so heavily reliant on inward migration.

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests: I am a registered mental health nurse and hold an honorary contract with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Through my profession, I know first-hand how my colleagues in the field of mental health, the workers in our hospitals and accident and emergency services and those in our GP surgeries all play a vital role in supporting the health needs of our population.

Sadly, the UK Government’s position—or lack thereof—on guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights is having a detrimental impact on the flow of inward migration, especially in relation to our NHS. No matter what Ruth Davidson may have said on television at the weekend, no deal has been struck on securing those rights.

Figures collated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council show that the number of new nursing applications from the EU fell 96 per cent since the Brexit vote in 2016—from 1,304 in July 2016 to a mere 46 in April 2017—and that is even before we begin to take into account the effect of ending freedom of movement when we leave the EU.

The Tories are quick to argue that an exodus of EU health workers has yet to take place, but I remind them that neither has Brexit. We must maintain inward migration to Scotland, including the existing free movement with our EU neighbours, to help to increase Scotland’s population and to keep our NHS from reaching crisis point. As Janet Davies, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said:

“if there is a Brexit cliff-edge in migration, it will be the NHS going over it.”

Although immigration policy remains reserved, the Scottish Government will advocate for and attempt to influence change in the UK migration system to ensure that Scotland’s needs are met—as far as they can be—within UK policy. For example, as we have heard, the Scottish Government will advocate for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa, the scrapping of the arbitrary net migration target and the ending of the scandal and heartbreak of Skype families, by improving the rights of people in Scotland to bring close family into the country with them.

Those changes at UK level would greatly benefit Scotland, but there is an overwhelming case for the Scottish Government to be given the power to tailor its own immigration policy. The UK Government’s one-size-fits-all approach to migration is no longer appropriate. Scotland is a different country with different needs, so it is time for a different approach.

Expert after expert, study after study, committee after committee consistently tell us of the benefits of Scotland having its own distinct immigration policy. From this Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the subsequent report by Dr Eve Hepburn to the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, the evidence shows that reforming our immigration system would better reflect the diverse makeup of the different parts of the UK.

It is clear that the need to address disparities between the UK-wide immigration system and the different labour and skills shortages in the constituent parts of the UK will become even more pressing after Brexit. If the Tory Government will not accept our specific population needs, and if it does not make the necessary changes to address those needs, it should think about giving the powers to the SNP Scottish Government, which will.


The opening words of the Scottish Government’s “Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy: Discussion Paper on Evidence, Policy and Powers for the Scottish Parliament” are:

“Scotland is a progressive outward looking nation ... migration strengthens our society and our nation benefits from the skills, the experience and the expertise of those individuals who have chosen to live, work and study in Scotland. Future migration systems should ensure that Scotland can welcome people within Europe and from elsewhere who want to study, live, work and raise their families here.”

Those are words that none of us would disagree with.

Scotland needs immigration, but so does the rest of the UK. The movement of people enriches both societies and those who move. Migration is good, but it clearly cannot be a free-for-all. It can fill labour gaps—Jamie Halcro Johnston will touch on that—but I hear all the time in my subject area of housing that there is a skills shortage and that builders are getting older and not enough young people are taking up their trades. Attracting people from abroad can help, but we should be training youngsters from here to be brickies, plumbers and electricians; and we should be doing something to attract them to become architects, surveyors and planners.

There is much in the Scottish Government paper to agree with, particularly its seven principles: that migration policy should address the needs of all Scotland, attract the best talent, protect workers’ rights, enable families to be together, focus on what people can contribute and not what they can afford, and be controlled. The second and the last principles are particularly important. Scotland needs to be attractive, but saying it is attractive is not enough: we must make it so. Whacking up taxes on middle earners does not do that, and we will see the results of that in years to come. The last principle is also crucial, because migration should be controlled—the question is at what level of Government.

The Scottish Government paper was written through the prism of Brexit and the yellow lens of nationalism with the intention of driving a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK. That was to be expected, but it is not sensible and mature government. Should Scotland have its own immigration policy? We might as well ask whether Newcastle, Merseyside, or the West Midlands should have their own. Or why not break it down within Scotland and ask whether Glasgow, Aberdeen or Dundee should have their own policy? It is difficult to see how applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would not complicate the immigration system, harm its integrity and cause difficulties for employers with a presence in more than one part of the UK.

Anyway, Scotland’s issues are not unique. As Doctor Madeleine Sumption of the migration observatory at the University of Oxford told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee last month:

“There are other areas of the UK that are experiencing population decline, or would be experiencing population decline if it was not for migration.”

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce told the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee’s inquiry on immigration that devolution of immigration powers to Scotland is not necessary and that we should look at sectoral and geographical issues. We should be able to find solutions. The Law Society of Scotland’s briefing came up with a useful idea, which is that

“Scottish representation on the Migration Advisory Committee would be beneficial. Active review of the Scottish Shortage Occupation List would also be welcome to ensure the list genuinely reflects skill shortages in Scotland and can be updated and amended as necessary to meet the needs of the Scottish economy.”

