Rhoda's speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

15 November 2017

Migration is a good thing. People need the freedom to move about and seek a better life for themselves.

It is crucial that we create opportunities for young people, to stop outward emigration and to encourage inward migration.

In the Highlands and Islands, we have a history of emigration.

Our history tells us of the clearances, when people were forced off the land that they worked, to increase the wealth of the landowning classes.

People who could afford to leave did so, emigrating in large numbers to Canada, America and New Zealand, and taking with them their wealth and their entrepreneurial spirit.

Those people were economic migrants, who sought a better life for themselves and their families.

The economy of the Highlands and Islands still suffers from their loss, and because of that, emigration continues.

Our young people leave, seeking better opportunities, because our economy has never fully recovered.

Vibrant economies depend on people, so depopulation creates a downward spiral, which needs to be stopped.

Only with people can we build economies that will provide our young people with the bright future that will persuade them to stay.

We urgently need to address depopulation, because inward migration is an economic necessity.

EU nationals tend to be young and ready to put down roots and start families—the very people our communities are crying out for.

Many of the business sectors that are most prevalent across the Highlands and Islands are heavily reliant on migrant workers, whether for trawler crews or farm labourers.

There is also a need for seasonal migrants for the fruit-picking and summer tourism industries, which have long used international migrants to power the economies of otherwise vulnerable rural areas.

Although we recognise the need for inward migration, we must acknowledge that other parts of the UK do not need it.

That is why we need to have different migration policies in different parts of the UK.

Northern England and many parts of Scotland need inward migration, and we need to be able to put in place policies and rules that are different in order to suit the whole country.

The fact that 5 per cent of Scotland’s workforce is made up of EU nationals means that they are crucial to our economy, but that is also true of people from other parts of the world.

I was told by hospitality businesses in the Western Isles that they are facing great difficulty in recruiting staff.

They are becoming more dependent on students who are home for holidays, but once those young people return to university, they are having to close their businesses, despite there still being many tourists around.

As well as being a direct loss to those businesses, that represents a loss to the local economy.

At the same time, I overheard tourists complaining about the number of places that had been closed and the impact that that was having on their holiday.

We need to build up the hospitality industry by giving visitors a good experience, because if they have a bad experience, they will not come back again.

That being the case, I am surprised that we have had a number of high-profile cases in the Highlands and Islands in which foreign nationals—I am not talking about EU citizens—have been told to go home, despite the fact that they are making an important contribution to the economy.

Some of the people who are being asked to leave are playing a crucial role in areas that are suffering from depopulation.

New Zealand faces a similar problem, in that its young people want to leave and it needs to encourage others to inward migrate.

The New Zealand authorities spend much more time attracting people and supporting them when they arrive.

They put them in touch with other families, who buddy them for years.

That works as a way of attracting people to areas where they are most needed.

Brexit will impact on how people view the UK.

Even if we give them the security that they need in order to stay, the backdrop of the uncertainty that has been caused by Brexit will put people off coming here.

The RCN has said that there has been a 96 per cent drop in the number of nurses from EU countries coming to the UK, and we hear that almost a fifth of our EU doctors have made plans to leave the UK.

Our rural health boards are struggling to fill posts, and a huge amount of public money is being wasted backfilling those posts with expensive locums.

Surely common sense needs to prevail to ensure that we are as welcoming as possible to people from other countries in order to fill our skills gaps.

We need to learn from countries that encourage inward migration and do it well.

I have mentioned New Zealand, but we must also look at Australia, which appears to be attracting a high number of newly qualified doctors from the UK.

Why is that?

Many of the posts in question are based in areas that make our remote rural practices appear urban.

What is Australia offering our new recruits that we are not?

It might be offering them less pressure and more time for career development. If that is the case, we must find ways of replicating that to make our posts more attractive to our home-grown talent and to people from abroad.

We must also look at quality of life, which is crucial for keeping our young people and for providing an attractive destination for those whose skills we need.

It is clear that we need inward migration.

Rather than pick a fight with the rest of the UK, we must understand the needs and fears of people in the rest of the UK and make them understand ours.

The Labour Party has pushed for a constitutional convention to look at how the differing needs of the UK can be met within the devolved structures.

It is important to this island that we make the best of the strength that binds us while recognising and celebrating our differences.

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