MIGRATION is in Scotland’s DNA. We are a nation of migrant people. It’s in our past, our present and will undoubtedly be in our future.

We aren’t necessarily as good at flying the flag as our Irish cousins, but we are just as scattered across the globe. You only need to travel to another country to bump into people from Scotland who’ve made their home there.

Our people migrate for all manner of reasons – family ties and work opportunities are perhaps the most obvious ones. A few years working in Australia turns into a lifetime. We are a nation that is shaped by emigration, and in turn, other nations have been shaped by Scottish immigrants.

If emigration feels like more of a choice than an absolute necessity for people in Scotland today, it was not always thus. In fact, any brief reading of our history will tell you that most Scots migrated because they had no other choice.

They were fleeing insecurity, poverty, and active hostility. They undertook uncertain voyages to unknown destinations. They entrusted their children and worldly wealth to vessels that weren’t always as seaworthy as they looked. Although that is history, it is more recent than we may think. It is easily within the living memory of my grandparents.

We must, however, beware drawing parallels that don’t exist between now and then, between war-torn countries and our peaceful nation. But remembering that migration is part of Scotland’s cultural, economic and social heritage should give us much more empathy for those who migrate.

It at least reminds us of our common humanity. And it is that common humanity that seems to have totally fallen by the wayside in the public debate on immigration. Indeed, the propagated by the UK Government about immigration is nothing short of dehumanising and cruel.

We’ve known about the “hostile environment” at the heart of the UK Government’s approach to immigration for many years. Whilst it is quite obviously abhorrent, meeting people who’ve been subjected to it makes you want to weep. During the leadership contest, I visited a group of women who’d had experience of the asylum and refugee system. One woman had waited five years, another had waited eight years to be processed. One woman hadn’t seen her young son for years.

Many of them had skills which they could not use, but which we could have certainly put to use. Teachers, doctors and carers. There was a desperation in their eyes as they shared their own personal stories. Few of them had come to Scotland because they wanted to. Most would much rather have stayed in the familiarity of home. They came because they had no choice.

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Most of these women have children. They talked about the difficulties of navigating the system, of being their children’s defender, protector and advocate.

Every parent knows that feeling – but imagine doing that in a foreign country. Stuck without fully understanding the language or the processes, without power, waiting years to have any sort of legal status. Although grateful for their accommodation, these women felt vulnerable as officers could walk in at any moment with their own keys.

I don’t know how most of these women had travelled here. I imagine few of them came by conventional routes. Sometimes, when I am rocking my own baby to sleep, I wonder how any mother could take the risk of a long, uncertain, dangerous journey.

And then I realise: You’d only do it if it’s more dangerous to stay than to go. For these women, it was trauma upon trauma – the trauma of the immigration system, compounding the trauma of the journey, compounding the trauma of why they left.

And all of that is before the UK Government passes the Illegal Migration Bill. The UK Government is pitching it as a means to “stop the boats”, but instead, it is enshrining greater depths of cruelty in the immigration system. It will prevent those who need security from applying for asylum.

The very people who’ve risked everything in a dinghy on the choppy waters of the Channel will not be able to apply for asylum.

In fact, arrivals will be detained, unable to appeal. They will be returned to their home country or somewhere like Rwanda.

The bill removes access to support for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, including children. It could push the most vulnerable into further exploitation and destitution.

All of us want to see asylum seekers and refugees given safe access to the UK in a humane way without having to depend on criminals and hazardous dinghies.

The Illegal Migration Bill isn’t the way to do it. There are tried and tested legal routes to access asylum in the UK which could be expanded – that removes the power from criminals. Indeed, that option is rightly available to Ukrainian refugees.

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Having a safe route is exactly why you don’t see Ukrainian refugees in small boats trying to get to the UK. The solution is to offer the same safe route to Iraqis and Afghans, fleeing persecution and turmoil. Those who truly need asylum should be offered it so they don’t have to depend on criminals and rubber dinghies.

The Scottish Government has slammed the bill as “dehumanising and immoral”. In a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, MSPs identified some of the greatest impacts of the bill on the most vulnerable people in the world.

It is right that our Parliament debates this because it is about the kind of Scotland we want to be. I want our country to be a place of safety for those who’ve been through more than anyone should ever experience. We should uphold our moral and legal obligations to offer sanctuary to vulnerable people in their time of need.

As the bill progresses, it is a constant, ugly reminder of inhumanity. And if there was ever a need for Scotland to have its own immigration system, it is now.