Speech: Jean calls for visas to let Scots uni graduates stay and work

On Tuesday, the Scottish Parliament debated a Government motion calling for a return of the post-study work visas, once known as the ‘Fresh Talent’ scheme, that allowed overseas students who graduated from Scottish universities to stay and work in Scotland after their degree. Jean supported the motion, and called for Scotland to have control its own immigration policy more generally, so that we can have a welcoming system that meets our needs. The motion passed by 93 votes to nil, with 12 Conservatives abstaining, as did a Labour amendment recognising the work of former First Minister Jack McConnell in creating Fresh Talent.

On this page you can read Jean’s speech, and watch the video of the debate – Jean’s contribution starts at 1:58:35. You can read the full transcript of debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): This is a timely debate and it is heartening to hear that there is cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.

We have heard from all members who have spoken about the contribution that overseas students make, whether cultural, social, economic and educational, but in spite of the reputation of Scottish colleges and universities, we cannot assume that they will keep coming.

Competition in the education sector is tough. Many of our colleges and universities are making greater and greater efforts to attract students from around the globe, even to the extent of changing their names. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That change to the name was not made because people demanded it; it was made to attract students and so that they could better understand the college’s work and its potential.

It is no matter that our universities and colleges are the best or that they are opening branches in many other countries around the globe. It might be that the growing number of such courses will produce graduates there with degrees from the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh or, indeed, the University of the Highlands and Islands.

What will bring those students here? It is not enough to be the best, or to provide good student associations and a welcome. As the institutions know, they need all the support that they can get to maintain or grow the international student community. The post-study work visa is only one good reason to apply to one university over another, but it is perhaps the most important.

Some of the partner colleges in the University of the Highlands and Islands have developed the potential for business experience to follow the course as well as being part of the course. For example, were they allowed to stay after graduation, textiles students in Shetland could access equipment—large industrial knitting machines, for example—to develop better business skills and experience whether or not there was a market for their products.

Manufacturing must be one of the most important areas for us to cover, so the opportunity of getting such experience for the period after graduation is certainly an attractive option, and Scotland has a great deal to offer in that respect.

All the papers that we have received from NUS Scotland or business organisations show cross-sector and cross-party support for the reintroduction of post-study work visas.

I am not sure about the Smith Commission process. It occurs to me, particularly after listening to Lord Lang on the radio this morning, that that process might not be the quickest method by which to put in place the developments that we need. It is incumbent on all members to show that there is real urgency about the issue. The fresh talent initiative has been referred to—all credit to Jack McConnell and the Labour Party for it. It is important to acknowledge that they brought it about, but it is also important to note that if we had the powers over immigration that Scotland needs and clearly deserves, the fresh talent initiative would surely still be in place and we would not need to have this debate.

It was disingenuous of Liam McArthur to try to somehow link all the evidence from academics, businesses and agencies that support the post-study work visas with the danger that not everyone will agree. By way of evidence, he cited BBC Scotland’s evidence that people in Scotland are not unlike people south of the border in their views on immigration.

Liam McArthur: The point that I was trying to make is that the assumption that the population in Scotland takes a radically different approach to immigration from the approach of the population south of the border is not borne out by the BBC survey or by attitude surveys over a number of years. Kenny MacAskill made a fair point about the leadership that we need to show, and it is worth acknowledging that we do not work with a more enlightened or progressive population on the whole.

Jean Urquhart: I thank Liam McArthur for that. In fact, I was just going to refer to Kenny MacAskill’s point that it is up to us to take a lead. It ill behoves us to constantly hark back to what is in some ways a bigger issue. We had a debate on immigration last week, in which we were all very much agreed, and those points were well made by members at the time.

Joan McAlpine talked about MIT, which is a great example of the fact that, where creativity is developed, it can flourish. Scotland needs to have control of immigration if we are to realise our full potential. We must push for the issue to be considered outwith the Smith Commission process. It is a serious and important issue for Scotland and for our colleges. More than that, it is seriously important for the kind of economic development that we want. We have acknowledged that we are talking about thousands of students. Why on earth would we want that talent to be educated in Scotland and then insist that they leave? That cannot be right. I hope that we will push for the issue to be dealt with in the House of Commons and for our case to be made outwith the Smith Commission process.

