Jean demands referendum votes for EU citizens

Jean Urquhart has written to the Prime Minister to demand that European Union citizens resident in the UK are permitted to vote in the forthcoming referendum on membership of the EU.

Jean was writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Poland, of which she’s the Convenor.

In her letter, Jean says that the proposed voting restrictions were “seen to be discriminatory” by the Cross-Party Group, and were “extraordinary” in the context of recent participation by Polish Scots in the independence referendum. The full text of the letter is below.

She wrote that it was “absurd that … Poles and other EU citizens were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.”

Jean said:

“We are proud that citizens of every EU nation have chosen to make Scotland their home. A Scot from Warsaw is just as much a part of our community and our country as one from Wishaw, and we all have a right to our say on Scotland’s future in Europe.

“The Conservative government’s plan to deny EU citizens a vote in the referendum smacks of the same kind of xenophobic nationalism that inspired their referendum pledge in the first place.

“It is ironic that the Conservatives used scare stories about EU membership to try to persuade EU Scots to vote No just a few months ago, but now want to prevent the very same voters from having a direct say on the very same issue.

Ms Urquhart also urged the Prime Minister to grant 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote on the issue:

“16- and 17-year-olds proved during the referendum that they can engage with big political issues with intelligence and enthusiasm. Next week, they will finally get the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local council elections. There’s no longer any excuse for refusing 16- and 17-year-olds full voting rights.

“Our future in Europe is a decision for the whole country. I’m calling on David Cameron to amend the EU Referendum Bill to recognise the right of 16- and 17-year olds and UK-resident EU citizens to be part of that decision.”

Jean’s letter to the Prime Minister:

Dear Mr Cameron,

European Union Membership Referendum

I am writing on behalf of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Poland, which I convene, regarding the recently announced voting criteria for the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Members of the CPG are dismayed by the decision to restrict voting to only those who would qualify to vote in UK Parliamentary elections. The membership of the group is diverse – it includes not only Polish nationals, but the descendants of Polish nationals and other individuals who have an active interest in Poland – but the proposals have outraged the group.

The proposal to adopt the same rules for voting in the EU Referendum to those used for UK Parliamentary elections are seen to be discriminatory. There are thousands of people who are resident and paying taxes in this country who will be denied their right to determine the future of the country they live in – it’s the worst possible demonstration of ‘taxation without representation’, something which has no place in a modern Britain.

The referendum is, crucially, not the same as a UK Parliamentary election and as such, there is no precedent for restricting voting in this way. It is a unique opportunity for the people who live – and pay tax – in the UK to make a collective and direct decision about the UK’s future in Europe. Why would you deny European Union citizens the right to vote on the future of their country of residence, especially when it has a direct impact on their home country and their own residential status? Especially when one considers that EU citizens can vote in Britain in EU elections, but are now being denied a say on the future of that very institution.

In a Scottish context, the proposal is extraordinary given that EU citizens were able to vote in last year’s referendum. It seems to the group that it is absurd that many of the members – and of course many other Poles and other EU citizens – were able to vote on the biggest constitutional issue facing Scotland and the UK since 1707 but are being denied the right to determine another constitutional question just a matter of months later.

We write to urge you, and the members of your Cabinet, to rethink the voting strategy. Excluding EU citizens from this vote fails to recognise not only the diversity of the British population, but also the contribution EU tax payers make to our economy. It flies in the face of recent precedent on the determination of constitutional issues and ignores the fundamental right of a taxpayer to have a right to be represented within a democracy.

We hope that you will reconsider your position on this matter and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Urquhart MSP

Letter in the Guardian: Labour rights are the key to sex workers’ safety

Jean’s letter in the Guardian newspaper last week, responding to the campaign to criminalise the purchase of sex, a move which sex workers say would make them less safe:

Former police officer Alan Caton celebrates the criminalisation of the purchase of sex in Northern Ireland and suggests that crackdowns make sex workers safer (Letters, 1 June). However, sex workers themselves tell us the exact opposite. When the highly successful tolerance zones for street prostitution were abolished in Edinburgh, for example, sex workers reported a 95% increase in violence over 12 months.

