2007 - 2021

Transylvania Fails to Bite


Back in 2005 Michael Howard launched a truly horrible poster campaign asking ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ with a series of ‘homely truths’.

You saw it all over the streets insinuating itself into your psyche and forming a sort of suspicion and fear into everything. Shit, what are they thinking? What are people thinking they’re thinking? It was a series of posters, billboards, and TV commercials with messages like “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “How would you  feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” and focused on issues like dirty hospitals, landgrabs by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour. They contaminated the public space.

This week that campaign came of age, and even if it ended in farce (‘The immigration invasion that never was) it’s still a vile part of public life in today’s Britain.

It was Lynton Crosby’s idea.

Nine years on, are you thinking what I’m thinking? I don’t want to be part of this racist state any more. Luckily as Westminster descends into a race to the bottom over race and immigration, have some alternatives looming. On immigration and Europe and how we present to the world we’ve got the chance to set a new path:

“Scotland is not well served by Westminster’s decisions on immigration and, given our specific circumstances, finding the right approach for Scotland’s economy and society is an important part of ensuring a more sustainable future for our nation.” – Scotland’s Future

Roma Therapy

After weeks of dog-whistle politics – with Labour’s David Blunkett aping Enoch Powell in 1968 saying:

We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the the Roma community, because there’s going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that…

– the reality was that the ‘Roma invasion’ never came. As Romany journalist Jake Bowers wrote, Blunkett wasn’t so much predicting social conflict as adding to it.

It’s one of the very worst aspects of contemporary British political culture – this abject mainstreaming of explicit racism. The drumbeat of xenophobia (chiming beautifully with the traditional ‘scrounger’ narrative) has been growing louder since Blunkett’s outburst as English politicians tumble over each other to outdo each other in virulent opposition to ‘Roma’ and Bulgarians.

“The country would be swamped” we were warned. Instead, yesterday streets were quiet as people nursed hangovers and fridges were full of beer and cold turkey.

As Seamus Milne reports in the Guardian, the ‘swamping’ never materialised. It was, largely a figment of the tabloid imagination fuelled by desperate Westminster politicians looking for the nearest scapegoat for their own failed economics.

But the stories we are being told matter, even if they have no basis in reality. The aim, Milne writes, was to promise a ‘crackdown’:

Migrants will be charged for emergency hospital treatment at their bedside, the government announced – but that won’t apply to EU citizens. The Daily Mail and 90 Conservative activists begged David Cameron to invoke an EU “safeguard clause” to keep the curbs on Bulgarian and Romanian employment in place, while Tory ministers claimed they were being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. It was grandstanding nonsense, as the European commission would have had to agree to it.

Hope Not Hate

There’s a convergence of three obsessions of what used to be called the hard-right and is now just mainstream Westminister politics: first an obsession with Europe as enemy and threat to be defended against, second a completely disproportionate focus on ‘benefits’ (see infographic) and thirdly an ongoing phobia about immigration and ‘alien cultures’.


Whilst this is routinely played across the media as a ‘British debate’ it’s nothing of the sort and it’s a narrative we should guard against.

On immigration we have quite different needs, on race and multiculturalism we have quite different experiences and on attitudes to Europe we have different outlooks.

In February 2013, Ipsos Mori polling showed us that 53% of Scots would vote for the UK to remain part of the EU, with 34% opposed, while 61% think an independent Scotland should be an EU member. A 19% margin in favour of the EU in Scotland, and an 8% margin against in England.

Further data from Ipsos Mori gives strong evidence of a significant divergence of opinion between the two nations. In a similar poll in November, 50% of people in England said they would vote to leave the EU compared with 42% wanting to remain.

It was odd then to be lectured on Twitter by Sunder Katwala, Director of @britishfuture an organisation which aims ‘to deepen public conversation on identity, immigration, integration and fairness’:

“Scots are more less EU sceptic but rather more UKIP-averse than pro-EU as such”.

I don’t know what that means either.

I do know that Channel 4 News tonight reported:

“Eggs thrown at Roma family homes in Derby as immigration hysteria grows. Local MP says Government’s tougher rules are “dangerous.”

– and I do know that UKIP polled 0.28% at the last election in Scotland.

We need to re-articulate and give voice to a real openness and be proud of this. We need to develop a politics of hope not hate. The White Paper states:

One of the major gains from independence for Scotland will be responsibility for our own immigration policy. Currently immigration is a reserved matter, and the Westminster Government’s policy for the whole of the UK is heavily influenced by conditions in the south east of England. Westminster has also adopted an aggressive approach to immigration, asylum seekers and refugees, culminating in the recent controversy over advertisements to tell people to leave the UK and “go home”.

