UK Government announces immigration system plans | Angus Robertson seeks MSP seat candidacy | Cosla says Local Government funding settlement "misleading"

The UK Government has announced plans for a points-based immigration system which will seek to block "cheap labour from Europe" and only allow migrants who have an "appropriate skill level". The government has estimated that 70 per cent of the existing EU workforce would not meet the points required to migrate under the new system. Employers which currently rely on this labour supply "will need to adjust", either by automation or by hiring UK workers.  The idea is to help Britain become a "high wage, high skill, high productivity economy". The plan will contain no regional differentiation, so the demands of the Scottish Government for flexibility to meet Scotland's particular demographic and labour force challenges has been ignored.

The salary threshold was previously going to be set at £30k, now it is £25.6k, with workers between £23-£25.6k getting half as many 'points'. This change was made to allow teachers and nurses to be recruited, but that does not mean there is not going to still be significant skill gaps. For example in the care sector, which is generally low-waged and increasingly reliant on migrant workers, these plans would "spell absolute disaster", according to Unison. You can't automate care, at least not fully and definitely not quickly. And while a tighter labour market should feasibly put upward pressure on wages, a lot of the care sector is public sector - are the government prepared to pay out substantially more to attract UK workers into the sector? As Britain becomes older, the number of care workers needed is set to rise, not fall.

Leaving aside the human aspect of dictating the movement of people based on 'points', the economic problem with this system is that the government presumes that the only immigration the country needs is people with science degrees and well-paid jobs, and that everything else can either be automated out of existence or done by a Brit. This is an ignorant understanding of the UK labour market and its future challenges. It erroneously presumes that what is high-paid is high-skill and what is low-paid is low-skill. There's an easy way to demonstrate why that's wrong: make Boris Johnson work as a chef, or a care worker, or a construction worker, and see how long he lasts.

Ben Wray, Common A.M.

Top Story
Home Secretary Priti Patel will detail the proposals for Britain's "single global system" for immigration in a speech today. The new system will be in force from 1 January 2021.

Patel will say: "Today is a historic moment for the whole country. We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down. We will attract the brightest and the best from around the globe, boosting the economy and our communities, and unleash this country’s full potential."

The new points-based system will assign points "based on specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and visas will only be awarded to those who gain enough points."

The government has said total levels of immigration will fall under the system, but did not say by how much.

Other details so far announced include:

- Student visa routes will also be points based and one global system

- The seasonal workers pilot will be expanded from 2,500 to 10,000 places in time for the 2020 harvest - so some 'low-skill' workers will be allowed to continue entering the country, under specific conditions.

- For travel, no visa will be needed when entering the UK for up to six months.


Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI: "Firms know that hiring from overseas and investing in the skills of their workforce and new technologies is not an 'either or' choice - both are needed to drive the economy forward."

The UK Homecare Association: "Cutting off the supply of prospective care workers under a new migration system will pave the way for more people waiting unnecessarily in hospital or going without care."

SNP Shadow Immigration Minister Stuart McDonald: ""The Tories have had had 42 months to develop proposals for a new migration system and they’ve come up with a half-finished and disastrous one size-fits-no-one policy that poses a very real threat to Scotland and leaves businesses and the public with just 10 months to prepare for it."

Christine Jardine MP, Lib Dems immigration spokesperson: "Too many businesses are already struggling to hire the workers they need. Now the Tories want to stop them recruiting all but the highest paid employees from abroad."

Labour shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said that the government's proposal is a salary threshold system that will "need to have so many exemptions - for the NHS, for social care and many parts of the private sector - it will be meaningless".

She added: "Ultimately, it will also be very difficult to attract the workers we need at all skill levels while the Tories’ hostile environment is in place. It needs to go."

Other News
  • The Access to Cash Review has found that Britain is "sleepwalking" into being a cashless economy which will leave millions disadvantaged, calling for the government to legislate to ensure ATM machines remain open and free to use. The independent panel published its final report to the UK Government last year. (The Herald)
  • Former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson is standing to be the party's candidate in the Edinburgh Central seat next year, which is currently a seat held by Ruth Davidson. The former Scottish Tory leader is stepping down ahead of the 2021 Holyrood elections. Robertson lost his seat as an MP in Angus at the 2017 General Election. (The National)
  • The Scottish Local Authority body Cosla has said the Scottish Government is "misleading" people with its announcement of £495 million in additional spending on Local Government, and that in fact councils would have to make "devastating" cuts in their 2020/21 budgets. Cosla have said that the Scottish Government has ring-fenced £590 million of the money councils receive for specific projects, meaning £95 million in cuts will need to be found elsewhere in the 32 council's budgets. (The National)
  • Omnium Cultural, the grassroots Catalan pro-independence group headed by jailed activist Jordi Cuixart, has called on Scots to pressure First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to write to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to demand an amnesty and release of the Catalan political prisoners. The letter states that "Scotland cannot turn a blind eye" to what is going on in Catalonia. (The National)
  • Environmental compliance has fallen in Scotland for the first time in three years. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) found 90.5 per cent of regulated sites were in compliance, down 0.5 per cent on the year previous. The report comes as there is continued concern over 'flaring' at the Mossmorran chemical plant in Fife, run by oil giant ExxonMobil. (BBC)
  • Petrochemical giant Ineos is still bidding to drill for coal bed methane in central Scotland, despite a fracking ban. The Scottish Government planning website shows a bid for licensing at Airth, near Falkirk. Environmental campaigners said Ineos should "admit defeat and walk away". (The Ferret)
  • The LGBTI inclusive education charity TIE has said it can't commit to taking on more educational work until "core funding" issues are resolved. TIE was instrumental in the introduction of LGBTI education in Scottish schools and has delivered education training to hundreds of teachers, but due to the delay in the 2020/21 budget, the Scottish Government has delayed a funding announcement, and therefore the charity is "unable to commit to any further engagements in the immediate term". (Third Force News)