We should look at that idea.

The SNP might think that it speaks for Scotland in everything, but it does not. It is out of tune with the country on immigration, because the people do not want a different immigration system here. As Jackson Carlaw mentioned, polling by NatCen found that 63 per cent of Scots did not believe that it should be easier for EU migrants to come to Scotland compared to going to the rest of the UK and that only 24 per cent agreed that it should be easier to come here. We need migration—it is good—and I back the amendment in Jackson Carlaw’s name.


As a passionate internationalist, I am proud that Scotland has been for centuries an international nation. Today, international links are as important as they have ever been to the high-tech, manufacturing, and food and drink industries, to the social care sector and to so many other sectors of our economy. Such links are vital for the Scotland of today and tomorrow and for the challenges that we face together. However, what is also vital is an openness to attract skilled labour and motivated individuals. The free movement of labour is paramount for the present and future of our economy and society.

For centuries, Leith in particular has been one of Scotland’s gateways to the world, from Roman times to recent times. That is why I hope one day to see a migration museum in Leith, at the old customs house.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith has one of the highest migration levels in Scotland, from new Leithers selling products 100 years ago to migrant programmers driving Edinburgh’s financial technology boom in the 21st century. From hospitality to culture, from public services to commerce, Leith demonstrates a truth that prevails across Scotland: we not only benefit from migration but require it to support our everyday lives and the standard of living that we have become accustomed to.

In the NHS, for example, medical professionals from around the globe have played a vital role and are highly valued for the labour that they provide to our NHS, as they have been for decades. In the creative industries, artists from around the world choose Scotland to create their performances, music, installations and pieces of literature, and we all benefit from that. More than 12 per cent of those employed in the food and drink sector—10,000 people—are EU nationals, and 13 per cent of those employed in the tourism sector—24,000 people—are EU nationals. As has been touched on, the construction industry attracting workers to come here from elsewhere is absolutely vital if we are to tackle the current housing shortages.

That is why we need flexibility to set different policies here in Scotland. Let us be clear: UK immigration policies have for many years failed Scotland by focusing, perhaps understandably, on the south-east of England. Brexit will undoubtedly, according to all the analysis, make that worse. There will be labour shortages and negative economic impact, because each EU citizen in Scotland contributes an average of more than £10,000 in tax revenue. By 2014, lower migration alone would reduce our GDP by 4.5 per cent, which is equivalent to a fall of almost £5 billion.

In terms of our population, the number of deaths expected in the years to 2040 will vastly exceed the number of births, so action is required to maintain and grow Scotland’s working-age population and to help support the ageing population—and it is a welcome fact that people are living longer. It is clear that the UK Government’s plans to reduce migration would not support Scotland’s economy or our population needs. That is factual analysis.

Let us remember that all Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration. We are reliant on it. Therefore, for the sake of Scotland’s economic security, and considering Scotland’s population projections, there is an overwhelming case for Scotland to have the power to tailor migration policy differently.

It has been insinuated that Scotland is not an attractive place. It is. Edinburgh was rated second in the world for quality of life. The problem, and one of the main barriers, is current immigration law and policy, and Brexit will make it worse. The Scottish Government’s proposals to give our Parliament a greater say on UK migration policy, to support our needs, are sensible and increasingly necessary.

There has been no clarity from the UK Government on what migration policy will be post-Brexit. That is astonishing. If Westminster does not want to provide adequate vision or values when it comes to migration, it should give this Parliament the powers to do something more effective and ethical, to keep Scotland internationalist and outward looking, secure and competitive, and to take our country forward.


I will cut straight to the chase. Anyone who thinks that we can plug the gap only by upskilling the existing population is not looking at the facts. For every other member, apart from Graham Simpson it would seem—I am not quite sure what Jamie Greene was saying—EU migration has been a positive story for Scotland. However, that is not what I came here to say today. I know that EU migration has been a positive story for Scotland from the point of view of cultural enrichment, but we are talking about our economic success. Whether someone is for or against increased or liberal EU migration, it is essential that we deal with the issue.

Like Gillian Martin, I could recycle another speech just for today. I have argued consistently that we need a differentiated policy on immigration—not a separate policy—that recognises that the facts on the ground in Scotland are different. They may be different in Newcastle for all I know, and they may be different in other regions, but if we are one United Kingdom—and I still believe in that—there has to be a policy that recognises the needs of every part of the UK. Five per cent of our workforce are EU migrants and they are key to certain sectors. Modelling by the Scottish Government has shown that

“each EU migrant working in Scotland contributes an additional £34,400 to GDP per year”.

In addition, as others have said, the EU migrant population is younger than the rest of the population. If we do not recognise the facts on the ground, there is a lot to lose.

Sixty-three per cent of Scots would accept freedom of movement in order to get a trade deal that was beneficial for Scotland. That does not mean that there is not public concern about immigration—it would be wrong not to acknowledge that. However, as politicians our job is to ensure that people see the positive impact of immigration and realise that our country’s economy depends on it. As the IPPR has said, net migration targets published by the Home Office have forced the Government to crudely drive down the overall numbers, often in contradiction to the objectives of other UK departments. The figures that were announced today are, for the first time, under 100,000.