Jean’s debate: Celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities

Yesterday at Holyrood, Jean followed up the Tuesday launch of the Not My Xenophobia campaign by leading a debate on a motion entitled ‘Celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities’. You can read the full debate, in which many MSPs pledged their support to the campaign, in the Parliament’s Official Report. On this page you can watch the video of the debate, starting at 1:09:00, and read Jean’s opening speech.

There was an unusual display of unity after the debate, as MSPs voted unanimously to approve the motion, and to add both the Labour and SNP amendments.

In a world that is more interconnected than ever and in which historically our societies have developed as a result of the transnational mobilisation of cultures and peoples, it is intellectually moribund that we rarely hear politicians or the media make the positive case for immigration. It is with alarm that we are witnessing the development of increasing hostility, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance towards immigrants. I am gravely concerned that the tone of public discussion about immigration is contributing to a climate of hostility and fear. In this regard, we risk facing a race to the bottom. It is, it seems, politically fashionable to oppose immigration and, increasingly, the whole concept of multiculturalism.

I am proud today to be one of those who are making the positive case for immigration, and who are highlighting not just the economic benefits but the cultural enrichment that flows from embracing it, rather than proposing an agenda that is set on creating resentment and division. I stand as an advocate for multiculturalism who recognises the benefits of viewing integration as a two-way process, in which we learn and develop from our fellow citizens who hail from other countries and who bring with them their own heritage and traditions. The world is a more interesting place and our communities are made more vibrant and outward looking if we encourage understanding and tolerance and adopt a welcoming attitude to immigrants as citizens in equal partnership.

We barely hear such arguments. Instead we are faced, on a daily basis, with a toxic barrage of headlines demonising immigrants and an increasingly xenophobic politics that stems from the UK Independence Party but now, it seems, is infecting the mainstream parties, particularly in Westminster. The whole debate has been shifted rightwards, as it becomes increasingly popular to make opposing immigration a political principle. Even those who might have stood up for multiculturalism in the past find it difficult to do so now. That tide must turn, and we must challenge ourselves to testify for a modern, inclusive and humanitarian approach to immigration.

Of course, Presiding Officer, the scapegoating of immigrants at times of economic crisis is nothing new. Throughout history, immigrants have been a useful section of society for powerful interests to blame in order to rationalise their own failures. Far better that our attention is focused on blaming immigrants for the lack of job opportunities and deteriorating living standards than on our unbalanced economy or corruption in the banking sector—or indeed the political establishment. The economic facts, which are rarely exposed, show that, rather than representing a drain on Britain’s finances, European migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion to the Exchequer between 2000 and 2011.

However, it is in these circumstances that organisations such as UKIP thrive. They build on the fears that emerge as a result of economic precariousness and on the anti-immigrant sentiment popularised by sections of the media. The two have a near-symbiotic relationship, all set within a policy framework that has been shifting away from embracing multiculturalism and immigration for many years, under successive Westminster Governments.

UKIP now advocates the scrapping of the racial equality laws, a move that would regress race relations by decades. Unless partisans of diversity and racial equality make the positive case for immigration—challenging though that may seem—we risk sliding down the slippery slope of an inward-looking xenophobia. That is a xenophobia that detracts from our culture, economy and the important sense of human solidarity that has always been the bedrock for making progress in society. I believe that the majority of our population can be won to such a perspective if only we unite our voices to amplify our case beyond the parameters of the current stale, stultified and one-sided debate.

We so often hear the tiresome mantra, repeated throughout the decades, that immigrants are “stealing our jobs”. We should ask why the jobs market is so poor, how it came to be that our society is so unequal and why access to well-paid jobs is so privileged. We hear of immigrants “taking our houses”, but we must ask why our housing stock is so inadequate and underfunded, and why we do not put the necessary investment into building more high-quality, affordable homes. Why not inquire further, with a critical mind, to unearth beneath the waves of anti-immigrant headlines just how much of a contribution they make to our country?