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What's on CommonSpace
Sarah Glynn: How Turkey has got Europe over a barrel
Sarah Glynn, co-convenor of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, attended the recent conference on ‘The European Union, Turkey, The Middle East and the Kurds’ at the European Parliament, and writes about what she found out.

RELATIONS between Europe and Turkey demonstrate an unedifying realpolitik in which there are many losers, and the only winners are the usual coterie of financiers, arms manufacturers and authoritarian politicians.

People like to talk of the ‘international community’, but among those in power, it is difficult to sense much community spirit. The 16th International Conference on ‘The European Union, Turkey, The Middle East and the Kurds’, held on 5 and 6 February in the European Parliament, demonstrated clearly both the potential that exists for exerting pressure on Turkey, and the lack of will to do more than issue statements condemning the latest atrocity.

The conference is supported by left, green and socialist groups within the Parliament, and several MEPs spoke at the different sessions, demonstrating their criticism of Turkey and their backing for the Kurdish democratic model that Turkey wants to crush. But they had to acknowledge that when it comes to action, the EU is hamstrung by self-interest.

The EU does nothing to discourage the brutal clampdown on democratic freedoms within Turkey itself, or to counter Turkey’s unprovoked invasion and promotion of violent jihadi gangs in Northern Syria. Instead, they treat Turkey as an acceptable trading partner, with a customs union for industrial goods, and other preferential agreements, and they give Turkey large sums of money.

The prospect of Turkey getting EU membership may seem to have retreated down a vanishing horizon, but they still receive significant ‘pre-accession payments’ (over 9 billion euros between 2007 and 2020) to help them bring their governance structures into line with EU standards. I have just pulled up the official 2018 audit of this fund, which is a fine example of the normalising of the unacceptable. It acknowledges the difficulties caused by ‘restrictions on civil society’ and ‘large scale dismissals’, the need for press freedom and for the ‘independence and impartiality of justice’, and even the lack of political will in the Turkish authorities to address these things, but none of this is regarded as challenging the fundamental political and bureaucratic process.

When EU accession seemed more of an imminent possibility, this was able to serve as a limited restraint on Turkey’s actions. Indeed, the EU insistence on ending capital punishment helped save imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan’s life. However, current relations are dominated by the controversial refugee deal agreed between Turkey and the EU in 2016, and that has put the boot on the other foot.

According to this agreement, Europe effectively requires Turkey to police its borders, and outsources its refugee obligations. In exchange, the EU undertook to allow Turkish citizens visa free travel, though this has yet to be fully agreed, and promised to provide financial help for the three million refugees stuck in Turkey - despite the fact that Turkey does not allow them full refugee rights.

The EU has now agreed a second instalment of money, making a total of six billion Euros. It is these refugees – or, more properly, European politicians’ fears of having to take in these refuges - that have given Turkey a new leverage in international relations. Whenever it looks as though the EU might actually act on its fine words, then Turkey threatens to open the borders and let the refugees into Europe.

There is resentment against the refugees in Turkey too, but the Turkish government has found an answer to this. They want to use the refugees as pawns in their plans for ethnic cleansing northern Syria, replacing the Kurds with Arab’s who originally came from other parts of the country. Like the deliberate settling of Scots in Ulster, such demographic engineering can have consequences that last for centuries.

Shamefully, Chancellor Merkel, who has visited Turkey seven times since the attempted coup in 2016, has suggested that Germany may help fund this resettlement; which, as Thomas Schmidinger pointed out to the conference, would make Germany a participant in war crimes. Speakers also noted that the Turkish invasion was, of course, making many more refugees.

