Scotland offers Cameron a solution to the EU asylum dispute
Jonathan Lindsell, 22 September 2015
Today Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, has said she is willing for Scotland to take up to 2,000 Syrian refugees. Building on her earlier willingness to accept 1,000 and to house some personally, Sturgeon met foreign secretary Philip Hammond on Monday, arguing that Britain must extend ‘immediate help to more people and look to assist those already here.’ She continued, ‘We cannot ignore those in need on our own doorstep and I believe the UK should opt in to the extended EU-wide relocation scheme announced by the EU President recently.’
The plan to which she referred was Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to redistribute 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece, Hungary and Italy into the rest of the EU. Britain has opted out of the scheme, which sets quotas based on a formula combining population, GDP, past asylum applications and unemployment rate.
Sturgeon argues that the UK joins this scheme as a whole, which is unlikely to happen: Britain’s position is to accept 20,000 refugees from the camps around Syria’s borders over the next five years. Scottish politics seems to support Sturgeon, as both Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson called on the UK government to do more.
This could be an opportunity for David Cameron to ruffle, if not kill, two birds with one stone. By allowing Scotland to participate in the EU measure, or at least to indicate willingness (assuming it will be defeated by the eastern European states), Cameron could at once demonstrate to the people of Scotland that he is serious about devolution and respecting Sturgeon’s wishes, whilst making concessions to the French and German governments which may prove vital for his wider EU negotiation.
EU leaders will meet in a summit tomorrow to debate Juncker’s plan. Cameron, having already opted out, will have little to contribute as matters stand. If Sturgeon agreed with this suggestion then Cameron can go some way to pleasing both sides. He will show he takes Scotland’s pro-European stance seriously and is willing to accommodate it, but can keep his government’s commitment to help the most vulnerable in the Syria region with the remaining 18,000 spaces. In the EU referendum the Scots could not then claim to have been ignored.
The 2,000 that Sturgeon says Scotland could accept would fit neatly into the EU’s proposed scheme. Scotland’s population is about 5.4 million. Finland, with a population of 5.49 million, is being asked to take 2,398 refugees while Croatia, with 4.29 million and a lower GDP, 1,046 refugees. Scotland would fall roughly between the two.
None of this would resolve the wider refugee crisis, but would help Cameron politically. A willingness to meet the European Commission halfway would present him as moderate compared to Hungary or Slovakia’s leaders. Cameron’s EU renegotiation has limited time. He needs goodwill from the likes of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande if he is to get his proposals on the agenda above Greece and asylum, let alone accepted.