Scotland has a different need for immigration than other parts of the UK. Healthy population growth is important for Scotland’s economy. One of the main contributors to Scotland’s population growth is migrants who choose to make Scotland their home. In future our enhanced economic strategy will also do more to encourage young people to build their lives and careers within Scotland and to attract people to live in Scotland.

Scotland’s differing demographic and migration needs mean that the current UK immigration system has not supported Scotland’s migration priorities.

I’ve heard little debate and discussion on this important subject. This is as much about the kind of economy we want to create as the smokescreen of culture and religion.

Paul Mason puts it well:

The point is, we have choices. If you don’t want to live in a country that’s a magnet for low-skilled people, then don’t sign treaties that give free movement of labour with countries where they live. And maybe make it harder to set up businesses whose only rationale is to pay people below the minimum of what an ordinary worker could survive on.

That would mean breaking an economic habit that seems ingrained in the low-value end of UK business. But it might be more constructive than deploying a horde of reporters to chase planes arriving from Transylvania, and stigmatising thousands of hardworking people with every legal right to be here.

Wrestling this debate away from the tabloid gutter and the Westminster blame-game is key to setting out our own values and priorities for the years ahead.

Comments (18)

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  1. douglas clark says:

    Absolutely right. We attack the poor, the weak and the infirm to protect the rich? What sort of inverted society is that?

    Why is that?

    I do not recognise that as the country I want to live in. My country is a hell of a lot better than that.


    We are being delberately diverted from what matters.

    Not a banker prosecuted?

    Yeah, right. Insufficient evidence or what?

    We are being, systematically lied to by an elite. Who care not an inch for thee or me. It is pretty well disgusting, when you see it for what it is. A self serving elite.

    If we I were to believe one conspiracy theory, it would be that the entire nation, not just us, have been overtaken by Eton.

    A probably familiar and dreadful trope.

    1. bringiton says:

      Bankers have not been prosecuted because they did not break any laws (at least most of them).
      The people who should be in jail are the politicians who made the laws within which the bankers operated.That is probably the main reason why the Westminster establishment has tried to brush the whole thing under the carpet.

  2. Abulhaq says:

    British Future is nothing more than a front for sectional English interests. The drivers of Scottish nationalism, sovereignty, independence are not even understood by these precious, condescending oracles of “think-tankery”. They have a particularly large blind spot where we are concerned. After 300 years of so-called British “unity” what is going on in Scotland perplexes and antagonises because we proclaim your interests are not ours. Their nationalism, their identity, their societal “challenges” are irrelevant to us. As their worldview shrinks, ours grows. We have no equivalent of the neo-poujadiste UKIP or Marine Le Pen. Our future is suffused with hope. Scotland is everything but “a nation of shopkeepers”.
    Regarding the Roma people, the EU seems to be complicite in the systematic ill-treatment of this ethnic community. Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, France, Italy have records of harassment that manifest all the signs of racism and infringement of human rights. In effect, Roma are a stateless nation. As one ourselves, we know something of how that feels.

  3. douglas clark says:


    I more or less agree. Could you explain what you meant by:

    As one ourselves, we know something of how that feels.

    It seems to me that roma are the next identity to be declared ‘persona non grata’, after the Jews, after the Pakistani’s and the Indians? Or the Irish, come to that.

    I speak exclusively for myself, I quite like people that want to make their lives here. And I also understand that moving here, or moving on is what we signed up to.


    I will probably live and die here.

    Doesn’t make me a better person than someone that comes here, chooses to contributre, and then leaves.

    We should give them, at the very least, that opportunity or choice.

    We are all unique individuals, with our own destiny.

    I would like it if the state saw us all as equal.

    For they should.

    It is a joke for the state to see itself as superior to individuals. which I assume is your point?

    On that, at least, we can agree.

  4. I think that the lesson of the French revolution has been forgotten,and as we make our way back to those unenlightened days we are passing through the workhouse’s again,and then the threat of civil unrest will happen very quickly.Just a possibility and may not happen but it will take a change of direction from those self-appointed new aristocrats,for with wealth becomes power with power becomes a responsibility,and so far I see none in Westminster able to be responsible to the whole of the population.

    1. Isn’t progress wonderful..Propaganda and hatred unseen since Stalin and Hitler unleashed by a corrupt, incompetent, inadequate, self serving cabal. I never ever in my life envisioned the day would come when it’s time to think the unthinkable and voice the ‘unvoiceable’. We are now governed by racist idiots who would make the Nazis afraid.
      2000 years ago while the corrupt got richer and the poor starved they fed people to the lions for the edification of the uneducated. Now they feed them to Jeremy Kyle.
      ‘I’m not insane Bertie…GET ME OUTA HERE

  5. Murray McCallum says:

    A really good article Mike.

    The Ipsos Mori poll highlighted in the article (people in Scotland relatively more pro EU) explains why many ‘UK’ economists fear an independent Scotland. It would both increase the likelihood and speed of an rUK exit from the European Union.