However, we are in a new context now, and a new immigration policy for a Britain outside of the European Union needs to be designed to address some of the country’s core weaknesses. Those weaknesses are not just here in Scotland but across the UK. That includes addressing geographical imbalances that exist across the nations and regions. Geographical flexibility is a necessity to address the distinct and differentiated problems that Scotland faces.

Like others, I took time out this week to read the sectoral analysis of the impact of Brexit. I went to the Donald Dewar room and tried to take in as much of the 19-page document as I could, and all the graphs that accompanied it. The central message for me was pretty clear: whichever deal we look at, the picture for the country is bleak. We need to address that. I am not reading from the document, by the way, in case members think that I stole it. I had my mobile phone taken off me, so I could not do that.

I read about the impact of Brexit on the university sector. Currently about 21,000 students and a quarter of research staff come from EU countries. Last month, the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee was told that Brexit would have a significant impact on Scotland’s universities and would result in a huge drop in EU student numbers. Professor Andrea Nolan, the convener of Universities Scotland, said that Scotland would

“lose out pretty big time”

and recommended that there should be a much longer transition period to try to deal with that. Perhaps that is for another day.

In my opinion, the harder the Brexit, the tougher it will be on Scotland’s economy and population. Current migration policy does not address Scotland’s needs, particularly in relation to population growth. It would be wrong to expect Scotland to rely on a system that might serve only London and the south east. We believe in EU migration not just because we are a progressive country, but because there is an economic imperative.

In substance, the Tory amendment to the motion seems okay, but the fact that it says that

“any variable migration scheme for Scotland must be developed in close co-operation with the UK Government”

suggests that the Scottish Tories do not support a differentiated position. Like others, I urge the Scottish Tories—who have played a constructive role in the Brexit negotiations so far—to speak loudly to the UK Government for a differentiated position for Scotland. That would serve the country well.


It is rather fitting that we have the granddaughter of an Italian immigrant in the chair for this part of the debate. Before Linda Fabiani took the chair, we had Christine Grahame, who is also someone who was not born in Scotland.

I am one of those yellow nationalists that Graham Simpson tried to demean in his contribution. I am a proud nationalist and a proud internationalist. Being an English-born Scot is something that I am very proud of, certainly when it comes to debates about immigration and emigration.

Jamie Greene, who has unfortunately left the chamber, was incorrect in what he said about IBM and National Semiconductor. He was correct to say that National Semiconductor is no longer there, but it was bought over by Texas Instruments and, the last time I looked, about 200 people were employed on that site. It is not the empty site that Mr Greene asserted it to be.

Mr Rennie was rather disingenuous in his speech. This Parliament and the Scottish Government have been attempting to lead the debate on immigration and emigration, and on the whole issue of Brexit. Unfortunately, Mr Rennie needs to have a UK Government that is prepared to listen and talk to the Scottish Government about Brexit and population matters.

I generally welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s paper. As we hurtle ever faster towards the inevitable car crash that is Brexit, it is time for wider Scotland to fully engage in the debate about immigration and emigration.

It is clear that a differentiated migration policy for Scotland is crucial. Migration, if for the sake of this debate we consider it to be related solely to the movement of people for employment purposes, is pertinent to Scotland’s development as an inclusive, fair, prosperous and innovative nation, because we benefit from having a diverse workforce. It is therefore essential to our economic prospects and our demographic sustainability—considering that the migration observatory at the University of Oxford has projected that Scotland’s population will fall in the coming decades—that Scotland continues to attract the level and nature of migration that it needs.

There has been a long history of emigration from and migration to Scotland, which has shaped our country. People from overseas who come to Scotland to live, work or study help to strengthen our society and we welcome them. In my constituency of Greenock and Inverclyde, we have examples of both immigration and emigration.

The introduction of the fresh talent initiative in 2005, which has been mentioned in the debate, was welcomed. Unfortunately, the UK Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition Government ended the scheme in 2012 as part of a series of changes to the immigration system that were intended to limit abuse and to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants.

This is the year of young people, yet ironically it is our young people’s future that is at stake. Their right to live, work and study across Europe is at risk of being removed in a process in which few of them had any say.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly stated that it wishes to remain in the single market and customs union post-Brexit. Thankfully, Jeremy Corbyn finally seems to be warming to that idea after frequent calls from the SNP—and even from his Labour counterparts in Scotland and Wales—to stand up to the Brexiteers. That shows the terrible way in which Labour has approached the Brexit mess thus far.

The consensus behind the introduction of the fresh talent initiative in Scotland exists for its reintroduction today; that was reflected in the Smith commission and in cross-party work that has been done since then.

Scotland is a progressive, outward-looking nation. I do not want to lose that. I want Scotland to be that welcoming nation still. I want Scotland to be a country that people choose to come to live in and which people choose to go from to experience other countries but then, hopefully, come back.