Mr Caton further proposes criminalisation of clients as a solution to trafficking; it is hard to understand how he believes threatening the key witnesses to trafficking and coercion – the clients – with a sex-crime record if they come forward would help with investigating and prosecuting this awful crime.

There is little evidence that the criminalisation of clients even achieves its proponents’ aim of reducing demand for sex work. Following criminalisation in Sweden, police themselves have observed a sharp increase in massage parlours in Stockholm – from 90 in 2009 to 250 in 2013.

What sex workers tell us would actually protect them would be to ensure their labour rights, including the right to work in a shared premises, to eliminate stigma and discrimination against sex workers, and to decriminalise sex work.

Jean Urquhart MSP
Independent, Highlands and Islands

To find out more about issues affecting sex workers and read sex workers’ own views, visit SCOT-PEP and the Sex Worker Open University.

Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
Charles Kennedy with Jean Urquhart (2nd from right) at Ullapool Primary School, 1983

I was so sad to learn of the death of Charles Kennedy this morning. Immediately I thought back to the general election of 1983 and his surprise victory over Conservative and Unionist MP, Hamish Gray, to the electors’ delight it has to be said. I did stand against him myself in the 2001 General Election and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There was genuine camaraderie with all of the candidates, and little or none of the party political dislike or outright hatred that happened in some parts; maybe it was a Highlands and Islands thing. Whatever, I’m sure the other candidates would agree, Charlie was a pleasure to oppose!

Charles Kennedy at Ullapool Primary School, 1983
A very early public engagement for the new MP in 1983 was formally opening and speaking at an exhibition about educational opportunities held in Ullapool Primary School. The photographs remind us of how young he was; memory recalls how passionate about education he was.

Charlie belonged to the West Highlands and for many years the West Highlands belonged to him.

When the symptoms of his illness became more and more overt, most folk understood and recognised the problem; it never diminished their like of Charlie Kennedy, the man. His premature death will be felt by many and all of our sympathy is with his family for whom this will be especially hard to bear.

Why I voted for the Assisted Suicide Bill

Logo of "My Life, My Death, My Choice," the campaign for the Assisted Suicide Bill.Yesterday the Scottish Parliament debated the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which had originally been brought by our much-missed colleague Margo MacDonald and was taken on by Green MSP Patrick Harvie after she died last year. After much thought, I voted in favour of the bill, but it was defeated by 82 votes to 36 (you can find out how your other MSPs voted here).

I am very grateful to the many constituents who have contacted me about assisted suicide over the past months, both in support of and in opposition to the Bill. This is an extremely personal issue and many of those who have been in touch have been directly affected by difficult end-of-life situations. I considered my vote very carefully, and the views and experiences of everyone who has been in touch have been invaluable.

My own personal experience is of an elderly family member who, I know, suffered beyond human endurance and was longing to be relieved of pain. She was in a hospice in the last few days of her life, living from one shot of morphine to the next. There was nothing more that could be done for her, and I have never forgotten how I felt so completely useless; she was ready to die and no-one would, or could, let her.

If I was in a similar position, I would have sought help to end my life. I find it very hard to justify a situation where that help is withheld from people who desperately need it.

As Margo MacDonald herself said, we have learned a great deal about how to create the right safeguards since she first presented the Bill in 2010. The revised bill had very robust measures to ensure patients would get proper medical advice and could not be pressured into a decision by family.

Under Margo and Patrick’s proposals, the individual would have had to gain the consent of two separate doctors. Nurses and doctors who had been previously involved in the individuals’ care would also be excluded from the process of witnessing any declarations required in the process. Family members, and anyone who would benefit financially from the individual’s will, would also have been excluded from acting in the process.

