Author: Martin Williams
SHOCKING levels of mistrust in Westminster’s handling of immigration has meant that nearly two in three want Scotland to take control of its own affairs, a new study reveals.
A poll shows that 64% of Scots back immigration devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland giving them powers to decide how many visas are issued for people who want to work there.
A new report says just one in ten Scots think that the UK government has managed immigration competently and fairly and the authors say urgent action is need to restore public trust. Across the UK they are slightly more supportive with only 15% backing Britain’s handling of immigration.
The figures come from the largest-ever public consultation on immigration, ahead of the independent Migration Advisory Committee’s immigration report on Tuesday expected to be pivotal to shaping Theresa May’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
Nicola Sturgeon has made repeated calls for a Scottish-specific immigration system in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
But the Home Office believes that applying different immigration rules to different parts of the UK would complicate the system, harming its integrity, and cause difficulties for employers who they say need the flexibility to deploy their staff to different parts of the UK.
It says that it will engage with and consider the views of the Scottish Government and businesses when deciding on any action over the MAC findings.
The new report from the National Conversation on Immigration, co-ordinated by think tank British Future and anti-prejudice campaigners HOPE not hate, said that even the English agreed that Scotland should take control.
Some 55% across the UK said the devolved governments should have powers over immigration. The policy is also supported by half of those who live in the Midlands (50%) and the south east (54%) and by Leave (50%) and Remain (61%) voters.
Stuart McDonald, the SNP spokesman on immigration, asylum and border control said: “The support for devolution of migration powers recorded by the National Conversation is hugely significant and welcome. Not only in Scotland, but across the UK, people have had enough of one-size-fits-all migration rules and do not believe that the UK government will deliver competent or fair migration policies.
“It is more urgent that ever for the UK government to devolve migration powers to the Scottish Parliament, so we can build a system that is designed to meet Scotland’s needs and aspirations – for example, a post-study work visa, rules that allow families to stay together, and visas that encourage people to work, start businesses and invest here.”
The First Minister has argued that Scotland needs power over immigration to attract more people north of the border where there is a rapidly ageing population.
But earlier this month, CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn, one of the most influential figures in British industry said that businesses are not ready for a separate Scottish immigration system.
Earlier this month, the Home Secretary unveiled a pilot scheme that will allow fruit and vegetable growers to recruit non-EU migrants as seasonal workers – but critics say it goes “nowhere near” far enough to plug a recruitment crisis in Scots fruit-picking industry.
The new report calls for an annual ‘Migration Day’ in Parliament, where ministers are held accountable for their performance against a three-year immigration strategy that it says should replace the annual net migration target, and would have input from the devolved administrations.
Jill Rutter, director of strategy for British Future and co-author of the report, said: “The lack of trust we found in the government to manage immigration is quite shocking. People want to have their voices heard on the choices we make, and to hold their leaders to account on their promises.
“While people do want the UK Government to have more control over who can come to the UK, most of them are ‘balancers’ – they recognise the benefits of migration to Britain, both economically and culturally, but also voice concerns about pressures on public services and housing.
Rosie Carter of HOPE not hate, co-author of the report, added: “Immigration is a national issue, but people see it through a local lens. Where people live, and their living conditions, makes a real difference – that includes the perceived impact of migration on their community, broader grievances about economic insecurity and levels of contact with migrants and ethnic minorities too.
“An official National Conversation on Immigration would give people a chance to express their concerns in a constructive debate, so anxieties are not driven underground or exploited by those seeking to stoke division.”
The research by ICM for the National Conversation, which polled 700 people in Scotland also found Scots were more positive about integration with 69% agreeing “it is better when migrants commit to stay in Britain, put down roots and integrate,” compared to 61% UK-wide.
And just 31% in Scotland agree that “it is better when migrants come here to work for a few years without putting down roots and then return home” against 39% UK-wide.
But the report also uncovered some dissenting voices in citizens’ panels held across Scotland.
“This view was more surprising, given that these four citizens’ panels held many positive views about other forms of migration,” said the report.
Students who live in Scotland or are from EU countries do not have to pay tuition fees in Scottish universities.
“This seems to have fuelled a belief that Scotland’s universities prioritise international students from outside the EU over Scottish students for financial reasons,” said the report.
“However, our nationally representative ICM survey did not indicate any statistically significant difference in the desire to reduce the number of international students in Scotland (22%) compared with all of the UK (21%).”
And some over two out of three Scots were happy for the numbers of international students to be increased or remain at the same level.
The Home Office said: “Our immigration system is designed to work for the whole of the UK. We have no current plans to introduce a devolved immigration system.
“Scotland, as well as other devolved governments, have different ways available to encourage more individuals and families to move to their part of the UK.”
National Conversation on Immigration researchers held over 130 meetings in 60 locations across every nation and region of the UK, with citizens’ panels, recruited to be representative of the local population, in each place alongside meetings with local government, businesses, faith and civil society groups.
In Scotland, panels were held in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Lerwick and Paisley.
Nationally representative research by ICM polled 3,667 people across the UK and an open online survey was completed by nearly 10,000 people.