By Nicola Sturgeon
Like most people, I’ve read some of the headlines coming from the Tory conference over the last few days with a mixture of disbelief and horror.
Firms to be forced to list the number of foreign workers they employ.
Doctors from overseas to be told they’re not welcome.
And perhaps most disgracefully of all – Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s description of EU nationals living in the UK as negotiating “cards” to be used in Brexit bargaining.
As we reach the end of the Conservative party conference – and as the full reality of Theresa May’s vision of Brexit Britain is revealed – I want to say clearly, to all those who live in Scotland and contribute to their communities, wherever you were born, wherever you are from, that you are welcome here.
The thinly-veiled xenophobia echoing around the Birmingham International Convention Centre this week – seemingly to rapturous applause from the Tory grass roots – is opening a new and very dark chapter in UK politics. But it is not one that we should allow to take root in Scotland.
The UK-wide Brexit vote has sent shockwaves throughout the country – but it is no excuse for political debate to sink so low as to be about where people are born.
Now I think it is important that we are able to consider the challenges and opportunities that migration brings openly and honestly – about what level of immigration our economy needs or what skills we need to attract.
But it must be a rational debate that recognises the benefits that migrants bring to our society.
That’s not what we are hearing from the Tories.
Just look at Jeremy Hunt’s comments on foreign doctors. They weren’t only deeply inflammatory – they were also completely irresponsible.
Sending out such a hostile message will cause problems for the NHS right now, making it more difficult for health boards to recruit the foreign workers we need to fill current vacancies.
Now, of course it’s important to invest in our NHS workforce at home – and in Scotland we recently announced an additional 50 medical student places in Scottish universities from August this year, as well as a new Graduate Entry Medical programme with up to 40 places available.
But if there aren’t enough doctors being trained in England – don’t blame foreign doctors, blame the UK Government for failing to invest enough in our valuable NHS.
Look at Amber Rudd’s announcement that foreign companies should be forced to list the number of foreign workers they employ.
This sends an absolutely terrible message to business and potential investors – giving the impression that there is something shameful in companies recruiting skilled staff who will help them succeed.
I know that immigration causes issues in certain areas – I see it in parts of my own constituency.
But the answer is to manage immigration properly and to invest in public services and job creation.
It is not to declare open season on people from other countries.
People who come here to work make a contribution to our society.
In Scotland, far too many people believe they have to leave home to get a good job.
That means we need to build an economy and society that creates more opportunity – both for those brought up here and for those who want to live and work in Scotland.
That way we can boost the working-age population, generating the tax revenue needed to pay our pensions and sustain our public services.
I don’t believe that a majority of people in the rest of the UK really want to throw out doctors from other countries or force non-UK workers to be listed by their companies.
We cannot allow the politics of division, of race, ethnicity and intolerance to become the politics of the UK – and we will not allow it to become the politics of Scotland.
Yesterday Ruth Davidson claimed to delegates in the Tory conference hall that the SNP does not speak for Scotland.
If she thinks that anything coming out of the Tory party conference this week is in tune with the progressive, outward-looking Scotland that voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, then she is even more out of touch than her colleagues at Westminster.
Scotland is fortunate to have been enriched by the contribution of those from other countries down the years – Irish, Italians, Pakistanis, Poles and many more – who have become part of the very fabric of our nation.
A few months back I read a fantastic piece in the Daily Record about Annette Street Primary in Govanhill in my constituency, which the right-wing press had seized on for ‘having no Scottish pupils’.
Those kids may have been born in countries all over the world, but they are clearly proud of their adopted homeland – and quickly hit back by posting a video of themselves online singing Flower of Scotland.
Why is it that a group of primary-age children, from enormously diverse backgrounds, are able to come together and feel perfectly comfortable with their multiple identities – yet the Tory government can sow only division and mistrust?
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Tory conference, it is that it is perfectly clear who the divisive, nasty nationalists are.
This week has been a chilling glimpse into the soul of Theresa May’s Tory Party.
Oh, and the magnificent Birmingham International Convention Centre where the Tories chose to hold their conference this week? It was part-funded by – you’ve guessed it – the European Union.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Record