Scotland the Blog: England and Immigration: Why an Open world can lead to closed minds.

As we reach the second month of the New Year many of us will, like me, be a vowing to some new health regime or healthy eating plan. If, like me, you watched BBC2's recent fascinating Fat V Sugar documentary you may think "what's going on? Who is right and wrong here?” It's a bit like that with migration. The first thing is to point out that migration is an issue in the UK, so we will focus on immigration dealt with at UK government level.

Generally, there are three schools on immigration. The positive "Open world" camp think immigration can only be good. It delivers skills, increases economic  growth and is essential in a  networked global economy. Advocates believe the benefits are underplayed and the drawbacks are exaggerated. Jonathan Portes former top treasury economist is the standard bearer of this camp. Philippe Le Grain whose book, Immigrants Your Country Needs Them, has helped define the debate, is another. The Centre for Cities and the London Mayor both point to evidence that higher immigration cities have better economies than those which have fewer immigrants. Politically and intellectually this is where the Lib Dems sit.

Next there is the "raise the drawbridge" faction. They say that immigration is causing pressure on infrastructure and social services and threatening the living standards of indigenous UK born workers. Many also assert that immigration is damaging the culture of the host country. These people exemplified by UKIP and Migration Watch and a faction of the conservative party. However much public opinion is behind this view. The recent British Social Attitudes Survey shows that 3 in 4 citizens want to see immigration reduced. That said, a lower proportion than in 2011 think it’s bad for the economy.

Another school says "let the right ones in". They think we have too little skilled and targeted immigration and too much unskilled immigration. A glance at the gulf in GDP and wage rates between the likes of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands as contrasted with the likes of Bulgaria and Romania suggests that immigrants will always choose the richer country and few will choose to go the other way. In addition they feel that the UK is draining the pool of skilled workers in poorer nations, particularly in healthcare. David Goodhart of Demos is an advocate of this approach though he has been criticised for blaming immigration for the decline of the welfare state, and for focusing too much on culture as opposed to the labour market. The Truth About Immigration, presented by BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson, aired in January is an example of how this approach is dominating the debate.

This school argues that The EU migration treaties which favour freedom of movement were originally designed to facilitate exchange between nations which had fairly equal income levels. That was changed to draw former soviet satellite states into the EU ambit and and away. The “let the right ones in” approach is typical of the two biggest UK political parties. They are constrained in what they can do by the fact that the EU treaties on free movement of labour are irrevocable. The verdict so far is that young and healthy Eastern Europeans are contributing more into our pay as you go welfare state than they take out.

There is now a policy focus on deterring unskilled immigration and especially those from outside the EU and who could make claims on the welfare state. That said the evidence for either benefits or health tourism is fairly low though and it makes sense to keep such a sensitive issue under review.  At the same time the attempt to reduce net immigration causes heartlessness towards those in genuine danger from outside fortress Europe... Syrian refugees even have the support of UKIP's Nigel Farrage. That said non-EU immigration does continue with family re-unification, asylum and skilled specialists trickling in.

Having set immigration in its UK context we will look next time at how Scotland is pursuing a different approach all together.

Thank you for your comments. There may be a short delay in this going live on the blog page as we moderate the comments added to our blogs.

  • Anonymous

    You over look probably the most important aspect of the immigration debate – The moral ethical aspect….  Many believe the right to SELF determination is the most important aspect of human existence – We are not property – We should be able to go out into the world and be the best that we can be – Also, the moral social aspect – There are very few families now that do not have member across the world – It cannot be overly expressed how horrendous it is not being able to help or be with a family member in another part of the world because of ignorant immigration laws brought about by small minded fearful people.

    To put it simply – Borders are for sheep and cows – They appeal to the feeble minded and Daily mail readers…

  • Anonymous

    Totally endorse the abov comment. Boundaries are in the minds.

  • Anonymous

    Borders are in the mind. so are values and laws and morals. So is money of course and therefore so is the economy.

    Japan does perfectly well without mass immigration. And now Switzerland will too I expect. The close minded people seem to be those that can't conceive of a world without masses of economic migrants.