We need to create as much certainty as possible and reduce the uncertainty that Brexit is creating. For all Scots, whether they are new Scots or those who were born here, we need to have that differentiated system.


I refer members to my entry in the register of interests in relation to farming.

For months, industry leaders and the Scottish Conservative group have been asking the Government to drop its persistent desire to create a different immigration system for Scotland from that of the rest of the UK. A number of members have spoken about food production; my comments will mainly be about the need for agriculture and food processing workers.

Many experts and industry figures see the SNP’s plans for a differentiated system as unnecessary at best and damaging at worst. We fully realise that the farming and food and drink industries are highly reliant on EU workers. Without their skill and hard work, we would not have seen our food and drink industry grow into the multibillion-pound industry it is today. At any time, between 5,000 and 15,000 non-UK seasonal workers are employed in Scottish agriculture.

It is not just a Scottish problem. The labour needs of a daffodil grower in Devon are exactly the same as the labour needs of a strawberry producer in Angus.

I do not deny that there will be challenges in different sectors in the rest of the UK, but the fundamental difference is that between now and 2041, the natural change—the difference between births and deaths—in Scotland will be negative, while in England the natural change will contribute to a 39 per cent growth in its population. That is the basic difference. Does Peter Chapman acknowledge that?

Maybe the SNP needs to look at some of its other policies to see why people do not want to come to this country to work.

As I said, the labour needs of a daffodil grower in Devon are exactly the same as the labour needs of a strawberry producer in Angus, and very often the same people will do both jobs as they move around the country following the work as the season progresses. Scotland’s soft fruit and vegetable sectors rely on seasonal workers from the EU.

Then there are those who are employed full time. Fifty per cent of staff in our Scottish red meat processing sector are non-UK, a third of the staff in the dairy sector are non-UK and more than 80 per cent of the vets in our slaughterhouses are from the EU. However, the status of those long-term workers is now secure and settled. The Prime Minister made it abundantly clear in her open letter to EU citizens currently living in the UK that the Government fully supports their right to stay. Those who have settled here, work hard and pay their taxes have made a huge contribution to our economy. They have always been welcome and they are welcome now.

I have met Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on several occasions and I have always impressed on him our need for foreign labour. He, in turn, has always expressed an understanding of our needs for labour and he is working hard to ensure that a seasonal agricultural workers scheme is in place for 2018. Mr Gove said that the need is “compelling.” [Interruption.] There you are—we are working hard on your behalf.

Will the member give way?

No, not now.

Brexit will see us control our borders, not close them.

Instead of working on a separate system for Scotland, driving more wedges between us and the rest of the UK, the SNP Government should be working with the UK Government to ensure that the new system meets the needs of both Scottish and UK agriculture and food processing.

In response to the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee, NFU Scotland agreed that simple UK-wide systems for the recruitment of seasonal workers were the best way forward, while avoiding problems at the border.

The Food and Drink Federation Scotland also criticised the extra red tape that a separate immigration system would lead to in relation to attracting workers and allowing them to follow the work around the country. How can Scotland have an open border with the EU if the rest of the UK wants a controlled border without some method of stopping immigrants simply flowing from Scotland into England? The potential damage to our internal single market, which is Scotland’s best and most important market, becomes obvious.

By far the biggest market for Scotland’s top-quality produce is the rest of the UK, as 61 per cent of all trade in 2016, worth £45 billion, was with the rest of the UK, compared with only 17 per cent of trade, worth £12.7 billion, with the whole of the EU. We want to maintain the same trading opportunities with our EU partners post-Brexit, but our internal market is key.

There is no doubt that immigration and open borders were big issues during the Brexit referendum, especially in England and Wales. We understand that Scotland needs continued immigration.

You must close please.

Can I just make this point?

Very briefly.

Why do only 5.9 per cent of immigrants settle in Scotland, when our population share suggests that the figure should be 8.1 per cent?


It is not worth having a conversation about that last speech, because it was full of total inaccuracies and silliness. That is the reason why I am incredibly concerned about the bickering and the bigotry that surround the immigration debate. We have seen disturbing images and incredibly dangerous actions and we have heard disturbing rhetoric from members of the UK Government of which Peter Chapman seems to be so proud. If left unchecked, that will completely wipe out the fantastic gains and positive outcomes that we, as a nation, have absorbed from people who have chosen Scotland as their home.

The Scottish Government analysis paper is taking the lead and is something that we can all get behind—well, maybe most of us can. As our population ages, the continued availability of labour from across Europe is essential in order to meet our economic and social needs and to address the potential skill shortages in all sectors of the labour market.

Since the year to mid-2007, Scotland has relied on positive net migration for population growth more than any other constituent part of the UK. Over that period, 88 per cent of Scotland’s population growth came from migration, with only 9 per cent coming from natural change—more births than deaths. In contrast, 53 per cent of the UK’s population growth came from net migration, with 45 per cent coming from natural change. That is the difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

All projected population increases for Scotland over the next decade will be due to net in-migration. If there were no future EU migration, Scotland’s working-age population would decline by 3 per cent over the next 25 years, while the number of pensioners would increase by a quarter. That would spell disaster for the Scottish economy and our ability to fund and staff quality public services. For example, 8 per cent of Edinburgh’s population are EU nationals. If 8 per cent of Edinburgh’s population disappeared overnight, a huge problem would develop.

