KEN HOUSTON                    NOVEMBER 1 2016

Three years ago I spent a pleasant holiday in a small Turkish coastal resort with one main street which comprised bars, fast-food outlets and gift shops selling mainly leather goods and sports and leisure clothing.

As I soon discovered they are not keen on letting tourists browse in Turkey. Just hover on the periphery of any retail unit and an assistant will pounce almost out of nowhere, initially trying to soften you up with an opening gambit of: “You are from England?”

Every time I replied, “no, Scotland”, each assistant invariably broke into a broad smile and claimed to have either an uncle in Aberdeen, a cousin in Livingston or a sister in Ayr.

Which, of course, elicited the typically Scottish cynical response: ‘Aye, right’.

Memories of the experience returned last week with the controversy over the government’s decision to accept, from the Calais refugee camp, ‘unaccompanied children with relatives already in the UK’.

That things weren’t quite as the government was making out became clear when the first refugees arriving in Britain looked older, much older, than children.

Then it emerged that many – of whatever age – did not actually have relatives in Britain after all, i.e. there was no ‘uncle in Manchester, cousin in Reading or sister in Middlesbrough’.

This was confirmed by David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, refugee and migration task group, who complained that “The Home Office are saying they have carried out checks that family members exist but in fact local authorities are being asked to check out the relatives when the children arrive”.

So should this be of any consequence to business-owners focussed on gaining new orders or just trying to balance the books in challenging times?

Especially when, on the one hand a lower pound boosts exports prospects but, on the other, increases the cost of raw materials and, therefore, of many goods being exported. And that asylum-seekers who become eligible for employment tend to have a habit of turning up for work on time, day in day out, compared to the Jeremy Kyle generation of native Brits who seem to have an ongoing problem with setting the alarm clock.

So it is understandable if the attitude of business-owners and managers are more relaxed about the issue than their shop floor workers.

Now that dye has been cast business representatives have moved on from attempting to stay in the EU to trying to get assurances from the government on recruiting people with special skills from soon-to-be former member-states.

Quite why, after spending on education doubled during the 13 Blair/Brown years, the UK is still so dependent on foreign workers to filled skilled jobs is one of the mysteries of the age.

But we are where we are and on the basis this deficiency does exist, the business case for at least a ‘partial free movement’ is not helped by controversies like ‘child refugees’.

There were few in Britain opposed to unaccompanied children stranded in Calais being given sanctuary here. But expecting to see busloads of distressed wee girls clutching their ragged dollies or wee boys with battered toy trucks, what the public was confronted with were not children but tall, physically-fit young men.

The reaction of pro-immigrant charities was to scream “Racism!” at the right-wing press and accuse them of doctoring photographs to make the subjects look older.

One even claimed that the Daily Mail had wrongly identified an adult Afghan interpreter as a child refugee then had to retract – naturally it would never apologise – when it turned out that the so-called adult interpreter was, indeed, one of the ‘child’ refugees.

So some who previously supported granting sanctuary to children are now complaining they’ve been taken for mugs.

Consequently, this will only harden public attitudes, putting pressure on the government and, therefore, making it more difficult for business representatives to press their case for continued entry to the UK of key immigrant workers post-Brexit.

As is well known, the dysfunctional Home Office has a tick-box approach to immigration which can deny entry to people who are genuine or borderline cases. And if public anxiety increases then Home Office policy – just to try and show how tough it is – might become even more arbitrary.

Personally, the average business-owner or senior manager may not be too exercised over the child migrant issue, if only because adult-imposters are unlikely to end up sharing a classroom with their own children, who will either be educated privately or attend a high-achieving State school located in a middle-class catchment area.

But it might, just might, be worth considering that this kind of complacency was, at least in part, the reason why a majority voted to leave the EU, a decision that is currently giving the ‘business community’ so much angst.

North of the Border the consensus among the political class is that this is a wholly English issue because in Scotland, ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’.

But no matter. IndyRef2 has moved up the agenda and Nicola has a renewed spring in her stop because, following the Brexit result, enough ‘No’ voters in the independence referendum may switch to ‘Yes’ next time round to give her victory.

Consequently, if the current SNP government at Holyrood and its MPs at Westminster are true to their word on economic immigrants and asylum-seekers then an independent Scotland can expect a massive increase in both. In the case of the latter it is likely to reach the levels of Scandinavia where Nordic tolerance is being stretched to its limit because of the pressure on public services and cultural differences between the newcomers and the host countries.

Aw Jock Tamson’s Bairns?
We’ll see.


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