EU citizens debate – Wednesday 6th July 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): That is challenging, Madam Deputy Speaker. In 2013, Glasgow adopted the slogan “People Make Glasgow”. That could not be more apt at present, because EU citizens — in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends who represent parts of the city — make it the vibrant and wonderful city that it is. According to the 2011 census, 5.2% of residents in my constituency were born in EU countries; that is double the figure for the Scottish population as a whole.

In the academic year 2014-15 alone, more than 4,000 EU students enrolled at academic institutions across Glasgow. I heard during the week from Professor Philip Cooke, who is professor of Italian history and culture at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He says:

“Since I started teaching here I have seen a radical shift in the composition of the student body—at last week’s graduation ceremony there were students from Latvia and Bulgaria receiving degrees in Italian, as well as many young Scots. The free movement of students facilitated by the Erasmus program has meant that I have taught, for example, Italian to English translation to mixed groups of students who have all greatly benefited from the different linguistic backgrounds of their peers… All of this—and I am not even going to mention European funding for research—is at risk following the referendum.”

He speaks of his own young children, who want to have the opportunity that I and others have had of going to Europe to travel and work.

We must not lose sight of the fact that politics is about people. Among the messages I have received this week is one from Courtney, a Greek national living in Queen’s Park in the south side of Glasgow, who sums up the anxiety and bewilderment that many people face:

“I, like all the other EU immigrants that are here, have broken no laws by settling here. I have been here for five years and am proud to call Scotland my home, meanwhile others have been here for decades. Since settling here I have started a long term relationship, taken work, paid tax, and done volunteer work. Like so many others I am happy to contribute to the local community and overall economy.”

I received a message just this morning from a ward sister at Glasgow Royal Infirmary who says that nurses there who have come from Poland are deeply concerned ​about their future in the country. They are here, working and contributing, and they deserve to be able to stay.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not take much for the Minister to reassure the citizens she has just mentioned? A caseworker in my office is from Finland. She is extremely uncertain at the moment about her future. As her employer, I, like many other employers, would like to know whether these citizens will continue to have rights. It would be easy for the Minister to stand up and say that they will continue to have the rights that they have at the moment.

Alison Thewliss: Absolutely. It would be a very easy thing for this Government to do.

This issue is not simply about EU citizens who have come here; it is about people in Scotland who want to have future opportunities. I had an email from Jemma Brown, who says:

“I am a classical musician with a fledgling international career living…in your constituency and I can see everything I’ve painstakingly worked for caving in upon me if my right to live and work in the EU is no longer straightforward.”

I met the owner of a coffee shop across the road from my son’s school who came from Portugal originally. He lived through fascism. He has travelled the world and come to live in Glasgow. I spoke to him on the Friday after the referendum result. He was heartbroken. Nothing I could say could console him or give him confidence that his future in Scotland was assured. I would like Ministers to reflect on that and come up with a strong message that I can give to people I know in Glasgow who do not know what their future holds.

The testimony I have received underscores the reality of the feelings of isolation that Brexit has caused. It is shameful that the Government have not done enough to tackle that or reassure those people about their future. My Home Office casework tells me that the dignity and respect that the Minister spoke of earlier is not a feature of the immigration system. Constituents from all over the world cannot get a fair break even to get into the UK. I have no confidence that the Home Office could even cope with dealing with the immigration status of EU nationals from all round Europe.

In stark contrast is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s message to EU citizens living in Scotland following the referendum result. She made it perfectly clear that they are welcome in Scotland and that their contribution is valued. I unequivocally reject the notion that EU citizens could be considered as bargaining chips in any future negotiations. The Church of Scotland rejects that, too, and its representatives have been in touch to put that forward. I beg the Government to change their stance.