Immigration policy and practice need to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which is an argument that has already been won. The UK model, as it has operated to date, leads to stalemate and, as we have heard from many examples, helps no one—not the people who choose Scotland as their home, not businesses and not the economy. What is the point of an international student at university here being forced to leave once she has qualified? The reintroduction of the fresh talent initiative and the post-study work visa initiative is one way of encouraging well-qualified people to stay for at least a couple of years, in which they could establish themselves on the career ladder, and I would hope that they would then stay for good.

Although Theresa May might let the Scottish Government tinker around the edges of a reserved matter, that is simply not enough. We need to have the power to decide on a framework that meets our particular needs. We have heard a lot about those needs in many great speeches from across the chamber this afternoon.

In the run-up to the EU referendum, senior figures in the leave campaign, such as Michael Gove, promised that increased powers over immigration would come to Scotland should the UK vote to leave the EU. Those pledges, like many others that were made in that campaign, including those that were on the sides of buses, have, predictably, been quickly forgotten.

Ross Greer highlighted a serious problem: the horrifying decisions that are made by the Home Office. I urge members to read the “Destitution, Asylum and Insecure Immigration Status in Scotland” report by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of this Parliament to see how horrifying some of those Home Offices decisions are.

The first priority has to be to get assurances—not vague suggestions—from Theresa May; there needs to be clear and certain security for EU citizens who move here prior to March 2019. The increase in the number of EU nationals being detained for spurious reasons shames us all and the hunger strikes at Yarl’s Wood detention centre today should worry us greatly—that is the impact of Home Office decisions.

The impact is a bit close to home for me. DFDS in my constituency handles the bulk of fish and seafood product transport across the EU. It is incredibly worried—so worried that it is meeting Scottish Government ministers next week to discuss it.

We need and we want immigrants to be treated fairly in Scotland, with the same access to jobs and public services as everybody else who lives here, whether they are indigenous or not, because we know that they already contribute more. We want people who want to be part of this wonderful nation, who want to help us all move on in the world, to extend and develop our skills and to have friends from across the globe. I want Scotland to say to these people, “You are welcome.”

We move to the closing speeches. We are really pushed for time, so keep to a strict five minutes, please, Mr Rennie.


Stuart McMillan referred to the fact that Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani is of Italian origin, Jackie Baillie is from Hong Kong, Jamie Greene is from Canada and, apparently, Clare Haughey is Russian; I can trace my family back to Australia. It seems that the only person in the chamber this afternoon who is a true Scot is Jackson Carlaw.

I want to read out a section from a briefing that I received from the Red Cross:

“Adult refugees have a legal right, under UK and international law, to be reunited with their children and partner, if they are still overseas. But children over 18 cannot join their parents in the UK, and refugee children are not allowed to sponsor their parents to join them in the UK.”

That is having a huge, dramatic and traumatic effect on families and today we need to send a message to the UK Government that it needs to be much more sympathetic towards bringing families together through the immigration system. It would reduce that trauma and make for happier families and for more good people in this country. I hope that we can send that message.

It was good to hear from Jackson Carlaw—increasingly a lone voice among the Conservatives, including those in this chamber, but a welcome voice nonetheless. I hope that he continues to make the case for immigration at a UK level. I think that Christina McKelvie was quite right about the dangerous images that were used during the referendum campaign by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That is why immigration is at the heart of the Brexit debate—it is the unspoken tension at the heart of Brexit. If we follow through on the promise that was made to the Brexiteers—to the leave voters—we will damage the economy. If we do not follow through on that promise to reduce immigration, we will protect the economy but we will break the trust of those very voters who voted leave. That is the tension at the heart of the Brexit vote that we need to expose.

I want that UK-wide debate because we have a chance to reverse not just the damaging trend around immigration in this country but the damaging trend around Brexit. I hope that we will speak up in a united way to make that case. That is why I am opposed to what the SNP is proposing today. Of course I support schemes such as the fresh talent scheme—we had that scheme when we were in government—but what the SNP is proposing today is on a much bigger scale. It is the principle of having a different immigration policy for Scotland, which I cannot support.

Will the member give way?

Not just now.

Clare Haughey and Gillian Martin, among others, repeatedly said that Scotland is unique and that we have special needs. I disagree. I have looked at the figures as well. In relation to the demands on the NHS, the farming sector, the food and drink sector and the university sector, there are demographic challenges across the United Kingdom.

We are an ageing society across the UK. That is what we need to try to tackle and that is why it is important to reverse the trend in the immigration debate because if we do not do that, we will end up with problems not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK. I believe in the integrity of the United Kingdom. We need to protect the single market—that is incredibly important.