Let us talk about how much our communities have gained from immigration—all the doctors, nurses and public servants who help us in our time of need, and without whom we would be much worse off. Let us talk about the music scene or our constantly renewing creative culture and the extension of our palate into the world as each period of immigration—if embraced—emboldens our human need to experience more than ourselves, and to explore the things that we do not yet know about, in the pursuit of knowledge. Immigration, far from being a burden, is a gateway.

We in Scotland should know that. Surely it is part of our DNA. Scots are immigrants. They are dispersed around the globe, where they have found and created work and shared their culture and made their home in another country. We should be among the first to recognise that the flow of immigration adds momentum to the progressive aspects of human history, and excites the potential in all of us, regardless of where we were born. Thus, I share the Scottish Refugee Council’s concerns at the recent poll conducted by BBC Scotland on Scottish attitudes to immigration, and I have signed Christina McKelvie’s motion questioning the methodology, outcome and timing of the poll.

I was taken aback, listening to BBC Radio Scotland’s morning news programme a few days ago, to hear the Spanish immigrants in Inverness referred to as an “invasion”. For many, that confirms that the BBC is not acting impartially.

It is time for a wholesale change in approach to how we discuss immigration and realise its benefits. I do not just want our Polish friends to be able to learn English—I want Scots to be able to take advantage of the diversity in our population to learn Polish. Imagine how our nation might develop were we to cut through the headlines of the Daily Express and Nigel Farage’s false narrative and recognise the potential that exists.

Is it not time to move on as a society? We must stop repeating time and again the age-old fallacies around immigration, and move to a period of enlightenment where, rather than creating fear and division around difference and the scramble for resources, we work together to solve the economic problems we face and, at the same time, enjoy our distinctive and valuable cultural identities.

UKIP is said to be making a “bold stand” on immigration. The truth is the opposite. It is those who stand up for the rights of immigrants and champion the benefits that they bring to a multicultural society based on social progress that are the 21st century’s trailblazers.

Many members would have joined with Sheena Wellington at the formal opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 in singing the words of Burns:

“That Man to Man the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”

It is time to show that there is a difference between the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament, by making and profiling the positive case for immigration and celebrating Scotland’s diverse communities. Please support the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that Scotland’s diversity should be celebrated and rejects the negative attitudes expressed in the media and politics toward immigration and immigrants; also notes with concern the impact of these attitudes in the context of the approaching general election; believes that there should be recognition of the very real and positive contribution made by immigrants from all over the world to Scottish society, culture and history; also notes that the Scottish population is comprised of a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world and believes that all immigrants and their descendants are an integral part of the Scottish identity; calls on politicians and the media to stop the demonisation of immigrants, and calls on media outlets to take a more responsible approach toward their reporting of immigration to Scotland and the UK.

Jean launches new campaign against xenophobia

NMX - Roza Salih, Jean Urquhart & Maggie Chapman

Today at the Scottish Parliament, Jean launched Not My Xenophobia, her new campaign to challenge xenophobic attitudes in politics and the media.

Not My Xenophobia invites Scots social media users to name-and-shame examples of xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes they see being used by newspapers, adverts, TV programmes and politicians, using the hashtag #notmyxenophobia.

You can follow the campaign at the website www.notmyxenophobia.scot, the @notmyxenophobia Twitter account and the campaign’s Facebook page.

Jean Urquhart was inspired to create Not My Xenophobia by the success of the #everydaysexism social media campaign, and the Scottish Government’s See Me campaign against mental health stigma.

Jean said:

“From exploitative programmes like Immigration Street to the UKIP MEP David Coburn’s disgusting, racist comments about Europe Minister Humza Yousaf, we are surrounded with xenophobic messages in politics and the media.

“But speak to ordinary Scots and you will find a very different attitude. Most of us value our friends, neighbours and colleagues from all over the world. The xenophobia we are being bombarded with isn’t ours – it’s being imposed on us by people in positions of power and influence who want to set us against one another.

“This influence is especially pernicious in the run-up to the General Election, as the big parties compete over who can be tougher on immigrants, never mind that immigrants are and always have been an essential part of the country those parties want to run.

“I’ve started the Not My Xenophobia campaign to give a voice to the majority of Scots who reject these hateful attitudes, and to name and shame the media organisations and politicians who promote them for their own gain.

