‘Refugees are welcome here’: what is Scotland’s attitude to immigration - and is it more positive than the rest of the UK?

Anti-deportation protesters at Kenmure Street in Glasgow earned widespread praise last week - but were the community’s actions reflective of the country’s attitude towards immigration?
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“Refugees are welcome here”.

It was the chant that echoed off the tenement buildings of Kenmure Street during the peaceful protest against a Home Office immigration raid last week, and it perhaps sums up the Glasgow Southside community’s attitude towards immigration.

The hundreds of people who dropped what they were doing to show solidarity for two men who had been detained by immigration officials have since been praised for their actions that ultimately led to the detainees being temporarily released.

Are people in Scotland welcoming of immigrants? (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)Are people in Scotland welcoming of immigrants? (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)
Are people in Scotland welcoming of immigrants? (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)

Some called the spontaneous demonstration a “heroic act of resistance” against UK immigration laws, while others said the protesters had made clear that the Conservative government’s “hostile environment” policy wasn’t welcome in Scotland

While the display of solidarity clearly demonstrated the wider community’s stance on immigration enforcement, the group of protesters doesn’t necessarily speak for the rest of the country.

Indeed, immigration enforcement is a power reserved to Westminster, and the majority of Scots (63%) believe that Holyrood should be able to set its own immigration policy, according to a Survation poll carried out in June 2020.

The UK’s immigration laws have long been criticised by the Scottish Government, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly calling for immigration powers to be devolved to her administration.

Protesters holding anti-eviction signs on Kenmure Street, Glasgow (NationalWorld)Protesters holding anti-eviction signs on Kenmure Street, Glasgow (NationalWorld)
Protesters holding anti-eviction signs on Kenmure Street, Glasgow (NationalWorld)

After the two detainees were released by Police Scotland, the SNP leader directly blamed Boris Johnson’s government for creating a “dangerous situation” with its “unacceptable” immigration policy.

And Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, in a Tweet said the “hostile environment created by the UK Government is not welcome here”.

But what is the Scottish public’s attitude towards immigration - and is it different to the rest of the UK?

Scots are more positive towards immigration than rest of UK

Scottish attitudes to immigration by constituency (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)Scottish attitudes to immigration by constituency (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)
Scottish attitudes to immigration by constituency (Graphic: Kim Mogg/JPI Media)

People north of the border are generally more positive towards immigration than those in the rest of the country, according to recent research.

Digital magazine UnHerd – which surveyed more than 21,000 people in conjunction with pollster FocalData to map social attitudes across the UK – asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement "immigrants should be free to move to Britain and work".

Each constituency in the country was ranked based on the strength of both positive and negative feelings towards immigration.

Out of 59 Westminster constituencies in Scotland, 36 had an above-UK average proportion who said they either mildly agree or strongly agree with the statement.

This suggests that almost two-thirds of constituencies in Scotland are more supportive of immigrants than the average in Britain.

The UnHerd data also echoes a recent poll which found Scots have a more positive attitude towards immigration than the rest of the UK.

The YouGov snap survey, carried out in February 2020 when the UK Government revealed its new post-Brexit points-based immigration system, found 54% of people in Scotland backed current or increased levels.

Fewer than a third, 31%, thought immigration was too high, compared to 48% elsewhere in the UK.

Yet it is important not to assume that there is a blanket positive attitude towards immigration in Scotland, when, according to the UnHerd study, opinion fluctuates across different constituencies.

In both Glasgow and Edinburgh, the positive feeling towards immigration was most dominant.

Five constituencies in Edinburgh - South, North and Leith, East, South West and West - were the most supportive out of all Scottish areas, whereas three were in Glasgow - North, Central and South, where the anti-immigration raid protest took place.

However, this isn’t to say that there is no negative feeling towards immigration in Scotland’s largest city, as three Glasgow constituencies - North East, East and South West - were also ranked among the least supportive of immigration in the country.

Other less supportive areas included Banff and Buchan, Airdrie and Shotts and Glenrothes.

But, in total, 55 out of 59 constituencies in Scotland had an above-UK average proportion who said they mildly agreed that immigrants should be free to move to Britain and work.

This data is not surprising, according to Robina Qureshi, chief executive of charity Positive Action in Housing.

“In the years of protest that we’ve been involved in, in terms of fighting for human rights, Scotland has tended to take the lead rather than watch what’s happening in England,” she told NationalWorld.

“If you look at England, you will barely hear a murmur when someone is deported because people generally have become immune or used to that level of cruelty.

“But, having faced injustice themselves in Scotland, and more and more as the argument for independence becomes more clear, I think people here see others suffering and want to support that.

“Although, in poorer parts of England you will find a similar sentiment - for example, Liverpool and Newcastle - where people feel they’ve been done down just as hard by Westminster as Scots have.

She added: “I think those who themselves have felt injustice will often recognise and empathise with the injustice suffered by others and challenge it.”