Creeping Hitler

The Memorial to Murdered Jews in Berlin: a stark reminder for Scotland how unneighbourly thoughts turn into inhuman acts.

berlin.jpg

memcrop.jpg

The London School of Economics has published a study on the economic impact of immigration in the UK. Using 35 years of data, the researchers found that increased immigration has no impact on the wages of indigenous males. This counters the ‘popular’ view that an increase in the supply of ‘cheap labour’ tends to suppress wages for native workers. (It’s a more sophisticated version of ‘immigrants steal our jobs’.)

The research shows that ‘immigrant workers’ are an imperfect substitute for locals. They do not readily ‘displace’ natives in the workplace. At the bottom of the market, migrants may lack language skills. At the top, they may have high-level skills that are under-supplied among natives. There may also be ‘soft’ reasons why demand for native staff stands up: negative perceptions of migrant accents or simple racism.

In an area where strong feelings are more common than facts, it’s an important finding. But there are three further observations I’d like to make – and you’ll understand why in a moment.

Firstly, the LSE study shows that immigration makes marginal economic activity possible. Jobs that would otherwise go undone, get done. And that enhances productivity and output. From eras and countries when immigration was not constrained (for example, the USA), the evidence suggests that immigration brings significant economic benefits.

Secondly and more crucially, we are all of immigrant stock. Even if you trace your cultural roots back to the days of the Angles who founded ‘England’. Yes, the people who Pope Gregory famously punned as looking like Angels – they immigrated from Germany… (And early European languages share a common root with early Asian languages. And doesn’t your DNA show that we all descend from one people, moving out of Africa anyway?)

Finally, as a trip to Berlin reminded me, the issue raises sombre questions about human nature. Regardless of economics or cultural considerations, can we really let ourselves be tempted towards that terrible path where people are judged by their origins?

I went to a business dinner recently and found myself sitting next to a man of nodding acquaintance. Professional, articulate, civilised, you’d think. Maybe he thought we knew each other better. Or he’d had too much to drink. But he began a line of argument that began with right-wing economics and ended with a diatribe on immigration.

Carefully worded, he explained how – while he personally did not support the BNP – he could understand how poor white communities would support to racist thinking…

Sadly, that doesn’t strike me as a particularly unusual or surprising view. The government seems to be responding to popular pressure to ‘tackle’ immigration. And, more palpably, at the last airport I went through, uniformed officials now staff Homeland Security (a phrase with chilling echoes, anyway) – instead of the friendly civil servants in civvies.

What does surprise me is how the anti-immigration propagandist doesn’t feel the need to offer any real evidence for his views. (Especially when a neo-racist machine like Migration Watch offers propaganda puffs aplenty.) When challenged, my dinner companion had next to no idea about the economic impacts of immigration today or the long-term truth about human migration: for example, when immigration controls were first introduced into the UK or how the USA became the world’s dominant economy and political force.

The reason is simple. Anti-immigration is a smokescreen for racism. There’s no human logic in it. But look at 20th century history. You know where it tends. And you know how it ends.

Let’s not go there, Scotland. As a nation, we’ve often been the emigrants, and expected to be received kindly wherever we landed. It’s time to return the favour with true Scottish hospitality.

Photography by Lou Kiddier.