IF ever there was a debate which gave off heat rather than light, it would be the current national conversation on immigration.

Led by the right-wing Press and fuelled by pro-Brexit Tories and their other assorted hangers-on, this must be the most depressing and demoralising argument in our current domestic politics. While not so long ago the Tories were accused of dog-whistle politics where they would hint at darker issues without directly addressing them, now it would appear that they are embracing the fear and doing it anyway.

Their rhetoric has plumbed such depths that no-one would be in any way surprised at anything that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove might now say in public.

While the impending EU Referendum seems to have brought this issue to a head, it’s one which has been bubbling away at the fringes of our own politics for some time. I recall facing up to UKIP’s David Coburn during the European election campaign back in 2014, when he made similar outrageous, unpalatable and economically illiterate claims. While some at the time dismissed him as an eccentric oddball, they failed to stand up and address the untruths he freely spouted, leading to his election that year at the bottom of the Scottish list of MEPs.

Now that the debate has moved to the front and centre of the campaign on our membership of the European Union, we can’t afford to make the same mistake again.

Rather than the current fractious and negative debate between two warring factions within the Tory party, this discussion needs to be driven by the facts, and the best interests of our country and our society.

In whose interests are we acting? Is this in the interests of our economy? Our communities? The individual families who are bearing the brunt of the perverse decisions being made on our behalf by a London-centric Government which neither understands nor cares of the needs or wishes of the people of Scotland?

The facts are clear and unambiguous. Our economy is strengthened by the contribution made by those who choose to come and work and live here who contribute overall more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Rather than being a drain on our public services, workers from outside of the UK are overwhelmingly helping to support them, not just through contributing their taxes, but by supplying skilled labour that keeps our world-class services running. While those on the right talk of the perceived strain on our NHS caused by migrants, the actual situation is that the real threat to frontline public services would be withdrawal from the single market and the free movement of labour. Without this Scotland would be required to turn many of our doctors, nurses and other medical professionals away, with potentially devastating effect on waiting lists and patient care.

As the positive public response to the ongoing case of the Brain family from Dingwall shows, Scottish communities recognise the benefits that diversity brings to our society. Families like this aren’t just a financial resource for Scotland to tap into, they make a myriad of other contributions which can’t all be measured in pounds and pence.

As the daughter of a migrant I watched my father proudly make his contribution to his adopted home here in Scotland in a number of ways. When I think of the journey that he and so many others have made from all over the world to come here, I’ve asked myself what better tribute for any country than to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for others?

If we want stability in the wider world, if we want to project our values of freedom and equality into unenlightened countries, we need to open up our society to those who could benefit. We can’t simply pull up the drawbridge on the world and withdraw from the global community.

This Tory Government has demonstrated time and time again that our public services are subject to ideologically motivated cuts in funding. The current debate on our membership of the EU and the disproportionate emphasis on immigration and the suggestion that it has more challenges than opportunities helps them to invent a scapegoat for this mess of their own creation. That’s why it’s essential that progressive politicians stand together to highlight the truth, rather than pandering to this extremist rhetoric.

There are three weeks to go before we make our decision. Let’s change the tone, and celebrate the human benefits of immigration which we can see around us every day.

Words matter. This debate is being observed by people across the world, young and less so. Let’s not waste this important opportunity to demonstrate that we’re a country which welcomes those with hope, dreams and ambition from across the globe.

Our society will be stronger for it.

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