What depresses me is that every single argument in the chamber from the SNP is reduced to an argument about the constitution. I reject that—I think that this is much bigger than the constitution. This is about immigration—this is about saying, “What kind of country are we?”

Graeme Dey rose—

Will the member take an intervention?

Not now.

I accept what Mairi Gougeon said about leading the debate, but we do not do that by cutting ourselves off from the UK debate and looking for our own solutions. We need to engage fully in the UK debate, and we do not do that when we reduce the debate to constitutional issues. That is what I get depressed about.

Graeme Dey rose—

Graeme Dey, who is trying to intervene—I am sorry, I will not accept an intervention, because I have a short amount of time—made a powerful case in support of a UK approach when he talked about the English farmer who is shutting up shop and moving his soft fruit business to China. That made my case for me. This is a UK-wide problem. If we are to grow the food and drink sector, not just in Scotland but across the UK, we need to deal with the problem across the UK.

There has been significant investment in soft fruit—I see it in the farms in north-east Fife, where heated polytunnels have extended the season and produced a huge amount of economic growth for our country. That is replicated throughout the country, which is why I want a UK-wide approach.

Small schemes such as fresh talent will not solve our demographic problems. What will solve our demographic problems is changing the minds of the leadership of Jackson Carlaw’s party in the UK Government. That is the way to do it, and that is what I will do.


We have heard many excellent speeches in today’s debate. We also heard from Peter Chapman and Graham Simpson.

I am a bit confused by Willie Rennie’s speech. He is a member of a federalist party, so I would have thought that he would understand that there can be variation. Perhaps he can explain that another day.

Scotland’s demographic problems have been well documented. We have an ageing population, fewer younger taxpayers, more older pensioners, low population growth and low productivity, all of which are causing economic concern. If the Government’s population growth targets are to be met, we need to rely on net inward migration of something like 9,000 people a year. With Brexit approaching—or here—such a level might be difficult to maintain if there is no clear understanding of the system that will replace the existing arrangements.

As the negotiations head for the next phase, talks must make rapid progress, to ensure that our friends, neighbours and colleagues who have come to Scotland and the UK to live and work have their rights secured and protected, just as the rights and security of UK citizens across the EU must be respected and protected. Some 1.3 million UK citizens live abroad, and their rights require to be protected, too.

Neil Findlay said that rapid progress is needed. How confident is he that there will be rapid progress, given the delaying tactics of the UK Government thus far?

I am not confident at all.

Talks must make rapid progress for workers in a range of sectors. Our NHS and our social care system have major skills shortages. If we combine the failings of workforce planning with a further drain of people because of Brexit, we will have an even greater problem on our hands.

Graeme Dey and others mentioned the agriculture and food sectors. Pauline McNeill mentioned academia. The construction industry was mentioned, as were oil and gas and other sectors.

However, the debate on immigration should never reduce people to commodities. We should not see migrants simply as economic units of production or cogs in the wheel of profit generation. These are human beings, who have skills and families and dreams and ambitions, and in any system they should be accorded respect and dignity and their rights should be recognised. We have a duty to make people feel welcome and valued. Ross Greer touched on that in the context of the asylum system, and he was right to do so.

The principles of dignity and respect for rights should guide the development of any new system. We could look to other nations to learn how flexibility could be brought into the system. Mairi Gougeon talked about the devolved approaches in Canada, Spain and Switzerland, which take account of different priorities. We should look to such places as we consider how we develop a system for the future.

Scottish Labour wants a fair and well-managed migration system that protects people from the exploitation of their labour and safeguards their human rights. The choice is not between freedom of movement and closed borders; that is simply not the case. I hope that we have all had enough of the simplistic rhetoric about immigration—it is a complex issue and there are many considerations in the development of any new system.

At the heart of our approach to Brexit is jobs and workers’ rights. There should be no race to the bottom, no deregulated sweatshop economy and no pulling up of the drawbridge. There should be a fair and transparent immigration system that is administered as simply as possible.

I am surprised that no one has said that all this should not come at a cost to other countries. We cannot just talk about immigration in terms of how it benefits us, because that is not an internationalist perspective. We should also address our population’s failure to grow and the policies to develop that. Populations are declining across Europe, so we are now in competition for people and we do not want people to come here at the expense of the development of other countries. That is not an internationalist perspective.

Although today’s debate is focusing on migration, we should come back to the issue of how to increase our population so that we are no longer completely reliant on attracting the skills, talent and young people of other nations to address our demographic problems. Perhaps the minister will come back to that in a future debate, because it is a serious issue. However, on immigration, we support the Government’s motion today.


Throughout past centuries of Scotland’s history, there have been many periods of inward migration. Migration has helped to shape modern Scotland and it is right that we recognise the contributions to our society, economy and communities of those who have chosen to make Scotland their home. We have also seen modern Scotland being shaped by the movement of people within our own borders, from the country to the towns as we industrialised, from cities to the new towns as the slums were cleared, and through the struggles of depopulation in regions such as the Highlands and Islands.