“I’ve worked closely with the Polish community in the Highlands, and seen first-hand the real pain that is caused by xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes. The Polish contribution to Scotland has been huge, from the Polish soldiers who defended our east coast in World War II, to the nurses who support our NHS today. Newspaper headlines that scream about the ‘problem’ of immigration insult that contribution and promote discrimination and even violence.

“The Scottish identity is defined by migration. Our own nation is a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world, and Scots have settled all over the world in return. We are an exceptionally international country, and are better off for that.

“I hope very many Scots, old and new, will join in the Not My Xenophobia campaign to challenge xenophobic attitudes head on, and to show that our diverse and beautiful nation will not be divided.”

Jean was joined at the campaign launch by Roza Salih, the Glasgow Girls campaigner who came to Scotland as a child from Iraqi Kurdistan and is now Vice President for Diversity and Advocacy at Strathclyde Student’s Union, and Maggie Chapman, the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party and councillor for the Leith Walk ward in Edinburgh, who is a South African citizen and grew up in Zimbabwe before coming to Scotland as a student.

Maggie Chapman said:

“As someone who came to Scotland from southern Africa over 17 years ago, I’ve always found a warm welcome in this country. Sadly my experience isn’t shared by others. The ward I represent is the most diverse in Scotland, and I want everyone in my ward to feel as welcome as I did when I came to Scotland. The crass comments by UKIP’s MEP for Scotland, David Coburn show that there is too much xenophobia in Scotland. Jean’s campaign is a great start to that, and I’m delighted to support it.”

The launch of the campaign will be followed on Wednesday by a Scottish Parliament debate, led by Jean, on the motion “Celebrating Scotland’s Diverse Communities”:

S4M-12677 Jean Urquhart: Celebrating Scotland’s Diverse Communities—That the Parliament believes that Scotland’s diversity should be celebrated and rejects the negative attitudes expressed in the media and politics towards immigration and immigrants; also notes with concern the impact of these attitudes in the context of the approaching General Election; believes that there should be recognition of the very real and positive contribution made by immigrants from all over the world to Scottish society, culture and history; also notes that the Scottish population is comprised of a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world and believes that all immigrants and their descendants are an integral part of the Scottish identity; calls on politicians and the media to stop the demonisation of immigrants and calls on media outlets to take a more responsible approach towards their reporting of immigration to Scotland and the UK.

Jean calls for an ambitous plan to restore marine ecosystems

Scallop fishing off Skye. Photo by Alex Berger.
Scallop fishing off Skye. Photo by Alex Berger.

Jean has welcomed the Scottish Government’s draft National Marine Plan, but urged Ministers to include more ambitious measures to secure restore damaged ecosystems such as Wester Ross’s vital mearl beds.

During a Scottish Parliament debate on the plan last Thursday, Jean praised the Government for their progress on what will be the first national-level marine plan in the UK.

However, she said the final plan should aim not just to preserve damaged ecosystems in their current state, but ensure their recovery and growth.

Jean said:

“The draft National Marine Plan is a great start and ministers deserve praise for that. But as it develops, it needs to be more ambitious about restoring vital ecosystems, and more responsive to emerging science and the ever-changing nature of the sea.

“Wester Ross’s beds of the coral-like seaweed called maerl provide a habitat for thousands of other marine species. They are particularly economically important for scallop fishing, providing the perfect nursery for you scallops. But they are also among the most badly-damaged maerl beds in Scotland.

“The current plan draws a protective area tightly around the existing beds, providing little opportunity for growth. It doesn’t even cover some more recently-discovered areas, showing the necessity for a flexible plan that can respond to new information.

“There are examples like this right around Scotland, but each case is different, so it’s also important that communities have real power to implement the national plan in a way that suits local needs.”

“We also need to be sure that the plan is adhered to, otherwise it’s really just a piece of paper. That means a little more clarity in the plan itself, but most importantly it means both the Scottish and UK governments providing appropriate resources to protect our seas.

“The grounding of the Lysblink Seaways on Ardnamurchan last week was another reminder that, for both crew safety and the marine environment, we need an emergency towing vessel in the Minch.”

