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Labour Market

Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2023

I pay tribute to two great Scots who have sadly died in recent days. Winnie Ewing blazed a trail for women in politics. She was admired by colleagues from all Scotland’s parties as one of the most important politicians of her generation. Our thoughts are with her friends and family, particularly her children Fergus and Annabelle. And with Craig Brown’s passing on Monday, Scottish football lost a true legend who was held in high regard by players and fans across the country. Again, our thoughts are with his loved ones.

I am encouraged by the resilience that the Scottish labour market has shown, despite global issues still causing significant economic challenges. The latest official figures show that Scottish unemployment is close to a record low at 3.1%. I welcome that fact.

If we are to grow the Scottish economy as well as the national one, it is vital that we have a skilled workforce and the right level of investment. It is also important for areas such as the Borders, between Scotland and England, to have the least friction in trade and labour market conditions. Does the Secretary of State agree that politicians of all persuasions have a responsibility to ensure maximum opportunities on whichever side of the border, to ensure the least amount of friction, particularly for those looking for employment?

I agree. That is exactly why this Government introduced the United Kingdom Internal Market Act (2020): to protect frictionless trade across the UK. On maximising opportunities on whichever side of the border, it is a matter of some regret that Scotland is the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State and I represent large, rural constituencies with large hospitality and tourism sectors. Will he therefore name one benefit that ending freedom of movement has brought to the labour market in either sector?

The Scottish National party likes to blame everything on Brexit, but for the past two years we have had record immigration into the United Kingdom. That is a simple fact—record numbers since immigration figures began.

I had the pleasure and privilege of being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 alongside Winnie Ewing. She was undoubtedly an iconic figure of modern Scottish politics, from the Hamilton by-election to Madame Écosse and the opening of the Scottish Parliament. I always found her to be kind and sympathetic to new Members, and she always had the best stories. May she rest in peace.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one thing that will reduce confidence in the Scottish labour market is the prospect of another independence referendum—real or de facto?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Business does not like uncertainty, and the constant harping on about independence is causing uncertainty among business. The devolved Administration in Scotland should focus on the things that they were set up to do: education standards, the health service, drug deaths and getting some ferries rather than trying to create the island clearances.