On my way to work this morning I called into Strathaven Academy’s First Year Assembly. It was about what an advantage it is in life to understand another language, and how that opens doors to the great pleasure of learning and appreciating other cultures. I was invited to talk about my own experience of growing up in a household with an Italian influence.
My grandfather came to Scotland from a mountain village in Liguria in the north of Italy. He was amongst the first main wave of Italian immigrants in the late 19th/early 20th Century. He met my Govan grandmother over the deep fat fryer in a Partick fish-and-chip shop, and the rest as they say is history! It’s reckoned there are up to 100,000 Italian extraction Scots living here, and our influences right through Scottish society are deep.
Scotland has been enriched by immigration over the years – the Jewish population, Irish friends, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Chinese, Caribbeans, Africans, Americans and many more. Over the last decades of course there has been free movement from European Union countries, and many mainland Europeans have settled here. Of course, it works in reverse too – the Scottish diaspora is massive, millions of folks of Scots descent right across the globe.
The smooth running of many of our services relies on incoming workers who have made their homes here. Specific industries rely on migrant workers who come over for a season. Fruit pickers: Scotland’s soft fruit industry, largely centred in Tayside and Fife, is said to be worth about £115 million a year – Scotland’s reputation for producing some of the world’s best soft fruit is unsurpassed. These fruit farms largely depend on seasonal workers from central and eastern Europe to pick their harvest. This year saw a drop in numbers, some fruit left to rot. Farmers fear the problem will get worse after Brexit, despite a new UK Government scheme which the National Farmers Union of Scotland says does not address our needs.
Scotland’s tourism industry too is concerned – full-time and seasonal workers often form the backbone of our tourism services. Tourism is a huge industry in Scotland with tourist spend averaging around £4 billion a year. This industry is again serviced by many workers who have chosen to make Scotland their home, and many others from mainland Europe who, with EU freedom of movement, come with ease to ‘work the season’. If that is made so much more difficult then they may just go elsewhere.
Closer to home, NHS Lanarkshire has warned there is a “very high” risk that Brexit could cause disruption to its services, worsening staff shortages and limiting access to specialist medicines and doctors. It’s reckoned that about 17,000 EU nationals work in health and social care in Scotland. Although that’s less than 5% of the workforce, the proportion is much higher in some specialisms. To quote just one example, in the Western Isles there is real concern because of the 12 NHS consultants working there in 2017, eight were from EU countries outside the UK.
NHS Lanarkshire, along with other health boards of course, are already working with the Scottish Government to identify potential problems. The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Health has written to EU staff working in the NHS asking them to stay on in Scotland post-Brexit. The First Minister has already committed to meeting the administrative cost of settled status applications for EU citizens working in its devolved public services.
The Westminster ‘Migration Advisory Committee’ reported recently and it was very clear that when it comes to addressing Scotland’s particular needs the report is not fit for purpose. It ignores Scotland’s rural population and sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism, as well as health and social care. It even made the ridiculous suggestion that Scotland can deal with the challenges in its workforce by simply raising the pension age! A ridiculous proposition.
Recent surveys have clearly shown that Scots recognise the issues we are facing and believe that we should be able to make our own decisions on immigration. Building a tailored Scottish system is the only way to meet Scotland’s needs, and ensure we can reap the huge benefits that immigration brings.