Can Scotland develop a positive approach to migration?

By Simon Barrow
August 17, 2013

Today (Saturday 17 August) two events of great significance for the future of Scotland as a welcoming society coincide, both in Edinburgh.

In the morning, the so-called Scottish Defence League, a clone of the EDL down south, go on the march – with many people mobilising against them to say that racism, xenophobia and fear of 'the other' should have no part in a present or future Scotland, whichever way the independence referendum goes.

Meanwhile, in the afternoon, as part of Just Festival 2013, the provocatively entitled conversation 'YES/NO Immigrants' takes place at St John's Church Hall (corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road, 2-3.30pm, £5).

The title recognises the polarised nature of the 'debate' in immigration which has been taking place in the UK for some time now, but will, I am sure adopt a different and much more positive tenor.

Indeed, the way migrants of all kinds are portrayed in the Westminster parliament, in the media and especially in tabloid newspapers in Britain, is little short of poisonous at times. The 'debate' is toxic and fearful.

Scotland, of course, has its own problems with sectarianism and xenophobia, but as UKIP leader Nigel Farage found out not so long ago, when he visited the Scottish capital, the anti-immigrant message is one most Scots reject, and the overall political conversation here has been rather more positive, it seems.

Nonetheless, the way migrants are treated and mistreated remains a key issue that NGOs, churches and other civil society groups, as well as the Scottish government, are concerned about.

There could be choppy waters ahead, however. In recent years, the country has needed to welcome people from different parts of the world here for economic and social reasons. But that does not mean that the forces of rejection and the tendency to blame the 'outsider' are not present and do not need to be faced and handled.

Becoming a welcoming society with a positive attitude to the mix and flow of people from a variety of backgrounds does not happen automatically or by default. It needs proactive, concerted action.

These and other issues and questions are bound to come up this afternoon. So, how will an increasing rate of immigration into Scotland play out in the developing Scottish Independence Referendum discussion?

Can Scotland develop positive policies and outlooks on this question, whichever way the vote goes in September 2014? And what of the living conditions, economic and social / cultural contributions and aspirations of those coming to the country, both on a temporary basis and more long-term?

The speakers tackling these concerns will be Hanzala Malik MSP, Pat Elsmie (Migrants' Rights Scotland), Fiaz Khan (Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations Scotland), and Jon Busby and Joyce Juma Phiri (the Welcoming Association). The chair will be Denboba K. Natie (LINKNet).

The sponsors of the event all do vital ongoing work.

Migrants' Rights Scotland (http://migrantsrightsscotland.org.uk) works alongside migrants and their community organisations (MCOs) for a rights-based approach to migration, supporting their engagement in developing the policies and procedures which affect their lives in Scotland and in the UK.

Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations Scotland (CEMVO) was set up in April 2003, with the aim of building the capacity of Scotland's minority ethnic voluntary and community sector. CEMVO Scotland (http://www.cemvoscotland.org.uk) is a strategic partner of the Scottish Government with a network of over 600 ethnic minority voluntary sector organisations and community groups throughout the country.

The Welcoming project (http://thewelcoming.btck.co.uk/) brings together refugees, asylum seekers and people from Scottish and local minority ethnic communities.

The aim is to welcome newcomers, learn together and improve English language and literacy skills.

The project supports new migrants to get to know the local culture through outings, music, drama, visual arts and talks. There are visits from service providers in law, housing, employment and education.

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church, Edinburgh, and some 27 other occasional venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films, exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* Full booking details for the migration discussion here (http://tinyurl.com/n3hz2fq), or buy a ticket at the cash box office at the venue.

* For more information on Just Festival, visit http://www.justjust.org and http://justfestivalnews.blogspot.com

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at: www.ekklesia.co.uk/justfestival

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for Just Festival. He is a strong advocate of migrants' rights.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.