I believe that these measures would prevent individuals from being pressurised by others and would ensure that the choice lies with the individual, and the individual alone.

For all these reasons, I believe legalising assistance to die remains the just and compassionate thing to do.

With a majority of Scots in favour of change, clearly we still have a lot to discuss. I had hoped that MSPs who had reservations might voted to allow the deliberations on the bill to continue, even if they expected to vote against it in the end. But although this particular bill won’t go any further, I would be very surprised if it’s the last time the issue comes before the Scottish Parliament.

You can watch the debate and read my speech below. My contribution begins at 2:22:40 on the video, and the transcript of the full debate is available on the Scottish Parliament website.

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

This Parliament has never shirked its responsibility in dealing with a number of controversial subjects that have brought about societal change. In bringing them to this chamber we hear many differing and often strong opinions, which inform and allow for the best kind of debate. As other members have done, I thank the many individuals, organisations and groups who took the time to articulate their reasons for offering their support for or objections to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

I will support the motion today for various reasons. I have listened to the different contributions to this debate, all of which have been very considered and many of which have been quite powerful. My instinct is that there should be a bill of this nature. I must set aside my reasons for that and join with those who are asking for the bill to be passed, even though their instinct is that it should not, or that it should not come into law.

Agreeing the general principles of the bill today will allow for greater debate and perhaps for more public involvement in what is, for most of us, an issue about which we feel strongly. It is really not an issue that we can be uncertain about in the end, as it were, if you will excuse the pun, Presiding Officer.

My main reasons for supporting the bill are, first, for the want of choice and fairness, secondly, as an act of human kindness and compassion, and thirdly, out of respect for any individual and his or her needs and beliefs. I, too, spoke to Margo MacDonald at some length about her bill, and I am pleased to have heard her name checked so often today, because she is synonymous with the bill and her desire was to see it become law.

To an extent, the bill as drafted may still be far from perfect, and what is clear from the Health and Sport Committee report is that there are still many questions to be answered and many details to be clearly articulated and understood by everyone. On such an important issue, the devil really will be in the detail. However, I believe that all of that can and should happen.

The right of an individual to be released from life at their own request should be acknowledged as their choice, and they should be supported. It would appear that the majority of people in Scotland, if we are to believe recent reports in journals and newspapers, now broadly agree that it is a matter of choice.

Scotland has an ageing population, many of whom will suffer degenerative conditions. The debate about the quality of life and how we can live it will continue for years to come. Meantime, anyone who out of compassion and love wants to help a friend or relative to die will remain open to prosecution, and inevitably more and more people who can afford to do so will travel abroad in order to have their wishes met. That cannot be right.

I acknowledge the views of those who are of a religious faith — I am not — and they do appear, judging by my mailbox, to be the largest group opposing the bill. They have their reasons for doing so, and I can respect that. They would never consider using the permissions that the bill would allow, and that is their right, but I would ask that they respect those of a different belief. It would be very wrong if the bill were to fail today on any religious grounds.

The problem will not go away, but rather will increase, and therefore the bill is timely. There is a strong feeling across the country, I believe, that recognises that and supports the generality of the bill.

Every contribution in the chamber today has been interesting, thoughtful and considered, and the Parliament is surely here to allow the debate to continue and not to shut it down prematurely. Please, let us not shut down this important debate. I urge members to support the motion.

Jean condemns Carmichael

Jean has this afternoon condemned Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael for failing to admit to his responsibility for the now infamous leaked ‘memo’ which falsely accused First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of favouring David Cameron to be Prime Minister.

The false memo was leaked following a meeting between the Scottish First Minister and the French Ambassador. Both Ms Sturgeon and the Ambassador rejected the memo’s version of events, which said Ms Sturgeon would prefer a government led by David Cameron and stated that she did not think Ed Milliband was ‘of prime minister material’.

The memo was later found to have been leaked by the Scottish Office during the election campaign – when the Government was in purdah. Speaking at the time, the then-Scottish Secretary Mr Carmichael dismissed the leak, saying ‘These things happen from time to time.’

