John’s Speech on Celebrating Scotland’s Diversity

On behalf of the independent and Green group, I thank members for their contributions to the debate, which has, as many have said, been consensual and constructive. I also thank the Scottish Refugee Council for the briefing that it provided, in which it referred to the “politically and ideologically charged terrain of identity and immigration” that we have been discussing.

My colleague Jean Urquhart opened the debate by talking about the “transnational mobilisation of cultures and peoples”, and the cabinet secretary picked up the same point in his closing speech. It was ever thus. There has always been movement, and the debate has been about the tone of public discussion on immigration and whether that has contributed to the hostility and fear that exist towards sections of our immigrant community.

Jean Urquhart and many other members made a very positive case for immigration. I do not think that that is a bold case. It should be the default position that we welcome people.

I am grateful that the cabinet secretary spoke in the debate. He talked about sending a loud and clear message, and I think that the Scottish Government has, by participating in the debate in the manner in which it has done, sent a very strong message that is welcomed by members in this part of the chamber and, I am sure, on all sides.

The cabinet secretary used the term “mongrel nation”, which has featured in a number of speeches in today’s debate, and he spoke about diversity as a strength. We certainly see diversity as a strength. It would, as one member said—I will come to his contribution in a moment—be a boring world if we were all the same.

The cabinet secretary also spoke about diversity continuing to evolve, which is correct. He name-checked the not my xenophobia campaign that my colleague Jean Urquhart launched yesterday. I thank everyone for their support for the campaign, which is very welcome.

Ken Macintosh represented the Scottish Labour Party at the campaign launch yesterday, and we are grateful to him for that. He spoke today about political leadership, which was displayed yesterday and today. He spoke about the use of language and how important that is, and about his concern that things are perhaps going backwards. He spoke about racist incidents but, significantly, he also brought some facts into the equation. I cannot remember the detail, but he spoke about the amount of tax paid by immigrants relative to benefits claimed, the facts of which are very much contrary to the perception that is held by some and portrayed by others.

I am grateful to Liz Smith and the Scottish Conservative Party. She quoted a very nice phrase about the beauty and strength of diversity, which I think we would all recognise. She also spoke about the importance of education, which has been a recurring theme throughout the debate, and the requirement for us to understand the facts, which mean that we should be welcoming people.

We heard from Bruce Crawford—it was indeed he who said that it would be boring if we were all the same. We certainly sensed his pain when he related an unpleasant incident that he had been witness to in his constituency; that is the shameful face that we do not want to see.

We heard from Hanzala Malik, who spoke about his 40 years working in diversity. I loved his reference to Humza Yousaf as a fellow Glaswegian, because that is the obvious identity that he shares with his colleague. He spoke about real poverty, and finished by mentioning the need to protect, love and support. That is terribly important. People may be uncomfortable using those words, but they are precisely the terms that we should be using.

Rob Gibson spoke about the phrase “peoples of Scotland”, and how it had once featured in an amendment. The amendment was in fact lodged by a young Jean Urquhart, and that is indeed an important phrase. He also quoted Professor Tom Devine, as did other members, and he mentioned Philomena de Lima. I know Philomena, who is an academic at the University of the Highlands and Islands and who has done a lot of research. She has made important points about the “host community”.

I look forward to hearing Christian Allard speaking French on BBC Alba, which will be worth listening to. He talked about the need for regular debate, and there certainly is a need for that.

I will make passing mention of something that has not been mentioned in the debate so far, which is the reports of a hunger strike inside Dungavel. That is certainly alarming to me, and I hope that members will follow the Scottish Trades Union Congress and demand access to the centre to visit the detainees. That is of concern.

It is evident from what we have heard that the Parliament thinks that we should celebrate diversity. There has been wide recognition that negative attitudes are expressed. I wonder whether it is a chicken-and-egg situation and whether the media coverage has been driven by the politicians or the politicians are responding to the media coverage. We know that those who demonise immigrants choose their words carefully and are wary of falling foul of the legislation that they would like to abolish.

We have all agreed that there has been a positive contribution. I believe that there is such a thing as society, and I think that Scotland is much the better because of its rich mix of peoples and cultures. The same cannot be said of some of the lurid headlines. I will not do them credit by repeating them, but it is important that we do not become complacent. The evidence on the way that communities treat the Gypsy Traveller community shows that there is no opportunity for us to be lax in how we react to the issue.

On the Government’s amendment, the EU process pretty much determines who five of the six Scottish members of the European Parliament will be. Scotland had the opportunity to elect a highly talented immigrant woman from Africa as the sixth representative: the Scottish Green Party’s Maggie Chapman. Instead, Scotland chose an ignorant individual, who has been mentioned. In the meantime at least, Scotland will have to live with the embarrassment of being represented in Brussels by a party that I am not alone in considering to be racist. The strapline for Maggie Chapman’s campaign was:

“For a just and welcoming Scotland”.

The contrast could not be starker.

I thank the Labour Party for its amendment. As I sit on the Justice Committee, which is dealing with the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill, I am aware of the levels of exploitation and of that fact that it applies equally to people who have not been trafficked. A recurring theme in the evidence to the committee has been the pre-eminence of immigration matters in the decision-making process. Again, I wonder whether that is being driven by the political agenda.

As has frequently been mentioned, language is terribly important. For example, many people who have been trafficked and involved in the production of drugs are referred to as “the accused”, when they are witnesses. The reporting of things is terribly important, which is why I raised with the UK Border Agency the way in which it portrayed its raids. I asked why, when it made high-profile raids but the people who were arrested were subsequently found to be innocent of the charges, it did not change its website. The UKBA told me that, because it did not release individuals’ names, there was no detriment and that it did not envisage a situation in which an update would be required. Of course, the detriment comes from the negative associations and stereotypes, which I think are very unfortunate.

I will finish by talking about the Highlands, which are a much richer place culturally than they were when I was young. As many members have said, our health and care services would collapse without immigrants. The concept of citizenship has been touched on, and rights and responsibilities go with that. Scotland’s demographics show that we need immigration. The people and music of the Highlands are the way I like them—we have a very rich mix. To the Spanish people who I am told are invading Inverness, I say one thing: fàilte a h-uile duine—you are all very welcome. Scotland’s landscape is beautiful. I looked up the term “belonging” and found the lovely quote that it is being “part of the landscape, like a tree.” I like trees and forests. Let us reject negative attitudes and celebrate our diversity. Let us be that just and welcoming Scotland.