Immigration needs to come down, say Ross and Sarwar

Composite image showing Douglas Ross on the left and Anas Sarwar on the right
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar both appeared on BBC Scotland's Sunday Show [BBC]

Immigration to the UK needs to fall, according to the Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservative leaders.

During an appearance on BBC Scotland's Sunday Show, both Labour's Anas Sarwar and the Conservatives' Douglas Ross acknowledged the importance of the issue.

Mr Sarwar said there was a "fundamental breakdown between our skills system and our migration system".

And Mr Ross said there was a huge problem with record migration to the UK.

Over the course of the election campaign, the leaders of Scotland's main political parties have been appearing on the programme.

Mr Sarwar said net migration across the UK was too high, and there was a huge asylum backlog.

However, he believed that different parts of the UK had different migration needs.

The Scottish party leader called for the migration system to take into consideration the skills gaps in the workforce, saying there was currently a "breakdown" between the two systems.

Workers already in Scotland should be upskilled, he said, "rather than missing out on opportunities and relying on cheaper migration".

Mr Sarwar continued: "We’ve got to have a migration system that meets our skills need and where our skills gaps are, and utilise investments to create the skills we need here at home.

"I don’t think we’re getting the balance of that right, right now."

Mr Sarwar acknowledged that the need for migrants was different depending on the area of the country and sectors.

Looking at the health and social care sector, he said workers in social care were "disproportionately" from a migrant background.

Mr Sarwar said health and social care was a priority for Scotland just now, yet "there are people paid more to work in supermarkets than to work in our care sector". He said this was unacceptable.

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer previously told the Sunday Show: "We're recruiting too many people from overseas" in the health service and he "would like to see the numbers go down in some areas".

Scottish Conservative leader Mr Ross was asked if Scotland needed migrants to boost the workforce, and replied that despite "record numbers" of legal migrants coming to the UK, people were not "attracted" to Scotland.

Immigration policy is decided by the UK government at Westminster, but Mr Ross said the SNP Scottish government at Holyrood should use its powers to make Scotland a more attractive place for people to live.

He said: "We can do an awful lot with the powers we have here in Scotland when we don’t have a government obsessed with independence.

"We can make sure that our public services here in Scotland deliver for people."

When asked if he still supported the UK Conservative government's plan to send asylum seekers who have "illegally" entered the UK from "safe" countries to Rwanda while their claims are processed, Mr Ross said the scheme was acting as a deterrent.

Mr Ross said the policy had "put people off" from crossing the English Channel.

He said: "The scheme is just getting operational now.

"We have to ensure we make it as difficult as possible for illegal people traffickers to focus on the vulnerable seeking to cross the Channel."

What are the SNP and Scottish Lib Dems saying?

The SNP has said it would like to see a migration system created for Scotland that values those who decide to live, work, study and invest here.

The party has also called for the "demonisation of migrants" to end.

The party said immigrants should not be blocked from claiming benefits and that plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda should be scrapped.

According to the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the "hostile environment" towards immigrants should end, and the Rwanda scheme should be shelved - calling it a "disastrous waste of money".

Instead, money should be invested in clearing the asylum backlog.

Red line

Immigration is a key battleground in this general election.

Both the Conservatives and Labour are promising to bring it down. While that policy may prove popular south of the border, it could be a harder sell in Scotland.

That's because many sectors here - including health and social care - are crying out for workers.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is keen to stay on message with Sir Keir Starmer by backing up the view that net migration is too high.

But that's tempered by the admission that foreign workers are still needed in Scotland - at least until more staff can be trained up in key areas such as nursing.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross moved his arguments around immigration to more familiar territory - blaming SNP ministers for failing to attract talent to Scotland.

Meanwhile, unbound by the need to persuade voters in England, the SNP have struck a different tone on immigration, calling for new measures to mitigate against labour shortages.

Red line