The UK is now approaching the end of the first half of our two-year journey towards leaving the European Union, with its associated implications for immigration. That requires a coherent political response that reflects the outcome of the referendum in June 2016 and the interests of the UK and its constituent parts.

During the debate on migration that I participated in back in November, we heard the Government say that Scotland’s demographic profile is different from that of the rest of the UK, and Clare Haughey repeated that today. That obscures the wider point that those of us who represent rural Scotland know well: within Scotland, we have many distinct demographic profiles that are just like those in the rest of the UK. We have seen that issues are not primarily geographical—which is unsurprising in an integrated economy—but sectoral. We can identify a need in rural Scotland for seasonal workers, but that need is just as keenly felt in rural parts of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Will the member take an intervention?

I should like to push on, if I may.

Increasingly, geographical distinctions in our economy are issues of scale rather than type. In my region, a number of sectors, such as the hospitality and tourism economy, employ high numbers of EU and non-EU migrant workers, but the Highlands and Islands are far from being unique in that. Migration policy will not be crafted in my region, but I have little doubt that people who live there will judge future policy on the basis of what they see in their own communities.

Although we welcome the benefits of migration to Scotland—there is little doubt that we will always welcome the brightest and the best to our shores—it is clear that it has been used for many years as an excuse to avoid considering the needs of our labour market in greater detail. No economy is immune to the skills gap in the short and medium term, but a successful economy can only be sustained if we educate and train people for existing and emerging employment needs.

For too long, however, migration has been a sticking plaster to avoid matching some of the most necessary skills to our labour needs. Key public services, such as the NHS, have relied on trained nurses and doctors coming to Scotland to plug the gap that has been created by our own apparent inability to train and retain staff.

Will the member give way on that point?

I will let the minister in in a second.

That has an impact on the countries that people come from. In those circumstances, the Scottish Government looks to other countries and hopes that the relevant skills can be found, but we know the consequences for areas outside of the cities and the central belt, as well as the consequences of the lack of real planning for the future.

I agree with the member’s point about the importance of filling skills gaps, but will he not concede that, even if we had 100 per cent full employment in Scotland, there would still be a need for immigration?

As my colleagues are saying to me, nobody is denying that there will be immigration to this country, but it will be controlled and based on what we need here.

When I was in the Western Isles recently, I heard of a problem that health and social care have been presented with. Many older people on the islands are Gaelic speakers first, and when they develop dementia and associated conditions they revert to their first language. Unlike many other parts of Scotland, the islands cannot rely simply on migration to fill the necessary skills gap, so they have looked instead at their own local populations and adapted their skills policies accordingly.

There have been a number of thoughtful and interesting contributions from around the chamber today. My colleague Jackson Carlaw spoke passionately about some of the myths surrounding immigration and its recent—and fascinating—history in his own constituency. He also addressed the narrow nature of the Scottish Government’s analysis and referenced some of Professor Sir John Curtice’s analysis of public opinion, and he spoke about the burden that higher taxation will place on businesses hoping to recruit from outside Scotland. He addressed some of the concerns around enforcement in an increasingly collaborative and mobile domestic economy, as well as the principle of creating restrictive second-class citizenship in the UK.

Claire Baker and Ross Greer spoke about the need to attract people to Scotland. On that, I can agree with them. Jamie Greene—who we now know is formerly of King’s Lynn—echoed that point and raised a number of important issues around the fact that economic growth is key to attracting people to Scotland. He covered some of the reactions of businesses and other stakeholders to the proposal for differentiated immigration structures in the UK, which is something that the cabinet secretary and Gillian Martin also covered. He spoke of the potential impact on the UK market and the complexities that differentiation could have.

Graham Simpson made important points about skills and the role of the Scottish Government in attracting talented people to live and work here. He looked particularly at the construction industry in relation to housing, reminding us that there will be a number of sectors that an effective immigration framework will have to reflect.

Willie Rennie spoke about the needs of seasonal workers. It is worth noting that NFU Scotland suggested that it wanted a UK-wide approach to immigration.

Peter Chapman spoke about the numbers involved, the significance of non-UK workers in the agricultural sector and his involvement with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove. He addressed the need for a UK-wide solution to the issues faced by Scottish agriculture, and the threat of placing additional burdens on business while harming our UK single market. He made clear the need for the Scottish Government to focus on other aspects of Brexit, such as the future of agricultural support.

Members from all sides of the chamber value the contribution of immigration to Scotland. Our interest in attracting skilled and able people to Scotland is best served by a “controlled, transparent and efficient” system that is points based and reflects our needs. Those are not my words, but the words of the Scottish Government’s own white paper on independence. There is scope for parties across the Parliament to work with the UK Government to seek a positive outcome as we leave the EU—

You must come to a close, please.

—but that will require a constructive approach from all who are involved and an acknowledgment that a unified UK solution is the way forward.

I call Alasdair Allan to wind up the debate and take us to decision time.


I welcome the debate that we have had this afternoon and the contributions from members from around the chamber, which have—with one or two egregious exceptions—been helpful.

