Gary Christie from the Scottish Refugee Council explores some of the attitudes that have led Scotland to turn to UKIP
“It’s a thing that worries me and I think voting for a party like UKIP is the only way to get people like myself’s view across,”says Jim from Dunoon about immigration on a radio chat show the morning after it is announced that UKIP gained enough votes to win Scotland’s sixth seat in the European Parliament.
I am a bit taken aback at first by the caller’s concerns and reasoning. Dunoon? Mass migration?
Analysis of census data in Scotland published this week shows Scotland’s ethnic diversity increased significantly between 2001 and 2011 due to immigration and young migrants having families. Despite this, minority ethnic groups still only represent 4% of our population in Scotland.
In Scotland 16% of people, that's 850,0000, now say they are not white Scottish. Nearly half of this number, however, are those that describe themselves as white other British and most of those were born in England.
The reality is that immigration and asylum has become a touchstone issue for many different social ills
The diversity increase is spread across all but nine of the Scotland's 353 council wards. The main two areas that buck the trend are in Moray and Jim's own Argyll and Bute, where there has been a drop in population diversity due in large part to reductions in military personnel.
In Dunoon the American migrants departed long ago taking with them the vital contribution they made to the local economy. I suspect, though, these are not the immigrants Jim is thinking about.
But Jim is not alone in Scotland with his concerns. Conflation about different migrant categories abound. When asked in a recent survey who they thought immigrants were, 7 out of 10 Scots said refugees or asylum seekers. This is not surprising because while those seeking protection in Scotland make up the smallest group of new Scots, they have disproportionately featured in the sensationalist headlines of the Daily Mail and other newspapers over the last 15 years.
So what else is driving these attitudes on immigration? Well it is not objective evidence for one thing. Research, such as a recent report from the National Institute of Social and Economic Research, continues to makes the case for the need for immigration in terms of economic growth, productivity, and tax revenues – all critically important in the wider socio-economic backdrop of our aging population in Scotland.
Arguments highlighting the contribution EU migrants make to the UK economy fall on deaf ears. We are living through tough times of austerity and insecurity and many people are feel threatened and fearful.
For some, our society has changed too fast and they feel disenfranchised and left behind. These are genuine concerns.
The reality is that immigration and asylum has become a touchstone issue for many different social ills.
There will always be those, such as UKIP, who manipulate people’s insecurities for their own political gain and proffer simplistic solutions including the myth that immigrants are to blame. They do this because its easier than tackling the complex underlying problems of employment, the economy and housing. The worry is that these messages, wrong as they are, find resonance with voters.
Mainstream politicians need to engage with those who hold these attitudes rather than pandering to them, or else we may find this result is just the start and we'll all end up "doon the water" without a paddle.
Gary Christie is acting chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council.