By Steven Paterson, former MP for Stirling
The omnipresence of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in our politics is one of those things in life that must be endured, it seems.
I mean, every time one thinks this shallow character has finally shuffled off the political coil, he pops up once again on network news programmes like some oily car salesman, still somehow in business pushing his well-practiced pitch and damning the beastly European Union and the freedom of movement it brings for its citizens.
Perhaps as a society, we have just become inured to his grinning face beaming at us from television screens during an endless series of publicity stunts blaming overbearing Brussels bureaucrats for trying to ban bendy bananas and the likes to the extent that we’ll tolerate his view being necessary on any story on Brexit and taking back control of Britain’s borders.
Maybe it was last week’s embarrassing spectacle of Mr Farage slopping buckets of dead fish into the Thames outside the Westminster Parliament, ably assisted by Scottish Tory nitwit, Ross Thomson MP, which had stuck in my mind when I read about the latest exchanges on Scottish immigration at Parliament this week, however.
The comments in question came from Tory Immigration Minister Caroline Noakes, who was giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee as part of their enquiry on Immigration and Scotland, and they summed up rather too neatly the Tory attitude to both the committee and the country in whose interests it works.
Asked by the Committee’s SNP Chair, Pete Wishart, about immigration policy and whether it would not make more practical sense for the Scottish Government to exercise these powers in Scotland in order to address the specific problems facing Scotland, the Minister responded with a bored indifference that immigration is a reserved matter, and that’s all there is to it.
When pressed on whether it nonetheless made any sense in policy terms that this be the case, the obviously fed up Ms Noakes stated highhandedly that: “Immigration is a reserved matter, and we are not going to grant the ability to the Scottish Government that I might not also be minded to grant to Lincolnshire County Council.”
And there we have it yet again, I’m afraid. This is how Scotland’s devolved Government is viewed by the UK Government when its ministers can be bothered to articulate a view on it at all, that is. It illustrates a view I found commonplace amongst Tory MPs, even the ones prepared to listen to alternative viewpoints to the Westminster-centric worldview which so prevails in the place.
I recall talking to one young Tory MP at a social event after I’d spoken in a House of Commons debate on proposed boundary changes which would see Scotland lose 6 of its present 59 seats. I explained that the divergent rates of population growth between the south of England and Scotland were symptomatic of the need for different policies on immigration north and south of the border and that proposals to undermine Scottish representation in the House of Commons was actually clear evidence that current immigration policies were not working for Scotland.
And he completely understood and accepted the logic of the argument, before shrugging and saying: “We’re still not devolving immigration.”
It is patently obvious to many Tories inside and outside the Westminster Government that there is a compelling case for different immigration policy for Scotland. That’s not at issue. It’s just that they will nonetheless choose to be against the devolution of these powers under any circumstances for fear the Scottish Government makes a success of them and, god forbid, wants to exercise powers over even more of the big levers for the betterment of the people of Scotland, because that would diminish Westminster’s all-important status.
I fear that no matter how emphatically the Scottish Affairs Committee concludes that the UK Government’s immigration policy acts against Scotland’s interests, the only circumstance in which those powers will be exercised in Scotland for Scotland’s interests will be when the Scottish people take those powers for themselves. Meanwhile, the debate on immigration we will have presented in Parliament, on our screens and in (most of) our newspapers will be an entirely false one as regards Scotland, as it has been for decades.
What we can expect, though, is an immigration debate which is framed in a way that is irrelevant to Scotland, and largely by whatever new variety of offal is being churned out by Brexit’s most effective salesman, Nigel Farage.
Featured Image Nigel Farage by Michael Vadon, Licensed under CC-by SA2.0