Scottish independence

GMT 16:52 Tuesday ,10 September 2013

 Migrant Voice - Scottish independence

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How migrants will vote in next year’s Scottish referendum on independence, and the impact of the vote on migrants, has hardly been discussed - but there are signs of controversy to come. The Scottish National Party is one of the few nationalist parties in the world to favour immigration, because of the country’s small population of 5.3 million and low birthrate, while the Government in London is committed to a severe reduction in immigration. A Yes vote for independence could lead to a clash over the issue. Michael Moore, the Coalition Government’s Scottish Secretary, recently raised the issue when he said that keeping an open border between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be “completely at odds” with the Nationalists’ suggestions for greater immigration. Mrs Mushaka, a migrant who has lived in Scotland for 13 years and has a British passport, speaks for the confusion of many when she says, “In an independent Scotland, would I have to apply for a new Scottish passport? Will I still have freedom of movement in the four nations that make us the United Kingdom without a need to show my passport? Would I have to go through border controls to visit my friends and family in England or Wales? Would they visit me in Scotland without the need to carry their passports? All this unnecessary hassle is why I still prefer to stay in the Union.” It’s a complicated matter, dependent on the outcome of the referendum, and the reactions of both the Scottish and British Governments. Migration organisations are concerned that there is not enough debate on this and other issues that will affect the country’s newest citizens. The lack of debate has concealed a range of problems, including the dilemma for migrants who have acquired a British passport and may face the question of whether to transfer allegiance to an independent Scotland. “The independence debate is relevant to migrants and their participation is crucial, but my major concern is the level of apathy towards the independence debate issue among minority ethnic communities,” says Chinaka Odum, a pro-independence migrant activist originally from Nigeria. “There are so many issues involved that will affect them directly, so it is vitally important that they get informed,” he says. Sofi Taylor, Overseas Nurses and Care Workers' Network explains why migrants should get involved: "All migrants who are resident in Scotland or have Leave to Remain can vote in the Scottish referendum. And they should vote. The question of whether or not the independence would be better for migrants, we don't know. But the attitude towards migrants is different here. Scotland needs migrants because of the ageing population. The vote may shape the future of Scotland." She adds: "Will the migrants vote be significant i the elections? The Runnymede Trust report on the voting patterns of migrants and ethnic minorities says that participation in elections is low. It has to do with why people migrate in the first place: Economic migrants move to better their lives so they do not look at the political; refugees and asylum seekers want to rebuild and get on with their lives. They don't exercise their political power, but they could." Lukasz, a migrant from Poland, agrees that it is important for migrants to get involved: "Migrants are part of the community, and it is important to make sure they know how the results of the Scottish referendum could affect their future. Coming from Poland, I'd be interested to know if an independent Scotland would remain a member of the European Union and what kind of immigration laws the Scottish Parliament would introduce." Scotland has a much smaller foreign-born migrant population than England: 3.8 percent compared to 9.3 per cent. Less than a quarter of immigrants to the UK since 2007 have taken up residence north of the border, and they tend to be from European Union or Asian countries, with few Afro-Carribbeans. SNP stalwart Houmza Yusaf is a symbol of the party’s stance: Scotland’s 27-year-old External Relations Minister is the son of migrants from Kenya and Pakistan. The Labour Party, however, is largely against independence and the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar, also of Pakistani parentage, is emerging as a strong voice in the No camp. Pat Elsmie, director of the organisation Migrants Rights Scotland, says the issue is how to encourage people to involve themselves in the debate, with few migrants fully engaged: “We find they are more concerned with getting on with their lives here, going about their work and business quietly.’’ She says that none of the political parties are seriously considering “why migrants matter or how we could be affected by the vote.” However, migrants are gradually organising themselves on both sides of the battle-line. Facebook groups are popping up with names such as New Scots for Independence. On the pro-union side, Muslims for Labour is seen as a strong voice against independence. Odum admits his Nigerian neighbour is firmly against independence. But he believes that many migrants will vote for independence because of the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in England. “Given the anti-migrant rhetoric of the current UK Tory-led Westminster government, I am inclined to believe that migrants will campaign, debate, register and vote in droves because the debate in Scotland is entirely different. It is much less harsh than in England,” says Odum. However, Jenny Marra, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament, believes that migrants will be more secure if Scotland remains part of the UK. “My great grandfather in Lochee, Dundee, found common cause with the jute workers of Lanarkshire and Lancashire as he fought to improve the working conditions in the mills across Scotland and England,” she told Migrant Voice.“ Our social progress has always been inspired and bolstered by working hand in hand with our brothers and sisters in other parts of these islands. “Is it better that our migration policy is consistent across the whole geography of these islands? I believe it’s what people believe to be sensible and right.” Dr Ima Jackson of Glasgow Caledonian University and the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network, says the November migration White Paper “will provide clearer guidance of intent of the SNP Government. Even more important will be the rhetoric, the tone, the view of itself as a country and how it seeks to be seen by others that will determine Scotland’s future approach to migration and migrants.” But Graham Campbell, vice-convenor of Glasgow’s African and Caribbean Network, says the UK government’s proposal for a referendum on EU membership could have a much stronger impact on migrants than the Scottish independence vote. “Prime Minister David Cameron is threatening an in-out referendum on European Union membership which has serious consequences for EU migrants who are currently being scapegoated for things they have not caused - from an overburdened National Health Service leading to poor health care to a shortage of social housing, low wages, unemployment and cuts in benefits and welfare services, which they more often than not do not claim,” he says. "If Scotland remains within the UK, anti-migrant, anti-EU parties like the UK Independence Party and the British National Party will continue to set the agenda and force Conservatives and Labour into a bidding war on who can implement even more unfriendly racist UK immigration policies,” he argues. Less Anti-Immigration Sentiment There is some evidence from the policies implemented by Scottish governments in the last 10 years that there is less anti-immigrant sentiment than in England, says Dr Ima Jackson of Glasgow Caledonian University and the Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network. These policies include no detention of children, efforts to promote fair access to education and healthcare, and the “One Scotland” equality for all campaign. “How these policy decisions materialise and ‘feel’ for the general migrants’ experience of working and living is largely undocumented,” she adds cautiously. “In a broad sense further down the line if Scotland were to vote for independence there is potential for routes to migration to become different in Scotland than in other parts of the UK.” Article by: Migrant Voice reporter Photo: Scottish Parliament, Holyrood. Mogens Engelund

 

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