UK
10/03/2015 10:45 GMT | Updated 10/03/2015 12:59 GMT

SNP Tried To 'Fool' People About Scots Being More Tolerant Of Immigrants, Conservatives Say

The perception that Scots are more tolerant of immigrants than the English is "a myth" that the SNP tried to use to "fool" the public during the independence campaign, it has been claimed.

A new BBC poll has found 49% of people in Scotland think the number immigrants should be reduced, exactly the same proportion as a poll conducted across Great Britain last year.

Sir Geoff Palmer, professor emeritus at Heriot Watt University's school of life sciences in Edinburgh, said the poll showed "the myth of the Scots being more tolerant than the English".

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Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: "Survey after survey shows there are no real differences between Scotland and England when it comes to attitudes on immigration.

"Despite this, the SNP spent the entire referendum campaign trying to fool people into thinking the opposite."

The Scottish Government responded that UK immigration policy to cut the number of immigrants was "based on the values of the current UK Government".

According to the poll, 15% of Scots want immigration stopped completely compared with 21% across Britain.

One in 20 said immigration should be increased, a similar proportion as the Britain-wide poll, while 26% said it should stay at the same level, compared with 20% across Great Britain.

A total of 38% of Scots think immigration has been mostly bad for Britain, compared with 27% who said it was mostly good and 31% who said both good and bad.

Immigration was an important issue during the referendum campaign, with the SNP proposing boosting immigration to the country in its independence white paper.

The paper said the country would continue "promoting the integration of refugees and asylum seekers from the day they arrive".

scottish immigration

Immigration and border control signs at Edinburgh Airport in February 2014

During the independence campaign, then-SNP leader and First Minister Alex Salmond accused the three main parties of using immigration as "something to be frightened of".

"The main Westminster parties have decided to deploy immigration as a weapon in their increasingly tawdry self-styled Project Fear campaign," he wrote.

"We can jettison the aggressive language of the mainstream Westminster parties, who instead of standing up to the likes of Ukip have decided to pander to them."

Arthur Misty Thackeray, Scottish Chairman of Ukip, said: "These [poll's] results come as no surprise. Ukip has always known ordinary Scots feel equally concerned about immigration as the rest of Britain.

"Labour and the SNP can no longer bury their heads in the sand of ideological denial. The Scottish people know there is a problem and Ukip is the only party taking it seriously."

Palmer, who was born in Jamaica, said the Scottish Government had been open about the need for more immigrants to balance an aging population but had not tried to give a survey of the facts "for political reasons".

"I think politicians are worried about the fact that the British people, you know, are a bit sort of anti-foreigner and therefore they don't want to talk about it," he told Good Morning Scotland.

"I think immigration and the attitude toward immigrants have improved, but I think the politicians or the civil servants that provide them with the figures or what to say are really balancing it against their political careers, and I think this should not be the case."

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"I think people's attitudes are based on the sort of information they are fed, and I think that it is the responsibility of politicians, whether they lose their seats or not, to actually tell the people what the situation is," he added.

"I remember when I was interviewed by Sir Keith Joseph in 1964 for a place to do research and he actually told me I should go back to the Caribbean and grow bananas.

"That sort of prejudice no longer exists, but if you want to know whether prejudice exists against immigrants per se just look around your office and see how many immigrants you have working next to you."

A previous poll suggested Scots did favour immigration more than the rest of the UK.

In February last year, a poll by the Migration Observatory found 58% of Scots favoured reduced immigration, compared with 75% in England and Wales.

The observatory noted that, though Scotland had the greatest increase in the proportion of its population who were immigrants of any UK nation between 2001 and 2011, its migrant population remained low.

A spokeswoman for the SNP-run Scottish Government said Scots understood "the value of high-skilled migrants to our economy and society".

She said: "Immigration policy is currently too heavily influenced by the priorities of the south east of England, based on the values of the current UK Government and driven by a desire to reduce the numbers of incoming migrants which does not recognise the needs of Scotland and does not serve our economic or societal interests.

"The Scottish Government and politicians have an important role in shaping opinion and we call for an increased maturity and responsibility in how migration is discussed."