Scottish Natural Heritage explains what maerl is and why it is so important:

“Maerl is an unusual seaweed – an unattached red seaweed called ‘coralline’ algae. These seaweeds deposit lime in their cell walls as they grow, giving them a hard, brittle skeleton.

“Maerl beds provide vital shelter for a wide range of marine creatures. Experiments have shown that young scallops in particular have a strong preference for living maerl beds as nursery areas. Protecting maerl beds therefore helps to sustain scallop fishing, important commercially in western Scotland. It is ironic, therefore, that scallop dredging has been shown to cause significant damage both to maerl beds – by breaking up and burying the thin layer of living maerl – and to their associated species. Maerl is fragile and slow-growing, and can also be damaged by heavy anchors and mooring chains.”

Read more at the SNH website.

Jean criticises ‘knee-jerk’ call to criminalise sex work

Candles and messages commemorating dead sex workers: "Annette Nicholls, 29 years old, Murdered 2006, Ipswich, UK," "Fight violence, not sex workers."Jean has urged the Scottish Government to resist religious calls to criminalise the purchase of sex. 36 religious leaders signed a letter to the First Minister demanding Scotland adopt the ‘Swedish model’ of making buying sex a criminal offence, but sex workers say such a move would put them in more danger while doing nothing to help eradicate trafficking.

The most up-to-date study on the law in Sweden, released this week, concludes that there is no evidence that it has reduced demand, and that it has only made sex workers more isolated, vulnerable and afraid.

Jean said:

“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes there is, and eradicating it will take a serious response, drawing on the best evidence. This effort to piggyback a knee-jerk, moralising reaction onto vital human trafficking legislation is deeply unhelpful.

“The ‘Swedish model’ that the churches call for in their letter cannot demonstrate any success at all in reducing trafficking. What it does do is put sex workers at greater risk of violence and sexually transmitted infections, which is why sex workers and international health organisations alike oppose it.

“What would absolutely help protect both sex workers and migrant workers from coercion and mistreatment would be measures to guarantee their labour rights. The better supported and organised both groups are, the safer they will be and the easier it will be to detect and prosecute crimes like trafficking.”

“The Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, has offered to meet the authors of the letter to discuss the issue. I have written to him to ask that he also meet with sex workers themselves, as they are the people who have real experience of the situation and who will be those most at risk if the churches’ campaign were to succeed.”

Jean has been working with the sex-worker-led charity SCOT-PEP to understand the reality of sex work in Scotland, and press for changes that will genuinely protect sex workers. The co-chair of SCOT-PEP said earlier:

“If the Church of Scotland think that this law will reduce trafficking, they’ve been misinformed. The Swedish government cannot show a reduction in trafficking – but sex workers in Sweden are more vulnerable, isolated and afraid. The vast majority of trafficking happens into the agricultural industry and domestic service, and yet no one is recommending criminalising the purchase of groceries or the hiring of a cleaner. All migrant workers need their labour rights protected: that is what would genuinely fight exploitation, not more failed criminalisation that drives people away from support and services.”

Emma, a former sex worker, added:

“As a former sex worker living with HIV, I am saddened at this Church of Scotland call. In the 80s and 90s the Church were at the forefront of new approaches to harm reduction, drug use and HIV. They funded the work of Shiva, a street based sex work project. I always considered that they were our allies in a fight against HIV discrimination and violence, and we would love the opportunity to sit down with you and talk. These laws would put another generation of sex workers at risk of the violence, HIV and stigma that the church helped us climb out of”.

Jean to host cross-party summit on controversial women’s prison

Jean will convene a cross-party summit tomorrow to discuss the controversial proposal to build a new women’s prison at Inverkip Road in Greenock. Representatives of the Scottish Greens, the SNP, Labour and the Lib Dems have confirmed they will attend, along with concerned groups including Women For Independence, Engender, Howard League Scotland and Circle Scotland.

The female prison population has risen by 120% since 2000, despite conviction rates remaining stable. The Commission on Women Offenders, chaired by former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC, recommended that the existing women’s prison at HMP Cornton Vale be closed and replaced with “a smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public”, but the Inverkip Road proposal is for a 300-capacity prison, 70 places larger than Cornton Vale.

