RDN on immigration on BBC Scotland

Posted by RDN under Politics & campaigns on 5 December 2013

The Call Kaye programme asked me what I thought about immigration in view of the news that Scotland had experienced a 370,000 net immigration in a decade. (I think this number derive from a Migration Observatory report, Migration in Scotland.) I said immigration is a mixed blessing and that England, having experienced a lot of it, was within its rights to now want a bit of a breather, to benefit both incomers and “hosts” (yes, I can convey inverted commas on steam radio). What followed rather surprised me. It should not have, and would not have had I read Iain Martin’s excellent piece on immigration (and Scotland, and the Union) in Standpoint (December 2013).

I’ll get to the Martin offering in a moment. On Tuesday, the callers seemed to fall into three camps. The first said, immigrants come over here and take our welfare, and are to be regretted. The second, liberally, said, immigrants come over here and save our economy and are lovely and are to be welcomed. The third said, immigrants are valuable but they add to pressure on housing, which Mrs Thatcher ruined by selling off the council stock. (My fellow “expert” contributor – I mean to say only that I am not expert, whilst she actually was – was in the liberal camp, I am sure.)

All of that, one has heard hundreds of times before, and reminds us that on this issue there is a clear divide and it isn’t only between those “suffer” proximity to immigrants versus those who love it from afar. It is also, and differently, between those who think one can discuss immigration as though it was a country’s right to determine who gets to come and live in it, and those who believe that such a thought is plainly out of bounds because it is illiberal and probably racist and possibly fascist.

I was wrong-footed, however, by a sort of Scottish triumphalism. Several callers opined that England is full of bigots who hate immigration and that Scotland is much warmer, kindlier place that didn’t have any such hang-ups. I did, darkly, and silently, wonder whether this was an example of northern, Scandinavian niceness, of the kind which flows in small, smug societies which either covertly defend themselves from immigration or who don’t get offered much anyway.

Much later, I noted from a Centre for Population Change study, that (a) Scottish public attitudes are rather friendly towards immigration and (b) that the country has had much less of it than England. The Scots may be suffering what I have called Bystander Virtue.

I certainly feel that England has coped with “waves” of immigration, in places almost an inundation, with patchy but rather surprising openness. Indeed, I am inclined to congratulate my fellow countrymen on the tolerance they mostly operate as well as declare. It seems to me that England has invested a good deal in being cosmopolitan and that other societies don’t do so nearly as willingly or well.

Iain Martin’s piece reminded of some of the numbers and fleshed out the way that Scotland has not yet experienced the kind of immigration that we have down here. To that extent, Scots may be indulging in what I have called Bystander Virtue.

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