Across this land, from the coffee poured in the cafe to the colostomy bag changed in the ward, low-skilled immigrants are keeping our way of life alive. Boris wants to see if Britain can survive without them. He should be careful what he wishes for.
The PM is proposing a points system where the prize is legal work status in the UK. The basic requirement is to have a job and speak English – that gets you 50 points. You need 70 to succeed, and the extra 20 can be earned by other criteria, such as pay or working for a designated sector.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is said to be one of the reasons for Brexit. “They are taking our jobs” – that old cry of the out-of-work and the racist. It’s not true. Britain has record employment. But the perception is there, and Boris Johnson is pandering to it.
It’s unlikely to help London, heavily dependent on the low-paid to keep the city running for the rich. It is likely to damage the tourist towns of Oxford and Cambridge, reliant on migrant labour for service jobs. Most probably the effect will be bad on the north of England’s care services, and the south’s food production.
All those problems are magnified 10-fold for Scotland.
We didn’t vote for Brexit, partly because we do not feel overrun. Quite the opposite. Anyone prepared to live and contribute to our nation is likely to be admired. The total number of people living in Scotland rose slightly in recent decades, thanks to Europeans coming for work and then staying, or English folk seeking a better lifestyle. Our birth rate is barely at replacement level. We need all the people we can get.
At the same time, the age profile shifts to the later years. We have more old people, who contribute less to the economy, while demanding more from services. From an economic point of view, we desperately need a population boost.
This immigration law is an English answer to a populist problem. It is wrong morally, economically and socially for Scotland.
Hospitality is the single largest sector in the Scottish economy, worth £11 billion per annum.
Our big money-spinner relies on foreign workers – and Boris wants to ban them.
Social care is the biggest policy issue facing Scotland apart from poverty, and it is largely populated by foreign workers – who Boris wants to ban.
The government says hospitality or elderly care sectors must do more to keep local workers. This can only mean paying them more. The effect of higher wages will be inflation. It will become more expensive to live here. That will be a real problem for many families, and particularly for pensioners.
The new immigration laws mean either much more expensive care, or much less caring. Scotland will neither be able to afford its social model nor maintain it.
For centuries we have relied on cheap labour, first from our own communities, then from the empire and then the emerging economies of Asia. Switching to a high-pay and high investment economy may be wonderful, but it’s a radical departure from the Anglo-American model of previous centuries.
The other big change relates to welfare. Britain is currently at record levels of employment. If you want a job you can have one. Those who don’t work now are either unskilled, incapable or in education. Unemployment benefit is a tiny fraction of the overall welfare bill. If you imagine a swath of lazy people ready to be recruited into the care industry, then the statistics don’t bear this out.
Yet that is just what Home Secretary Priti Patel suggests. She argues about eight million people in the UK could be more economically active. These people are the incapacitated or in third-level education. In effect she is saying the sick and students should be put to work.
Even if a fraction of her eight million can be made more economically active, Brits show no sign of wanting the work.
As economies become more developed, expectations rise. Broadly, we don’t want to work behind bars, as carers or even nurses. These are seen as hard jobs without sufficient reward. That’s why the NHS has more than 40,000 nursing vacancies under current immigration rules.
If the immigration tap is turned off, Brits will have to fill the gaps. When staffing shortages become acute, the benefits system will be tightened. Less immigration means much tougher welfare, forcing people into work.
The upshot of all this may be a whole new Anglo economic model of high wages, jobs for life and a higher cost of living. Alternatively, Downing Street will come to realise that freedom of movement, cheap labour and attracting ambitious but unskilled people is how nations succeed in the global economy – and what Britain has historically thrived on.
Let’s hope this realisation happens soon, as the current plans could ruin Scotland’s service, care and food production sectors.
This is protectionism motivated by racism and economic illiteracy. It is unfit for Britain, damaging to Scotland – and a threat to our way of life.