Jean said:

“We imprison far too many people in this country. Women offenders in particular are far less likely to represent any danger to the public, and locking them up is far more likely to cause harm to their families – possibly including increasing the likelihood of their children going on to offend.

“I believe the Scottish Government understands the need for better community sentencing and less incarceration. They should have the courage of their convictions and put their money into making community sentencing work, not building a dumping ground for women in case it doesn’t.

“I’m really encouraged that this will be a genuinely cross-party meeting, with every party except the Conservatives already confirmed. We will really benefit from the expertise and views of campaigners and experts from Women For Independence, Engender, the Howard League and Circle Scotland.

“I think everyone is in agreement in our aspirations for more effective, more compassionate handling of women offenders, so I’m hopeful for a really productive meeting that’s about working out how to get there rather than scoring political points.”

The meeting will be held on Thursday afternoon at a venue near the Scottish Parliament, so that attendees will not cross the picket line in support of the one-day strike action by the PCS union.

Thinking differently about the economy

Oxfam Humankind IndexTomorrow, the Parliament holds its first debate on the Scottish Government’s proposed budget for the coming year. Most of the MSPs’ speeches we’ll hear will be about specific taxes or expenditures, but I hope some will take the opportunity to question whether the prevailing economic strategy as a whole is the right one.

We got an insight into how Ministers think about the economy in a Government-led debate two weeks ago entitled “Boosting the Economy”. MSPs were discussing and voting on this motion by John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution & Economy:

Motion S4M-11993: John Swinney, Perthshire North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 06/01/2015

Boosting the Economy

That the Parliament welcomes the continued growth of Scotland’s economy and the fact that Scotland’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the UK; further welcomes the fact that, since 2007, Scottish exports have increased by a third, business research and development has risen by 29% and that the total number of registered businesses in Scotland has grown by 10%; agrees that delivering sustainable economic growth and addressing longstanding inequalities are reinforcing, and not competing, objectives, and welcomes the actions that the Scottish Government is taking to foster a supportive business environment, invest in infrastructure, support entrepreneurship, innovation and internationalisation, and to help to ensure that economic growth is characterised by income, regional and social equality.

I was hoping to speak in the debate, but I wasn’t called by the Presiding Officer – instead, here are some thoughts on what I think are two vital issues in creating an economy that works for ordinary people: small-business-friendly government procurement, and seeing past GDP figures to measure what really matters.

Human-scale government contracts

42% of private sector workers in Scotland are employed in firms with fewer than 50 employees, and that’s much higher in the Highlands and Islands:

  • Orkney: 72% (the highest in Scotland)
  • Eilean Siar: 64%
  • Shetland: 59%
  • Argyll & Bute: 57%
  • Highland: 50%
  • Moray: 48%

Small businesses are particularly essential if we’re serious about the ambitions in the last line of John’s motion. They have far lower wage inequality than big firms, and being locally-based means they don’t suck money out of regions like the Highlands and Islands and into their headquarters in Edinburgh, Glasgow, London or beyond.

Governments have sought to make public procurement contracts more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises, with varying success. But what is notable in these efforts, for example the Scottish Government’s Suppliers’ Charter, is that the focus is always on information and process, not on the contracts themselves.

Things like simplified tender processes and adequate advertising of tenders are very welcome, but don’t help much if the job can only reasonably be fulfilled by a large firm. It would be good to see a commitment to delivering more public spending through smaller-scale projects which smaller businesses are able to deliver. That means things like encouraging schools to serve locally-produced food instead of demanding massive bulk orders; or ordering new social housing in tenders of a few houses at a time, instead of massive estates of identikit boxes.

The energy sector has particularly low small-business involvement. Perhaps there was really no alternative to that when it was about oil-fired power stations or nuclear reactors. But our renewable future can and should have a huge contribution from community-scale clean energy facilities. There’s no reason to assume we have to replace giant corporately-owned nuclear power stations with nothing but giant corporately-owned windfarms.

In general, smaller projects have more opportunity for community involvement, provide more local jobs, and have a host of other social advantages over huge contacts. But they do require a bit more work on the part of the government. I think that extra effort is worth it.

Measuring what matters

John Swinney’s motion starts with the ‘growth’ of the economy. For the Scottish Government it is ‘growth’, measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that is the most important measure of economic success or failure. That’s not surprising, because that’s also the attitude of almost every other government in the world. But they’re all wrong.

