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Yes – why my students should vote for an independent Scotland

August 18, 2014

As a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), one of my duties is to familiarise my learners with the political landscape here, and to provide them with language skills that allow them to both understand the issues that affect them and express their own views on those issues. With the upcoming independence referendum being one of the main talking points across Scotland at the moment, this is something that needs to be addressed in the classroom. Most of my students, as long-term residents in Scotland, will have a vote, and how they and other members of their communities vote could have a major impact on the result.

Classroom discussions with my learners have revealed that the majority of them support the Better Together campaign. As their teacher, it’s not my job to convince them otherwise – my role is to present both sides objectively and allow them to draw their own conclusions. But I do feel that many of their concerns about independence are actually unfounded. While reflecting on their views I have become increasingly convinced that if I was an ESOL learner living in Scotland, I would definitely be voting Yes. Here’s why.

Immigration Legislation

My students are immigrants; some have been here for a while, some have only just arrived, and others aren’t here yet. But their existence in this country, and their ability to stay here, depends on the nation’s policy on immigration. The current UK government has a policy of reducing net migration, largely to appease its own voters and stop them from voting for UKIP. The Scottish National Party, on the other hand, recognises that Scotland’s demographic is slightly different from the rest of the UK; it has an ageing population and therefore it needs to increase its net migration in order to further economic growth; this is what the SNP would like to do.

Immigration is a non-devolved issue, which means that while Scotland is in the UK it has to follow UK policy on the matter. As long as the UK is limiting immigration, Scotland’s population will continue to age and it will become increasingly difficult for the nation to support itself. An independent Scotland could implement a more liberal immigration policy. This would benefit the economy, increase the cultural diversity of the country and reduce the threat of deportation that many of my students live with on a daily basis. 

Xenophobia

It’s common for political organisations with nationalist tendencies to be very right wing and more than a bit racist. That’s certainly true of nationalist parties south of the border, such as the BNP, EDL and of course UKIP, and many of my students worry that a nationalist party in Scotland might have similar attitudes. However, the Scottish National Party is probably best described as centre-left in terms of its policies, which place social justice high on the agenda. Sure, xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiments exist in Scotland, but they certainly don’t emanate from the SNP or other members of the Yes campaign (Yes Scotland and the Radical Independence Campaign). And the level of anti-immigration rhetoric in Scotland is far lower than it is in the rest of the UK, where a large percentage of the population resent the number of foreigners who now live there. An independent Scotland could happily do without the racism and xenophobia that is bubbling around in the south of England, which would obviously benefit ESOL learners who are potential victims of such behaviour.

And yes, I know that a lot of Scottish people can be quite racist about the English. I would suggest though that the only way to make this go away would be to give Scotland its independence so Scottish people can stop blaming the English for everything. In any case, ESOL students aren’t English so this issue has little impact on them.

Foreign Policy

My learners have varying attitudes towards the UK’s role in the world – much of it depends on where they are from and whose side they found themselves on in whatever war they had to escape. The fact is though that a large number of them have come here as a direct result of the UK’s involvement in the affairs of other countries and the resultant de-stabilisation that this has caused. The UK has a long track record of starting or prolonging wars in other countries, and the more recent ones (in Iraq and Afghanistan) took place despite strong opposition from the electorate.

An independent Scotland would be nuclear-free and would have much less overseas military involvement than it does as part of the UK. If you consider how unpopular the British are in many parts of the world, a lower international profile could be a very good thing. Moreover, if Scotland was independent my learners would be far less likely to find themselves living in a country that is bombing their home town.

Health

A number of ESOL learners at my college suffer from post-traumatic stress, having experienced all kinds of hardship in their own countries. Others have physical disabilities, or have family members who require regular medical treatment. If you ask them about health care in this country, most are very grateful that good quality provision is available to everyone for free. Because the ‘National’ in National Health Service refers to Britain, some of my students have expressed concern that if Scotland became independent then the NHS would cease to exist here.

It seems though that the opposite is true, and that NHS is under far more threat from Westminster than it is from Holyrood. South of the border, there is increasing concern about the dismantling of the National Health Service, as more and more areas of health care provision are farmed out to the private sector. This isn’t happening in Scotland, and the SNP is adamant that it won’t happen under their watch. The Yes campaign has even proposed enshrining free health care for all in the new post-independence constitution.  We might have to call it the SNHS or something, but we can be pretty sure that a national health service will exist in an independent Scotland. Staying in the UK means that the health service in Scotland would remain at risk of privatisation.

Benefits

Arriving with nothing as they often do, many of my students start their lives in the UK below or near the poverty line. As a result, any benefits that they may be entitled to (including free English courses!) are important in helping them to build new lives and make something of themselves here. We’ve all seen how the current government’s austerity measures have hit low-income households hard, and staying in the UK means that there will always be a strong chance of being governed by a party that believes in a reduced welfare state. As an independent country, Scotland, traditionally supportive of welfare and benefits for people in poverty, would be more inclined to ensure mechanisms are in place to support those in need. Whether we’d be able to afford it or not is a different argument, which I would address by saying if you want something enough you’ll find a way to afford it. A strong welfare state might come at the expense of a strong military, for example, but most Scots would be happy with that trade-off and so would most of my students.

Europe

For my students who are EU nationals, Scotland’s membership of the EU is really important. They are able to live and work here because the UK is in Europe, and many of them worry that if Scotland became independent it would no longer be in the EU, which would therefore make things much more difficult for them. They might even have to leave the country.

But let’s think about this pragmatically. Scotland is already in the EU as part of the UK, so if the EU decided that an independent Scotland couldn’t join they would have to find a way to extricate Scotland from all the free trade agreements and other policies that are in place, and introduce all sorts of legislation to either permit Scots to continue living in EU countries or remove them. The whole business would end up being very costly and an unnecessary headache for Brussels; the easier option would just be to say to Scotland ‘You’re in already, so you can stay’. The prime minister of Spain might not like it, but we all know why he’s against Scottish independence.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has announced that if he wins the next election (which is a real possibility) he will have an in-out referendum on Europe in 2017 and, judging by the anti-EU sentiment that seems to exist in the south of England at the moment, there’s a very strong chance that the UK would vote itself out of Europe.

So, it may seem strange, but if my students want to stay in the EU this is more likely in an independent Scotland than it is if Scotland remains in the UK.

 

This referendum isn’t about nationalism, or Scotland versus England. It isn’t about bluster and bravado, or letting national pride cloud our judgement. It’s not about Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, and who asks more questions that the other guy can’t answer.

This referendum is about the future of Scotland and the wellbeing of the people that live here. That’s all the people, including my students. My students want to live in a safe country and a fair society, a country that respects their backgrounds and values their contribution.

They want opportunities, and they have a really good one here. I hope they take it.

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6 Comments
  1. Thanks for writing this because I’ve been wondering about this situation, but feel very ignorant about it. Very interesting!

  2. Hi Laura,
    You’re very welcome. Of course I’ve only presented the arguments here from the perspective of ESOL learners in Scotland. There are lots of other issues to consider as well – hopefully following the links will help you there. For me though it’s becoming a battle of ideologies as much as anything else – the neoliberalism of a UK government versus the potential for a more social democratic approach to government. It’s an exciting time to be in Scotland, that’s for sure.
    Steve

  3. Kirsty Stewart permalink

    ‘Topical Talk – Scottish Referendum’ A new ETG speaking/reading resource that helps students to find out about the Referendum for independence – taking place September 18 2014.

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