SCOTLAND’S heavy reliance on migrant seasonal labour to pick its valuable fruit and veg crops, would be best served by Scotland developing its own ‘visa’ system within the UK.

That was the view of the Scottish Government’s minister for Europe, migration and international development, Ben MacPherson – the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith – when he opened the Fruit for the Future event at JHI, Dundee, last week.

“Scotland desperately needs a more tailored approach to migration,” he said, during his keynote address. “Our vision is for an additional route specifically for Scotland within the UK framework.

“All other routes would still apply, but a Scottish visa would mean that Scottish ministers, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, could decide on the entry rules. A Scottish visa holder would be required to be resident in Scotland, but free to travel in the UK for short-term business visits or personal reasons.

“This could be achieved as part of the existing UK framework, delivered by the Home Office and would not be independent of the current visa system,” he argued.

Such freedom would allow Scottish businesses to make investment decisions and migrants to make life decisions, enabling the industry to respond quickly to specific economic, demographic and social circumstances.

“An example of the UK Government’s failure to address Scotland’s specific issues can be seen in the Seasonal Annual Workers (SAWS) pilot scheme which is seeking to recruit 2500 workers for the whole of the UK. This is not even enough to meet the number of vacancies in the horticulture sector in Angus alone,” he told farmers and researchers.

“Without access to labour in sufficient quantity and quality, Scotland’s agricultural sector risks losing substantial income earning potential, with the prospect of severe impacts on the rural economy and rural communities.”