In November 2017, Parliament discussed the evidence that the Scottish Government had provided to the Migration Advisory Committee. That evidence set out very clearly, as many members have done today, the positive impact that EU citizens have made on Scotland’s economy and communities, and how they have filled gaps in our labour market.

However, in November, Parliament agreed that the current migration system needs to change. There was more consensus on that point than we often find in the chamber. I will quote Jackie Baillie from that time, although her remarks were echoed in what she had today:

“We should have a differentiated immigration system that can be linked to specific sectors. We have had a differentiated system before with the fresh talent scheme, and we can do so again.” —[Official Report, 14 November 2017; c 65.]

Therefore there is consensus that goes back some time on the need to tailor solutions for Scotland. As we heard today, in 2005, Labour and the Liberal Democrats recognised that Scotland had different needs and therefore that a different migration policy in some areas would be the right thing. It has been recognised by most members today as the right thing, too. The fresh talent scheme was both a recognition of the need for a differentiated solution to migration for Scotland and a demonstration that the approach is possible in a UK-wide system.

Jackson Carlaw, who made a very considered contribution today, has clearly read our paper and recognised that it is possible to achieve such things within the UK immigration system. A number of members, however, seem to think that our paper proposes an entirely new or separate immigration system for Scotland.

Scotland has different needs. Let me be clear about that, because some members today have questioned that point. Of course there are similarities between the challenges that are faced by specific sectors in Scotland and those that are faced across the rest of the UK. I heard strawberries and daffodils being compared this afternoon, as a member tried to make that point.

However, the most glaring difference is around demography. I have already made the point that, even if we had 100 per cent employment in Scotland, not only would we still have skills gaps, but our demography would still represent a problem for us. Although there may be differences between my position and those of many Conservative members, there were enough positive contributions from Conservatives to keep an intelligent and useful conversation going with them—although Graham Simpson has to be exempted from that conversation.

Dr Allan, who is the minister for Europe, mentioned demography. I do not know whether he has been to Georgia, but in order to encourage population growth there, the head of the Orthodox Church personally baptises every third child. I do not want to give Nicola Sturgeon any ideas, but does that not show that other countries are thinking innovatively about how to grow their populations?

As the eldest of three children, I do not know how to answer that question. I will have a conversation with the Orthodox community in Scotland to see whether something can be done, but that question is so far off the field that I am not going to answer it.

A number of members commented on Scotland’s historical migration situation and the fact that we have, for a couple of hundred years, been a country of massive emigration rather than net immigration. People left Scotland to build futures in other parts of the world. That is changing, which has had a positive impact on our demography. However, population projections show that, in a scenario in which there was 50 per cent less EU migration, Scotland’s working-age population would decline by just under 1 per cent. The figure for the UK would be 5.3 per cent growth in the working-age population.

Scotland faces unique challenges that are linked to our demography and our rurality. The facts are clear: Scotland’s needs are different, but the UK Government’s focus appears to be on short-term migration. Indeed, there were a number of points in the debate when I felt that false oppositions were being set up between action here to solve our problems and policies that could be sorted at UK level. To pick up on the points that Willie Rennie made about leaving such matters to the UK Government, I note that there are many things that it could do now that would help to address our challenges. For instance, it could abolish the net migration target, change the rules on family migration and abolish the immigration skills charge. There is a list of things that it could do—which, we argue, it should do—but that is not a reason for us not to have a clear position in Scotland on what we would like to do here, if we had the opportunity.

Current migration policy, as set out by the UK Government, does not recognise Scotland’s needs. Scotland depends on inward migration to grow our population, but the UK policy is to drive migration down to an arbitrary target—a target that almost everyone but the Prime Minister recognises will be counterproductive and unhelpful.

We have a long history of not only providing information on the issue but of examining that information when it is provided. Today, we have heard mention of statistics and of the fact that decisions to be taken on the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee rest with the Home Secretary. We should take into account the evidence that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities provided to the Scottish Affairs Committee. It set out its concerns, in which it noted that

“We have a long ... history in responding to the MAC and have to date had little success in influencing the Shortage Occupation List ... for Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

Our discussion paper takes into account concerns and goes further than merely suggesting changes to UK Government policy by setting out how a more regionalised approach could work, with devolution of some aspects of migration within a UK framework. Developing a tailored migration system for Scotland is deliverable: the question is whether the political will exists to do it.

It is also worth mentioning the many organisations that have given evidence, including the FSB, which Mr Greene mentioned. In fact, in its evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, the federation made it clear that the Scottish Government had put forward a very convincing case to show why Scotland’s needs are different, and has called for

“exploratory discussions ... between UK and Scottish Governments on the feasibility of devolving aspects of the immigration system.”

The debate is coming to a close. I will end where I began by saying that there is more consensus on the issue than one or two members today have given credit for. We need some solutions to be taken forward at UK level in the immediate future, but we also need aspects of immigration policy to be tailored to the needs of Scotland and its demography. I hope that all but one or two members will come away from today’s debate having understood that.

That concludes the debate on Scotland’s population needs and migration policy.