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Tory immigration spin can hurt Scots

The "Go home" posters, which appeared in the windows of the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) office in Glasgow earlier this year, were never welcome in Scotland.

The posters were supposedly designed to encourage immigrants who want to leave the UK to approach the agency for help, but the message was crass, brutal and at odds with Scotland's traditionally welcoming approach to incomers. The phrase "go home" is a mantra of racists and the UKBA should have avoided it for that reason alone.

Now that the Coalition Government has had time to reflect on the campaign, divisions have started to appear. Only last week, the Prime Minister was defending the use of the posters, but his deputy Nick Clegg has made it clear he will block their further use. This means Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, can now state that the posters will not be displayed in Glasgow or anywhere else in Scotland again. He has also said the scheme in which similar posters were plastered on the side of vans and driven around London will not be extended nationwide.

Clearly, there is some politics at work here - the LibDems want to start introducing some room between them and the Conservatives ahead of the General Election - but even so, ending this nasty, brutish and short poster campaign is the right decision. Mr Moore says the campaign was deeply distasteful - what he does not say is that it was particularly so in Scotland.

There are several reasons for this. First, Scotland has, on the whole, not been subject to the kind of stresses and strains that immigration has caused in some parts of the south of England, where much of the debate and vocabulary of the immigration debate has been formed and articulated.

Secondly, immigration in Scotland has to be seen in the context of our small population. Until recently that population was declining and even now that it is recovering slowly, the country still faces the challenge of an imbalance between its young and elderly citizens. It is a challenge that the arrival of young, working-age immigrants could help solve.

The problem is that immigration is a reserved matter which means decisions taken in the context of London will not always be right for Scotland. This is particularly so when the Prime Minister appears to be pandering to the extreme end of conservative thought represented by UKIP, who are strong in England but have no influence north of the Border.

These differences between Scotland and London can be clearly seen in the case of Jilda Clark. Dr Clark, who is Turkish and married to a Scot, was told she would have to pass the language proficiency test that was introduced by the UK Government two years ago before she could join her husband in Scotland but that decision has now been reversed and rightly so: Dr Clark, who has a BA and MA in teaching English, is the kind of immigrant our workforce needs.

Perhaps the U-turn on Dr Clark's case, and the end of the posters, signal a change on immigration policy, but there are dangers ahead, particularly as the Tories seek to shore up their vote against UKIP. The temptation will be to scapegoat immigrants and tell them to go home. It is the duty of those who represent Scotland to make it clear that such an approach has no place here.

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