By Angela Haggerty
The UK coalition’s attempts to use immigration to distract voters from economic failures should further prompt Scots to take control of their own affairs, the Scottish Green Party said on Wednesday in response to the Queen’s speech.
The ceremonial opening of parliament heard of the coalition’s legislative plans to clamp down on immigration by forcing short-term migrants to pay for NHS care and requiring immigration checks on tenants by private landlords.
Deportation rules for illegal immigrants would be relaxed under the plans and they would be prevented from gaining driving licenses. The Queen told parliament the legislation would aim to “ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not”.
However, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, said the news did not address the economic and austerity issues facing Scots.
“The UK coalition is dancing to a reactionary tune on immigration. They want to distract voters from their failure on the economy and their assault on the poor and the vulnerable,” said Mr Harvie.
“The priorities of Westminster seem a world away from the interests of most Scots. This speech signals the need to convince more Scots of the benefits of taking control of our own affairs.”
The Queen told MPs that economic recovery and growth was the first priority for the government and it would “continue to prioritise measures that reduce the deficit” while promoting a “fairer society that rewards people who work hard”.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims that the forthcoming parliamentary plan would boost economic development were rubbished by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said the speech showed the coalition government was “out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs”, while Mr Harvie claimed Scots could lead their own economic way forward.
“Scotland, with all its skills and resources, could truly strengthen its economy and improve standards of living. The coalition’s failure to prioritise jobs in green industries shows they are stuck in the past,” he added.
Towards the end of the speech the Queen spoke of the UK government’s intentions to retain Scotland within the United Kingdom ahead of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, saying: “My government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.”
The traditional opening of parliament was attended by MPs and peers and, for the first time since 1996, Prince Charles, who was accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall.
SNP MP Angus Robertson countered comments from the Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, who said the 15 bills set out in the speech – 13 of which apply north of the border – were positive for Scotland.
“This speech underlines exactly why Scotland needs good government with independence – not bad government from Westminster,” said Mr Robertson.
“The speech shows that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland. Instead of boosting economic growth it is focusing on a lurch to the right politically, and is out of touch with the people of Scotland.”
As well as changes to legislation governing migrants to the UK, the Queen set out the government’s plans for reform on pensions, with a single-tier state pension to replace the current basic pension with earnings-related top up.
Among other reforms announced were changes to National Insurance contributions for small businesses to reduce costs and the establishment of a payment scheme for asbestos victims, funded by a levy on insurance companies.