Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
COSLA is the representative voice of local government in Scotland, lobbying on behalf of our 32 member councils. COSLA Strategic Migration Partnership (CSMP) works specifically on migration issues and, together with partners from across the public, private and voluntary sector, we seek to ensure that Scotland is a welcoming place for new migrants and work to support the retention and integration of people in a manner that helps meet our country’s demographic needs.
In recent years, CSMP has developed increasingly fruitful links with our colleagues in academia. Our engagement with GRAMNet has been crucial in this regard and we are delighted to now have a reciprocal arrangement, which sees CSMP represented on the GRAMNet Steering Group and GRAMNet represented on our Board. This ensures that an evidence-based approach to policy making is always at the forefront of our minds and creates various interesting opportunities for collaborative, policy relevant research.
Perhaps the most significant project that we completed with our colleagues in GRAMNet in the last year was a pilot research project on the social and cultural impacts of migration in Glasgow. This saw Rebecca Kay, Co-Convenor of GRAMNet and Professor in the Centre for Russian, Central and East European Studies (CRCEES) at the University of Glasgow, spending 20 days with the CSMP team during summer 2012. During this period, she conducted interviews with a variety of stakeholders and practitioners in and around the city as a means of exploring the extent to which localised social and cultural impacts of migration can be evidenced and mapped. The project focused on Glasgow and as such was not representative of Scotland as a whole, but it aimed to be a starting point for more substantive research projects going forward.
A number of key themes were identified during the course of the research. For instance, emerging in many of the discussions was a sense that cultural diversity and an openness to people coming from other parts of the world were inherently beneficial for Scotland and Scottish society. This reflects the policy stance and approach taken by successive administrations at Holyrood which have sought to attract migrants as a means of growing the economy, tackling the country’s acute demographic challenges and creating a more culturally diverse and cosmopolitan society. Interviewees also recognised the economic benefits associated with migration and its role in facilitating trade links, opening markets and bringing new expertise, skills, talent and experience into the country.
However, alongside this enthusiasm for such benefits, notes of caution were also sounded regarding the sometimes more challenging experiences of migration in practice. Interviewees warned against complacency or overly optimistic assumptions that Scotland or Glasgow are ‘naturally’ open or welcoming places for new arrivals. On the contrary, they pointed out that especially when migrants or asylum seekers move into or are placed in areas with little former experience of migration and/or where there are pre-existing issues of deprivation, social exclusion and anti-social behaviours, the challenges for both local residents and migrants themselves can be substantial. In such areas, migration is often seen to be at least as challenging as it is beneficial.
That said, even in the face of such challenges, there were a range of areas where wider positive impacts and knock-on effects to the benefit of others in an area, community or institution were identified. For example:
Interviewees also highlighted the importance of developing a positive discourse on migration as a means of countering rhetoric, which often focusses on the negative impacts and problems associated with migration. It was suggested that more positive interventions, particularly from politicians and the media, could help minimise tensions within communities, whether between various migrant groups and the ‘indigenous’ population, or between ‘old’ and ‘new’ migrants. There was also a call for strategic leadership and coordination to allow the different spheres of government (local, Scottish and UK) to engage and interact with each other and with the third sector and the communities concerned in a coordinated manner. It was felt that this will then allow for more effective planning for, and responses to, migration.
Going forward, it is hoped that this pilot project will be a stepping stone to further research that will help inform future policy discussions, approaches and interventions at a local, national and UK level. As such, a number of options for future research have been suggested, including:
The research partners are also exploring the possibility of developing a series of ‘working breakfasts’ and briefings focussing on different aspects of the migration debate as a means of increasing engagement between politicians, policy-makers and practitioners regarding the various impacts of migration in our communities. The forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 provides an excellent opportunity for us all to debate and discuss the role that migration is likely to play in our country’s future and it is hoped that this will provide a particular impetus to the work of CSMP and GRAMNet alike in the year to come.