Scottish business demands UK Gov guarantee for EU nationals in Scotland

Nathanael Williams

Small business chambers come out to defend freedom of movement for Scottish economy

THE FEDERATION OF SMALL BUSINESS in Scotland has demanded that the UK Government guarantee the right to stay for EU nationals living in Scotland.

Following its own research, which shows Scotland’s economy would be severely hit by exiting the European Union and single market, the body asked for assurances that Scottish business would be able to attract top talent.

The research, conducted in the autumn of 2016, shows that one in four (26 per cent) of Scottish smaller employers have a non-UK EU citizen as part of their staff team.

“Scottish firms must be able to continue to source international talent and labour if that’s required.” Andy Willox

Speaking to CommonSpace Andy Willox, convenor of Scottish policy for FSB, said: “As a minimum, FSB wants the UK Government to guarantee that EU citizens currently in the Scottish workforce – whether as employees or running their own business – have the right to stay here.

“FSB in Scotland has argued that much could be done by our schools, colleges and universities to ensure that people have the right skills for the world of work. However, Scottish firms must be able to continue to source international talent and labour if that’s required.”

Professor David Bell of the University of Stirling, who is part of the Centre on Constitutional Change, has examined data from a 2015 Labour Force Survey which suggests that the attitude in Scotland to immigration is different to the rest of the UK. The impact of EU nationals on wages is thought to be “negligible”, and also the numbers compared to the rest of the UK are far smaller.

The call for a guarantee also comes after heavy condemnation of the UK Government by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and other Scottish politicians, amid claims that the lives of EU nationals in Scotland were being used as a bargaining chip. This followed May’s repeated refusal to guarantee, without condition, the right to stay for EU nationals already resident in the UK. 

“As a minimum, FSB wants the UK Government to guarantee that EU citizens currently in the Scottish workforce…have the right to stay” Andy Willox

Among those employed in Scotland, 92 per cent have been born in the UK. Of the 8 per cent left, 4 per cent are EU nationals, with the remaining 4 per cent from other parts of the world. There are an estimated 181,000 foreign nationals in Scotland. The majority, around 119,000 are from EU nations and 47 per cent of them are Polish.

According to research conducted by the Scottish Government in October last year, “new Scots” from Europe were found to be “less likely to claim out-of-work benefits, but more likely to claim in-work benefits, compared with people born in the UK”. Moreover, 90 per cent of immigrants aged three and over could speak, read and write English, while only two per cent stated they had no language skills. This claim runs counter to the anti-immigrant sentinment driving the Brexit vote and the anti-immigration policies of the UK Government.

However, the FSB in Scotland would not be drawn on the constitutional situation and what small businesses would do in the event of a second independence referendum. Instead, it suggested the best path forward would be for the Scottish Government to fight for the best outcome possible for Scottish imports, exports and procurement of talent from overseas. 

On the impact of Brexit in Scotland, Willox added: “As the UK leaves the EU, the Scottish Government will need to quickly refocus the support it offers business and make sure its economic strategy reflects the new reality.”

Picture courtesy of Jean Porrier

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