Last Wednesday’s debate on our Rural Visa Pilot Scheme for Scotland is one that unites parties across the Holyrood chamber, but is an issue on which the UK Government has been obstructively silent on for a year now.
I welcomed the opportunity, in my role as Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, to close the debate and highlight once again that the UK Government needs to do more to enable vital sectors of our rural economy to be supported to thrive.
The sustainability of rural Highlands and Islands communities is vital to Scotland’s future, and it was no coincidence that it was mainly representatives from the region who contributed. We all want to see a Scotland in which everyone can play a full part in society, with empowered communities that are able to shape their individual and collective futures.
During my summer recess visits, I heard about housing, transport, and connectivity solutions that are driven by the community and supported by the Scottish Government. We are committed to supporting locally tailored solutions across all policy areas, and we cannot ignore the important role of migration.
The recently released census data shows us that Scotland is in a different position from other countries in the UK: we are looking at a potential population decrease in the next decade. All of Scotland’s future population growth is projected to come from migration, so, any reduction in migration will impact on the size of the working population. We need a solution that meets Scotland’s needs and allows our communities and economy to flourish – current UK immigration policy does not reflect the needs of Scotland’s communities, including those in rural and island areas.
In a week of contrasting views being given about folk coming here from other countries, I was pleased to be part of that positive debate in Holyrood, and disgusted by the UK Home Secretary’s dangerous comments about asylum seekers and refugees, seeking to create a hostile environment that impacts not only migrants but the wider LGBTQ community and people of colour.
The UK Government continues to blatantly ignore calls from businesses to open appropriate migration routes for vital workers to come to Scotland, in favour of stoking tension and discrimination. The UK’s immigration fees are some of the most expensive in the world. The Scottish Government has called several times for them to be reduced, because they create an insurmountable barrier for workers and employers. The position is not sustainable.
The SNP’s rural visa pilot proposal importantly includes a route towards long-term eventual settlement for migrants. Yet despite widespread support across Scotland, there has been no substantial engagement from the Home Office. The UK Government needs to engage meaningfully and agree to deliver a pilot scheme in collaboration with the Scottish Government, key local partners and communities. It will be crucial in helping rural Scotland reverse population decline and ensure that there is a viable future that enriches our communities and ensures that our economy can grow.
This is a regular column by Emma Roddick SNP MSP. All Highlands and Islands MSPs have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.