His admission this afternoon comes after an official Cabinet Office inquiry found that Mr Carmichael’s adviser leaked the document under direction from the Scottish Secretary.

Speaking from Shetland following Mr Carmichael’s statement, in which he described the matter as an ‘error of judgement’, Jean said:

“Mr Carmichael’s actions go far beyond a simple ‘error of judgement’ – this was a calculated and deeply cynical attempt to undermine the integrity of Scotland’s First Minister during the election campaign.

It was a deliberate attack on a fellow politician and this incident seriously calls into question Mr Carmichael’s fitness to continue as MP for Orkney and Shetland.

Politics is all about best judgement and integrity, and he has failed his constituents on both counts – by leaking the memo in the first place, and then by delaying his admission of guilt until after the election. Mr Carmichael is the Liberal Democrats’ ‘last man standing’ in Scotland – but only as a result of intentionally deceiving them about his role in this under-handed attempt to undermine Nicola Sturgeon.

Working in Shetland this afternoon I have spoken to a number of residents, and they are shocked and appalled by Mr Carmichael’s behaviour.

He has said he considers that this would be a matter which, had he still been in cabinet, would have required his resignation as a Minister. In my view, had Mr Carmichael continued to be part of the government post-election, this may never have come to light. It is exactly this kind of cover up in so many aspects of the Westminster bubble that the majority of the people of Shetland and Scotland voted against.

It is incredible that he believes he can continue to represent the constituents he has openly misled.”

Jean condemns Cameron’s draconian and unjust immigration plans

Jean launching her Not My Xenophobia campaign with Glasgow Girls campaigner Roza Salih and Scottish Greens co-convenor Maggie Chapman
Jean launching her Not My Xenophobia campaign with Glasgow Girls campaigner Roza Salih and Scottish Greens co-convenor Maggie Chapman
Jean Urquhart has spoken out against the radical anti-immigration plans announced by David Cameron this morning, and pledged to investigate ways the Scottish Parliament could resist some of the proposals.

In a speech at the Home Office, Cameron said the Queen’s Speech next week would include measures to create a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ and confiscate the wages of undocumented migrants, adopt what he called a “deport-first-appeal-later” approach to immigration appeals, and make landlords and banks investigate the immigration status of tenants and customers.

Jean said:

“Cameron’s speech this morning scapegoated migrants, then used that as a pretext for shockingly draconian and unjust proposals. It’s hard to put it any more succinctly than the Sky reporter who summarised Cameron’s message to migrants as: ‘we are going to treat you like criminals.’

“His plan for a criminal offence of ‘illegal working’ is nothing less than a back-door way of criminalising undocumented migrants. If undocumented migrants working in our businesses and contributing to our economy really was the problem he claims, he would punish the employers, not the migrants.

“From Legal Aid cuts to employment tribunal charges, the Conservatives in government have made a concerted assault on access to justice and today’s speech continued that effort. His plan to deport undocumented migrants without appeal, forcing them to attempt to appeal remotely from another country, radically reduces the chance of a fair hearing.

“Cameron’s plan to turn landlords into immigration officers by making them investigate their tenants, and to automatically cancel tenancies when visas expire, seems to cross the line from immigration policy to housing policy – which is a devolved matter. So I will be looking into what the Scottish Parliament can do to protect our migrant tenants from suffering this intrusion and threat of homelessness.

“I’m hugely grateful to all those who have already taken part in the #notmyxenophobia campaign online by calling out anti-immigrant attitudes in politics and the media. This renewed attack on migrants makes it all the more important that refuse to be quiet in the face of xenophobia.”

Jean launched Not My Xenophobia in March, inviting 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. You can take part in the campaign by sharing any examples of bigotry and xenophobia on Twitter with the hashtag #notmyxenophobia, or on the campaign’s Facebook page, or by emailing jean@notmyxenophobia.scot.

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.