GDP is a terrible indicator of whether the economy is doing its job, which is delivering the things that people want and need, from physical goods like food and shelter to social ones like security and community.

It measures only the size of monetary transactions in the economy, regardless of what the money was spent on. That means if all of a sudden the number of car crashes doubled, GDP would tell you things were going great – all those repair bills and new cars would ‘boost the economy’. But would people actually be happier, safer, better off?

And because it only measures the bits of the economy that run on money, it pays no attention to the value of the work done by carers, stay-at-home parents, grandparents who babysit or volunteers who run sports clubs – who are all benefiting the real wellbeing of Scots as much as any paid worker.

GDP was never intended to be used as the paramount measure of economic success. Its inventor, Simon Kuznets, recognised the shortcomings I’ve mentioned, and warned that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.”

I give credit to the Scottish Government for beginning to recognise more useful economic indicators, for example including them in the National Performance Framework. But the fact remains that these aren’t mentioned in John’s motion, while the GDP figures are the first clause.

Encouragingly, there are alternatives. Oxfam’s Humankind Index provides an excellent example of how we could measure the performance of the economy in terms of things that actually matter to people’s lives.

It’s difficult to imagine us achieving a country, in John’s words, “characterised by income, regional and social equality” until we make the clear decision that that equality, rather than an abstract and abused 1930s econometric, is the yardstick by which we judge our economic success or failure.

Free Chelsea Manning

Amnesty Write for Rights Chelsea Manning letter

Jean has written to President Barack Obama, requesting the release of Private Chelsea Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst that has been imprisoned for leaking information about the conduct of America’s wars, including the shocking and infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video.

Jean's letter asking Barack Obama to free Pvt Chelsea Manning.  Click to enlarge.
Jean’s letter asking Barack Obama to free Chelsea Manning.
Click to enlarge.
Jean was writing as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write For Rights campaign, which asks supporters to appeal to governments on behalf of twelve victims of human rights abuse, and to send Christmas cards or other messages of solidarity to the victims themselves.

You can support the call to free Pvt Manning by signing the petition on the Amnesty website, or by writing your own letter to:

President Barack Obama, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20500, USA.

You can send messages of support to:

Chelsea E Manning 89289, 1400 North Warehouse Road, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304, USA.

Jean’s letter reads:

Dear President Obama,

I am writing to ask that you grant clemency, and immediate release, to Pvt Chelsea Manning.

Pvt Manning has, courageously in my view, taken full responsibility for her actions. However, the court’s understanding of those actions has been skewed by the decision barring evidence that she acted in the public interest from being presented in her defence.

I am appalled by the conditions that Pvt Manning experienced in her imprisonment prior to trial. You will be aware that this treatment was described by senior military officials, including the judge in her trial, as being in breach of military standards, and that it was condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture as “at a minimum” cruel, inhuman and degrading.

In your election campaign, you promised to protect whistleblowers, describing the disclosure of material that reveals abuse in government as “acts of courage and patriotism” which can save lives. The severity of the treatment received by Pvt Manning not only conflicts with this pledge, it discourages other potential whistleblowers from coming forward; it is good news for corrupt officials and bad news for public confidence in government. You were right to make that promise; I urge you now to fulfil it.

Given these shortcomings in terms of due process and human rights displayed during Pvt Manning’s pre-trial detention and trial, and your election promise, I urge you to commute her sentence to the four-and-a-half years she has already served and release her immediately.

In Scotland, as in countries around the world, there is horror and anger at the human rights violations exposed by Pvt Manning, and in the recently-published Senate Intelligence Committee report. We feel particularly close to these abuses because they were committed in the prosecution of wars in which our servicemen fought alongside Americans, and because the CIA’s rendition programme appears to have used Scottish airports.

If America wishes to be seen even as part of the ‘free world’, it is essential that you urgently investigate the human rights abuses revealed by Pvt Manning and by the Senate report, and that you treat these not simply as historical events from which to move on, but as crimes to be prosecuted.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Urquhart MSP

Jean challenges anti-immigrant rhetoric

Jean is to question the new Cabinet on what they are doing to tackle the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes in Scotland.

