I SPOKE at the welcoming refugees to Scotland debate on Tuesday, December 13 in the Scottish Parliament. Here is my speech, both in video and text form.
Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP):
My colleague Sandra White stole my introduction, but I think that it is worth repeating. The late William McIlvanney famously said, “Scotland’s not full”, and that we are “a mongrel nation”. Both statements are true. Scotland was founded by immigrants and we all have immigrant ancestors somewhere down the line in our family tree. However, as well as being a mongrel nation, Scotland is a welcoming nation. It is in our DNA to welcome people, particularly those who are in crisis or distress. It is anathema to us to turn away people in need if we can help them when they are seeking refuge.
As has been said in the chamber many times, the current situation in Aleppo, the Yemen and other parts of the world ravaged by war and terrorism is a humanitarian crisis. Scotland has proportionately punched way above its weight when it comes to taking in refugees, with the numbers we have welcomed topping more than 1,200. As Ross Greer said, East Dunbartonshire—my local authority—has at long last agreed to take four families and four unaccompanied children. I look forward to being part of the welcoming committee to help them to integrate when they arrive early next year.
Of course, welcoming immigrants does not just mean providing refuge; it means welcoming people from any part of the world who want to work here and contribute to Scotland’s economy and culture. There is no reason to differentiate between immigrants and refugees. Who would want to start a new life in a country and get a pittance to live on, with the most basic accommodation and second-hand furniture and hand-outs? Immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers want to work and should be encouraged to work for their own dignity and wellbeing. These are families who deserve no less than us. They have pride and want the best for their children. Why would they not?
When it comes to welcoming migrant workers, why would we not do so with open arms? As has been said many times during the debate, migrant workers contribute immensely to the Scottish economy and culture. In fact, without them we would face a serious shortfall in skilled—and unskilled—workers.
Did Rona Mackay disagree with Nicola Sturgeon when she said that an independent Scotland would not have unmanaged immigration and that
“nobody’s suggesting uncontrolled and unmanaged immigration”?
I did not allude to that, and Liam Kerr is in no position of strength to talk about our immigration policy.
Why does the Tory Westminster Government make it so difficult for migrants to come and work here? Since Brexit, the Tories have given workers and EU citizens no security, preferring instead to adopt an I-will-if-you-will mentality and to insist that workers from this country are given security in other EU countries. What utter hypocrisy and arrogance. The Tory Government gambled with our European identity and lost, and now it thinks that it can set the rules.
The fact is that Brexit is a no-win situation. We are all losers, and that is why our First Minister and excellent European cabinet team are working so hard to give Scotland access to the single market, which is vital to our economy and cultural wellbeing. Why would we want to be an insular country, cutting ourselves off from trading and interacting at all levels with our European neighbours? That is the path that that right-wing Government is going down, but we will never follow it. Europe is too important to us, for all the reasons that members have mentioned in this passionate debate.
On 23 June on the steps of Bute house, the First Minister said that all our EU citizens were welcome in Scotland. She said what we were all thinking—what all right-minded people were thinking—in the depths of our shock and despair at the news that we were to be dragged out of Europe.
The indisputable facts are that international migrants make important economic, social and cultural contributions to our communities, and the UK Government’s focus on arbitrarily reducing net migration is wrong for Scotland. I certainly would not want to live in a country that has put up the shutters and in which we were unable to benefit from international migrants culturally and economically, just as much as I would not want to live in a country that did not welcome with open arms families who are fleeing from war and persecution.
I have every confidence that the Scottish Government will never allow that. Scotland will always be open for business and open for refuge. I support the motion.