In the run-up to the 2015 Scottish Labour Conference, when the refugee crisis that is still affecting millions today first came to prominence, my home CLP, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, proposed an emergency motion to respond. That motion was selected to be debated on the Conference floor and was passed with unanimous support.
During the debate, I addressed Conference, urging the floor to remember our proud history of supporting refugees and making clear my firm belief that we had a duty to do more. The transcript of my speech is below.
When David Cameron announced his plan to accept refugees into the United Kingdom, his headline figure was 20,000 refugees. 20,000. Barely enough to fill one fifth of Wembley Stadium. Two thirds of 1% of the total number of refugees from Syria. Less than 31 refugees per constituency. These are not figures to be proud of.
Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. From the tens of thousands of Asians escaping persecution in Idi Amin’s Uganda, to the Jews who fled from Hitler’s Germany, the United Kingdom has led the world in welcoming those who have nowhere else to go. Because, just as with refugees from Syria today, they had nowhere else to go.
Those who flee Syria do not do so from choice. They are not, as some suggest, economic migrants who come to Britain based upon a calculated decision to seek a higher standard of living. They flee Syria, leaving behind everything they know, because doing so is their only chance of survival.
This nation has a duty to do more. When our friends and neighbours across Europe are taking as many as half a million or more refugees, we cannot simply sit here today content with 20,000. There is a moral imperative upon us to do more. That starts with working with our friends and neighbours across Europe to secure a fair, equitable and moral distribution of refugees throughout the continent.
Conference, it cannot be said that refugees, or indeed immigration in any of its forms, have negatively affected the UK. In a time when our population is aging, an influx of the young is essential in ensuring the continued success and prosperity of the economy, and the stability of our welfare system. Nor can it be said that refugees will harm community cohesion: examples throughout our history suggest otherwise, and I firmly believe that modern Britain is more tolerant than ever before in our history.
Conference, we are all human. Each and every one of us, be we Scots, Syrians, refugees or British citizens, share within us those essential things that make us human: compassion, kindness and solidarity. It’s time the United Kingdom stood up and said this. It’s down to us to make that happen.
Conference, I urge you to support this motion.
For reference, the text of the motion debated is, I believe, as follows:
That Conference rejects the Government’s proposed imposition of a restriction on the number of asylum seekers received in the U.K. to 20,000 during this Parliament as a denial of their rights of refuge from violence, oppression and poverty and an abuse of the traditional right of our citizens and humanitarian organisatons to provide asylum to those in need; calls on the National Executive to demand that the UK join in and support the EU Agenda Programme on Migration; and for that purpose undertakes, through the Labour Party Task Force on Refugees, the research and preparation needed for a planned programme of refuge, welfare and opportunity to reside and contribute to Scottish society to all asylum seekers, whether in camps around Syria or in transit in Europe or in Northern Africa.