Why Immigration should be “Parked,” not “Weaponised.”


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Vote Leave” is a new cross-party campaign for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. It is hoping to be picked by the Electoral Commission to lead our unstable country’s pro-democracy movement. The most positive feature of the debut campaign video from Vote Leave is that it makes no mention of immigration. The UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who is now a bogeyman for much of the middle class due to his hostility towards immigration, is nowhere to be seen. UKIP’s volatile donor Arron Banks, who wants immigration to be the “number one” priority for the Out campaign, is off fronting a rival organisation called “Leave.EU.” Things should stay this way. Vote Leave should ensure that “immigration” is never a word in its dictionary.

The Vote Leave video shows a flock of banknotes flying away from a UK hospital towards continental Europe. To the fully turned-on brain, it looks a little silly, but I suppose they have calculated that this imagery will soak deep into the minds of the passing public. Just as immigration remains unremarked upon, Vote Leave’s video is careful not to talk in starry terms about democracy and sovereignty. Withdrawing from Europe is instead, in this video, all about better economic management and freeing up resources for schools and hospitals. Unfortunately the video also insists that a post-EU UK will experience a wave of public spending and “lower taxation.” This probably should be or. The video’s eagerness to equate an EU exit with pioneering scientific research is, however, attractively futuristic and this successfully cancels out the nostalgia which is often associated with the independence movement.

I am not a fan of the official, state-approved campaigning organisation. Before the Scottish referendum I opposed the very existence of “Better Together,” because the whole model arrives with leaders who inevitably make gaffes, and funders who are inevitably sinister and secretive. You end up wading into detritus. The Boiling Frog blogger is already hopping about all over Vote Leave’s backroom machinations and the “amateur” presentation of its website. These criticisms may be valid, but they are barely about tactics and certainly not about strategy. For me, the proximity of the Westminster blogger Paul Staines (AKA Guido Fawkes) to Vote Leave is ultimately reassuring, because Staines has a libertarian background and he accepts the “sound economic arguments” against cutting immigration.

And I cannot stress this enough: it would be absolutely horrible if the UK’s referendum over its EU membership became a proxy war within the media and culture at large about mass immigration. Over the last decade, around 60,000 Polish people have migrated to Scotland. Some neighbourhoods in Edinburgh contain a high concentration of Polish homes and businesses. A public debate about whether these people should have been ever welcomed into the country in the first place, a debate in which one side maintains that these living communities are a historical error, would be very difficult for many decent people to stomach. If the Out campaign put forward such an argument, it would, frankly, lose and deserve to lose.

There are obvious problems with the likes of the Electoral Commission, an unelected body, making choices about the shape and tone of the public debate. But since the Commission is obliged to identify a leading campaign group, Vote Leave gets a lot right for potentially leading leavers. If you hunt hard enough, you can locate a line on Vote Leave’s website about the EU’s “immoral, expensive, and out of control immigration system.” Still, this is rather like the SNP’s enthusiasm for the Queen: it is brief, perfunctory, and just a detail.

Immigration should be parked as an issue not least because it can be parked as an issue. Vote Leave must argue that decisions about our borders can be only made with any legitimacy within the UK parliament. We are not arguing about what the immigration policy should be – we are arguing about who should decide the policy. In other words, the question of whether the UK embraces mass immigration should be decided only in a UK General Election, once we have regained our independence.

During such a General Election, I would be arguing for mass immigration. And if the nation agreed with me, we would have chosen, as a people, and through our elected representatives, to welcome immigrants into our society. Those who feel alienated from mass immigration would have at least the comfort of knowing that they had lost an argument. In this respect, we would have matured as a democracy.


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