She will put a question to the Scottish Government during a question time session at Holyrood, at 11.40am tomorrow. The Government will decide which Minister is best placed to answer, but it is likely that it will be answered by Alex Neil, whose new Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights brief gives him responsibility for equalities and human rights issues.

Jean will ask:

Question S4O-03758: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 19/11/2014 – To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle negative perceptions of immigration in Scotland.

After the Minister answers she will be entitled to ask a further ‘supplementary’ question.

Jean said:

“Scots are consistently more positive about migrants than the rest of the UK. For example, most Scots say immigration has been good for the country while most south of the border say it has been bad.

“And this week the Polish Consul General for Scotland, Dariusz Adler, said Poles find Scotland ‘more friendly’ than other parts of Britain, highlighting the Scottish Government’s positive attitude which is, he said, ‘exactly different from the approach of David Cameron’.

“There can be no doubt that people who have come from other countries to live and work in Scotland have made an enormous and essential contribution to Scotland’s economy and our rich culture.

“But there is a concerted political and media campaign to undermine our welcoming attitude, and it would be naïve to think Scots are entirely immune. Westminster politicians fall over each other to claim to be the toughest on immigrants, while newspapers scream misinformation and bigotry from the front pages.

“It’s hard not to see this as an effort by right-wing vested interests to deflect blame for economic problems away from the banks and governments who are actually responsible.

“Under this bombardment, even Scotland has now, for the first time, elected a UKIP MEP, though thankfully that noxious party remains a barely-relevant afterthought in Scottish politics.

“I am grateful that the SNP Government – unlike the Westminster parties – has always made the case for welcoming new Scots. But I want to explore what more can be done to push back against the tide of xenophobic rhetoric.”

Daily Express, Wednesday 26 November 2014. Headline reads: 'HIDDEN' MIGRANT MILLIONSJean has also written to the Scottish Daily Express, criticising their front-page description of Scots-born children of migrant parents as “hidden migrants”.

She wrote:

Dear Sir,

Yesterday’s front page screamed that children born in Scotland to migrant parents are ‘hidden’ from ‘official’ immigration figures.

They are not included in immigration figures because they are not immigrants. How hard is that to understand?
To single out some Scottish children, who are British citizens, and call them a problem because of where their parents are from is nothing but bigotry.

People from all over the world, and their descendants, have always made a huge contribution to our country.

The Express claims to be the ‘Voice of the new Scotland’. So why is it such a cheerleader for the campaign of fear and hate against new Scots?

Yours faithfully,

Jean Urquhart MSP
Ullapool

Jean is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, and recently highlighted the cultural contribution of new Scots in a Scottish Parliament motion congratulating the Mercury Prize-winning Young Fathers.

Congratulations to Scotland’s Mercury Prize winners, Young Fathers

Young Fathers
Young Fathers, photo by Sarah Nuehring

Jean has congratulated the hip-hop group Young Fathers, which was formed by Kayus Bankole, ‘G’ Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi in Edinburgh in 2008, on winning the 2014 Mercury Prize for their debut album, Dead. They are the first Scottish act to win the Mercury since Franz Ferdinand in 2004.

Jean, who is Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Culture, lodged a motion in the Parliament celebrating the trio’s success, and also recognising the enormous contribution that immigrant communities have made to Scottish arts and culture, today and throughout our history. Alloysious Massaquoi was born in Liberia, and Kayus Bankole was born in Scotland to Nigerian parents.

The motion, which has so far been co-signed by 11 other MSPs, reads:

Motion S4M-11362: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014
Congratulations to Young Fathers on Winning the 2014 Mercury Prize

That the Parliament congratulates Kayus Bankole, G Hastings and Alloysious Massaquoi of the Scottish hip-hop group, Young Fathers, on the group’s debut album, Dead, winning the 2014 Mercury Prize; believes that this win is indicative of the strength, innovation and diversity of Scottish popular music today; notes that Alloysious and the parents of Kayus were immigrants to Scotland, and celebrates the enormous and essential contribution that immigrants make to Scotland’s culture.

To watch the video for Get Up, from the Mercury Prize-winning Dead, click here.