    1. bellacaledonia says:


  6. Sunder Katwala says:

    Its slightly odd to quote a tiny snippet of a longer exchange. I had mainly suggested you might like to see the Scottish data from polling on migration and the EU, which you said you would like to see.

    Scots are more pro-European than the English. I have blogged before to highlight this. (Why English Euroscepticism could doom the Union http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/07/why-english-euroscepticism-could-doom-union

    The comment though Scots are are particularly averse to UKIP’s form of Euroscepticism, they are not very strongly more pro-European. (Scottish attitudes to the EU are considerably more similar to English attitudes than they are to continental European attitudes, for example).

    There are really very similar views indeed on EU free movement and its extension to the A2, despite a less noisy media and political debate. More generally, across polls on immigration, it is clear that the (welcome) difference in media and political attitudes is not nearly so strongly reflected in public attitudes. Across a range of data, attitudes are not as different on migration as they can be on the EU, where the differences are also fairly slight. Overall, Scots are very mildly more pro-migration than the English, but not so pro-migration as Londoners.

    The differences between Scottish and GB attitudes in the recent ICM poll for British Future were as follows. The poll is from this report http://www.britishfuture.org/articles/eu-migration-romania-bulgaria-what-does-public-think/

    In regards to UK working rights for Romanians and Bulgarians, which comes closest to your view:

    Welcome this – it is part of the free movement of Labour in the EU and that is good for Britons too.
    GB 15%, Scotland 18% (+3)

    Reluctantly accept this – because free movement is part of the rules of being in the EU
    GB 24% Scotland 25% (+1)

    Block this – but we should remain within the EU
    GB 18% Scotland 19% (+1)

    Leave the EU so that these rules do not apply to Britain anymore
    GB 30% Scotland 29% (-1)

    None of these
    GB 3% Scotland 4%

    Don’t know GB 10% Scotland 5% (-5)

    In a referendum

    Likely to stay in whatever the conditions: GB 13%, Scotland 16% (+3)
    Leaning towards voting in, but want to know the conditions to make up my mind GB 22% Scotland 19% (-3)
    Leaning towards voting out,but want to know the conditions to make up my mind GB 26% Scotland 28% (+2)
    Likely to vote out whatever the conditions GB 24% Scotland 22% (-2)

    We can choose to be in the EU or to leave it. Whatever we decide, the British government can’t break the law and that means we can’t begrudge Romanians and Bulgarians who want
    GB 47-27 (+20)
    Scotland 51-24 (+27)

    Enforce minimum wage to prevent exploitation and undercutting, but accept Romanians and Bulgarians who work and pay taxes are playing by the rules
    GB 76-5 (+71)
    Scotland 79-5 (+74)

    Those who come should learn language, work, pay taxes and integrate. We should welcome those who make the effort
    GB 77-5
    Scotland 80-5

    The government is right to put tough limits on access to benefits. People should be able to come to work, but not to come for an easy ride
    GB 80-5 (+75)
    Scotland 78-6 (+72)

    We should manage pressures on local services, but should not prejudge people before they arrive. We can deal with the issues without prejudice

    GB 57-19 (+38)
    Scotland 60-18 (+42)

    We should stop worrying about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. Its EU law and its going to happen, so lets just get on and try to make it work

    GB 31-48 (-17)
    Scotland 32-41 (-9)

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks very much Sunder – really interesting

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Sunder – sorry to cut out an extract – sometimes Twitter is not the best space for exchange.

      Your poll is interesting it seems to show a small but significant difference. It’s maybe not surprising to see these differences coming closer as we are all exposed to the same relentless barrage of vitriol and bigotry in the press.

  7. Sunder Katwala says:

    ICM also asked people about their attitudes to Polish migrants – and found broadly positive attitudes to Poles themselves among a majority of the population. It seems clear that most people can not fairly be described as anti-migrant, while some in the ‘hardline minority’ (of up to a quarter of the population) can be fairly described as having anti-migrant views. Our report suggested these findings could help to differentiate between anxieties which can be addressed constructively in a way that can bring communities together (and which it would be a mistake to dismiss as prejudices) and toxic prejudices, which need to be challenged.

    In 2004 EU citizens from Poland became entitled to live and work in the UK. Which of these statements best matches your opinion of them?