The EU, and especially Germany, accounts for some 40 per cent of Turkey’s global trade. Turkey is economically dependent on Europe and is currently under economic stress, so there should be opportunities for the EU to put pressure on Turkey in key areas of human rights and international law. There is scope to insert conditions into the trade deals and to use targeted sanctions, and, of course, to suspend or stop the accession payments; but the European countries don’t want to upset Turkey and risk having to take in the refugees themselves. In several cases, most notably Germany and the UK, self-interest extends to selling Turkey the weapons that they are using to invade peaceful Kurdish towns and villages. (And we are not immune here, in Scotland, where the Scottish Government has provided subsidies for companies that have sold weapons to Turkey.)

Turkey also has leverage through its membership of NATO, and although they have flouted NATO rules in buying Russian weapons and invading Syria, other NATO countries are fearful of driving them into the arms of Russia. And, of course, when it comes to defending Rojava, elite interests will perceive the Kurds’ radical democratic experiment as a threat to the established order.

National self-interest is on display again in the disputes about the future of Daesh prisoners, where no country wants to take back their nationals. The burden of looking after the prisoners has been left to fall on the already overstretched Autonomous Administration that runs the predominantly Kurdish areas in northern Syria, and there seems no prospect of the international court that they have requested. The Nordic countries have offered some help, but the international consensus is not there. There is no will to set up anything that might give the Administration more formal recognition.

Here in post-Brexit UK, the refugee question may no longer be relevant, but the government’s desperation for new trade deals leaves little room for ethics, even if they were minded that way. The government is proud of the UK’s position as the world’s second biggest arms exporter - showing no concern over how those arms are used - and they have demonstrated their readiness to appease Turkey. When President Erdogan visited the UK in 2018, Kurds were shocked to hear Theresa May speak of ‘Kurdish terrorism’. Now the government is pursuing British citizens who fought with the Kurdish YPG, and making it difficult even to visit northern Syria without risk of arrest.

So far, so bad; but the EU conference did expose a chink of light in the political gloom. One of the most effective ways that European nations have shown support for Turkey is through delegitimising the Kurdish struggle by branding it as terrorism. Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU since 2002, as well as being listed independently by some member countries. The Turkish government uses this designation to justify its persecution not just of PKK members but of anyone who supports Ocalan’s philosophy or argues for Kurdish recognition. This includes the Kurds in Syria and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, whose elected members and former leaders are imprisoned as ‘terrorist supporters’. But the Belgian courts have found the terrorist designation of the PKK unlawful.

For over a decade, the Belgian Government pursued 42 Kurdish individuals and two organisations with charges of terrorism, based on their links with the PKK. Wikileaks has shown that Belgium was initially reluctant to accede to Turkey’s demands to prosecute, only agreeing after a concerted effort between Turkey and the US embassy. The case has now worked its way up through the Belgian legal system, and in January the highest court confirmed the court of appeal decision from last March that the PKK should not be considered a terrorist organisation because they are a party in a non-international armed conflict. This makes them subject to the laws of war, not criminal law.

Jan Fermon, from the defendants’ legal team, explained that this judgement is based on the concept of legitimacy of wars for liberation, which became part of international law in response to the fight against fascism and anti-colonial struggles. While resistance theory, which has a very much older pedigree, makes no stipulations on the size of the resisting force, this modern interpretation requires it to behave like an army, with the resulting conflict having a warlike intensity in both time and space.

Fermon observed that he is used to explaining how the PKK is striving for a peace settlement, but for this case he had to emphasise their capabilities as a military force, as well as arguing that they were responsible and able to keep to the laws of war. (The PKK made an official statement that they would abide by the Geneva Convention at the beginning of 1995.)

Politicians may decide to ignore the court’s findings – and the Belgian foreign minister was quick to say that this would make no difference to how the PKK were regarded by the Belgian government – but they would have to think twice about raising a similar charge in a Belgian court.

This case can help open the way for the removal of the PKK from terrorist lists, especially as similar arguments have been made in the European Court of Justice over the PKK’s listing by the EU. That court found that earlier listings had been based on inadequate evidence, though this was immediately brushed aside with a new listing – despite no new evidence.

With anti-terrorism legislation increasingly being used to shut down dissent, legal wins, and their supporting arguments, are important. Ultimately, though, effective political change will require more than a courtroom battle, and cannot rely on a few conscientious politicians and dedicated lawyers.

If we want governments that are prepared to stand up to Turkish bullying, and to pursue a more ethical foreign policy more generally, we will have to build enough pressure from below to force them to change course or risk losing votes and legitimacy. This may seem a daunting task, however, it is a task carried out in solidarity with people across the world. There may be no effective international ‘community’ at government levels, but there are growing links between grassroots movements.

Around and About the Scottish Media
- Iain Macwhirter on what Scotland lost by voting No in 2014 (The Herald)

- David Jamieson argues that the setbacks in the movement of solidarity with Palestine is a disaster for the left (Conter)
What’s on today
Scottish Parliament committees are taking evidence this morning, with an evidence session in the Local Government committee on the 2020/21 budget from 9.30am.

From 2pm onwards, there will be a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the NHS with a motion proposed by Scottish Labour's Monica Lennon.
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