Wednesday, 6 March 2013


The rise of UKIP, highlighted again in the Eastleigh by election result last week, puts the issue of immigration centre stage in British politics once more and reminds me of the conclusion reached by Sir Bob Worcester in his detailed study of the 2010 British General Election. Worcester found that immigration had been the 2nd most important factor in determining how voters had cast their ballots after the economy. I remember thinking how worrying that conclusion was for the left because the issue is almost entirely driven by the far right.

Whilst many disaffected Tory voters in Eastleigh cited their opposition to Cameron’s views on same sex marriage and wind turbines for changing their mind this time it is also clear their other main attraction in Nigel Farage’s party is his policies on the EU and immigration.

I firmly believe it is high time the left took the fight to the right on immigration and exposed the xenophobic reaction that UKIP espouse on this issue. Whilst Farage ludicrously claimed ‘5 million Bulgarian’s are about to descend on Britain’ as part of his Eastleigh election message the fact is of course that his views are not far removed from the Tories, Lib Dems and perhaps most shamefully of all from Labour.

The left on the other hand has a powerful message on immigration, one that can, if articulated effectively, neutralise the pernicious influence of the far right in the minds of working class voters. And the essence of our case is that those immigrants who come here actually make this country richer and stronger by doing so. The real tragedy of immigration is, by the same token, that they make their old homeland that bit poorer. It stands to reason then when you think of it that these new immigrants bring their skills, talents and energies with them and put them at the disposal of our economy and society. Yet the debate on immigration has for the past 30 years been dominated by the poisonous disinformation and ‘little Englander’ prejudices of the right wing gutter press. The Daily Mail has led the way with The Sun and Daily Express chasing after them and the BBC, Sky News and others following along dutifully behind.

It would clearly be foolish to underestimate the toxic legacy and the impact on the consciousness of voters, not least those anxious to explain the fall in their living standards. How many times, for example, have you heard the riposte ‘Aye, if we sent them back our problems would be over’? The ‘them’ in question can be anyone from Afghans, Poles and asylum seekers. When this view arises, as it did again for me in Edinburgh this week when I was campaigning against the hated ‘bedroom tax’, I like to gently confront my subjects with some choice questions by saying ‘they [whomever they are] cannae win can they? I mean if they are not working they are vilified for taking benefits and if they are working ‘they are taking our jobs. It isn’t the immigrants who are to blame for the worst recession in 80 years. It wasn’t them who bankrupted the economy, corrupted our banking system and destroyed the living standards of millions, it was the bankers and the rich.’

Much as the Tories are keen to scapegoat immigrants for the crisis we must not let them get away with it, nor let such claims go unchallenged. I truly believe the lefts message, when presented effectively can be attractive and popular. Not least because deep down in the Scots psyche is the powerful realisation that we are a nation of migrants and immigrants. ‘We’ came here from somewhere else and we now have family members who left here and are spread out across the world. These were, like all immigrants, brave people who had to take the heart breaking decision to move far, far away in search of a decent life. If we thought for one second that our family, friends and loved ones arriving in say Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, America, Canada, and many other parts of the World received the same kind of ugly welcome the Poles, Afghans, Nigerians, Pakistani’s and Bulgarians get here, we would rightly be livid.

The Scottish Socialist Party has a very powerful case indeed in welcoming immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Each and every one of them should be welcomed here because they are just like us, ordinary decent people trying to make a life for themselves in a harsh new environment. They should be welcomed and protected from those - employers, landlords and other businessmen - who would, given half the chance, exploit and persecute them.

I firmly believe socialists can succeed in confronting the far right reaction preached by UKIP, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour on immigration. Indeed if we put our case with passion, courage and honour we can turn around the despicable agenda of the right and gain widespread respect for our agenda of solidarity and internationalism.

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