    Work hard for a living: 55% GB, 58% Scotland (+3)
    Claim benefits for a living: 19% GB, 23% Scotland (+4)
    Neither/don’t know: 25% GB, 20% Scotland (-5)

    Make an effort to integrate: 35% GB, 39% Scotland (+4)
    Don’t make enough effort to integrate 40% GB, 40% Scotland
    Neither/don’t know 24% GB, 20% Scotland (-4)

    Make a contribution to Britain: 52% GB, 58% Scotland (+6)
    Don’t make a contribution to Britain: 24% GB, 27% Scotland (+3)
    Neither/don’t know 24% GB, 15% Scotland (-9)

    Mainly rent or buy own home: 29% GB, 27% Scotland (-2)
    Mainly live in council housing: 32% GB, 42% Scotland (+10)
    Neither/don’t know: 39% GB, 31% Scotland

    Cause trouble in my community: 19% GB, 19% Scotland (-)
    Don’t cause trouble in my community: 57% GB, 60% Scotland (+3)
    Neither/don’t know: 24% GB, 21% Scotland (-3)

    Again, the broad picture is of similarities between Scottish attitudes and GB attitudes generally, in terms of a pro-Polish majority in Scotland and in England, and a similarly sized minority with harder negative attitudes. Scots are mildly more likely to think Poles make a positive contribution; though the main area of difference was that Scots are a bit more likely to think most Poles live in social housing.

  8. florian albert says:

    Last year Alex Bell wrote an exasperated article in which he criticised the ‘tedious parade of … caring Scots versus heartless Tories.’ This year, not much has changed.
    There is no suggestion in Mike Small’s article that there is a downside to immigration. Unhappily there is. Working people know it. Large scale immigration puts downward pressure on wages and puts pressure on public services. And, before anyone tries to tell me, there is an upside.
    This is the core. It has pluses and minuses. The fact that UKIP concentrates on the latter does not mean they do not exist.
    At the last electoral test, the Dunfermline (Scottish Parliament) by election, UKIP beat the only left candidate – the Scottish Greens. When UKIP, which is seen – despite its title – as a very English party, outpolls the left in working class Scotland, it is time to take notice.
    If immigration is much less of an issue in Scotland, it is because there has been much less of it and the most recent arrivals share most of our culture.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Actually in quoting Paul Mason I acknowledge precisely what you refer to. It’s about the kind of economy and society you want to create. What kind of society do you want to create?

  9. florian albert says:

    What sort of society do I want to create ?

    A social democratic one; that means one very different from the one supported by Brown and Salmond. Theirs involves economic liberalism (typified by how they treat the banks) to pay for a large public sector, which works to the advantage of the already better off.
    It involves concentrating on wealth creation – almost as much a taboo for the Scottish left as immigration.
    As the Danish PM said, ‘We aren’t keeping up on productivity and competitiveness… We can’t have a welfare state if we can’t afford it.’
    It involves accepting that, at present, policies such as ‘free’ university tuition are de facto regressive – they benefit the well off.
    It involves facing up to what Gerry Hassan calls educational apartheid, the exact opposite of what comprehensive education was set up to achieve.
    It involves accepting that, in the first decade of the Scottish Parliament, a huge amount of money was spent but Scotland’s social problems – amongst the worst in Western Europe – remained unaltered.
    It involves accepting that 200,000 unemployed have a prior claim on our attention before immigrants.
    It involves accepting that creating a social democratic society involves hard work, challenging vested interests and deferring political gratification.
    The society I would like to see could only be created through electoral politics.

    Since you acknowledge that, for working people, there are negative effects of immigration, why did you not deal with this in your article ?
    Like so much written by the left, this piece has lots of aggressive rhetoric, ‘racist state’, ‘mainstreaming of explicit racism’ but almost nothing to say about the underlying problem.
    The success of UKIP is, in no small measure due to the refusal of the left to engage with problems which are only too obvious to voters.

    1. John Edgar says:

      “For working people … there are negative effects from immigration”. Which working people are meant here? If working, you have a job, position, career. Negative effects , which? Immigration, or migration happens when the receiving land has opportunities, very often not taken up by the indigenous population. There has been open exchange of groups of people and individuals to and from the UK even before the EU began. Up until 1914, there were many Lithuanians in the Lanarkshire area especially in Bellshill. This island has been kept alive since time immemorial by peoples coming to these shores. Nothing new or even sinister. We realky need to “cool it”. Open borders an d free movement wiithin the EU applies to us too to move

  10. John Edgar says:

    If Brexit happens, does that mean there will be no non-English football players and managers in English clubs as they are taking away positions from the “native” hardy Anglo-Saxon stock of Germanic origin? The furriners are diluting the talent pool so th that the English national side is weakened and cannot win the world cup as is ordained by providence.
    Does that apply to Scots and Welsh and Irish?
    What a mess we are in after all this Romanian and Bulgarian ” bashing”. It was Gordon Brown, the North Briton, who fulminated against the “bulgariansandromanians” as if they were one conjoined tribe. As he klunked: “British jobs for British workers” – a” Daily Mailesqe rant”. Was that a Vow? He only lasted 2 years as PM!
    You could not even make it up!

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