SCOTLAND by tradition has a welcoming culture, but it is under threat from a hard Brexit.
Take cultural activities themselves. Some 21 per cent of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s musicians and staff are from the EU – in a hard Brexit would anyone from the EU working in the cultural sector be allowed to stay or even visit?
The heads of the various Edinburgh Festivals have expressed their strong concerns about the effect of Brexit, telling a recent Scottish Parliament committee meeting that “any erosion in the rights of EU nationals to work in Scotland for Edinburgh’s Festivals will affect our ability to maintain world class programmes”.
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Creative Scotland – the public body for the development of arts, screen and the creative industries – also told the Committee of the value of EU funding, noting that around 40 per cent of individuals and organisations who replied to a survey had previously received EU funding in the past for various projects. Creative Scotland said that respondents to its survey “very strongly agreed that the involvement in EU-funded projects opened up new networks and helped develop new partnerships”.
Underpinning all the cultural and tourism sector is the right of free movement currently enjoyed by all nationals of countries which participate in the single market, ie all EU member states, the European Economic Area (EEA) states and Switzerland.
It is not a carte blanche to come and live here whatever. The EU’s Citizen’s Rights Directive, also known as the Free Movement Directive says that EU and EEA citizens can have free movement to, and residence within, any country across the EEA for a period of up to three months.
Policy Analyst Colin Imrie points out that beyond three months, the ‘immigrant’ must be “either a worker, a self-employed person, an economically self-sufficient person with health insurance cover, such as retired people, or a student with health insurance cover and sufficient resources to support themselves, or a jobseeker who has a genuine chance of being engaged (with some limits to equal treatment in terms of access to social assistance until they become employed)”.
The UK Government has pledged to crack down on immigration and ensure some as yet unstated rights for EU nationals working here, but in a hard Brexit all that might go out of the window, even that pledge to take workers’ rights under EU law into UK law – employment matters are reserved to Westminster.
Professor Jo Shaw of Edinburgh University recently stated: “When the UK leaves the EU, it is to be expected that free movement as we know it will come to an end. There is a lot of debate about how best to protect the rights of those (in the UK and elsewhere) who have already used their free movement rights.
“Many people are worried about their status. For the future, we can expect some system of immigration rules to be put in place instead of free movement. Immigration law in the UK is quite different to free movement law. As ‘free movers’ we have rights. Under immigration law, people are subject to a series of limited ‘permissions’ to be present in the UK, and to work.”
That will also apply to UK nationals living in the EU – as many as 1.3 million people, many of them of pension age, known as expats.
Napier University in Edinburgh is so concerned about the misinformation flying around about the position of expats that it is working with Cambridge University to compile a database of “trusted sources” that will allow UK expats in EU nations to access reliable, up-to-the-minute advice throughout Brexit negotiations.
The worry is that fear alone might cause a sudden reverse migration that could increase pressures on the UK’s overstretched health and social care services, at a time when key workers in these sectors may themselves be returning to EU homelands as a result of Brexit-related insecurities.
Edinburgh Napier’s Professor Maura Sheehan said: “If panic is sparked it could lead to a domino effect in certain expatriate communities. Housing markets in areas along the Mediterranean coast could collapse as retirees try to sell up, but with no new UK expats looking to buy. Life savings could get swept away in the confusion.
“Meanwhile, there is no slack in UK social infrastructure for ageing expats returning en masse with expectations of support. The NHS has yet to emerge from its current crisis, there is a desperate shortage of housing, and social care is badly underfunded. The idea that we could see baby-boomer expats back in the UK with health conditions, financial woes and even ending in destitution as a result of bad decisions based on misinformation should not simply be written off as so-called ‘remoaner’ hysteria.”
For so many good reasons, including cultural ones, freedom of movement works for Scotland. The question is: will a hard Brexit allow that to continue?