We all benefit when students become citizens of the world

ONE of the most heartbreaking parts of the drip-fed Brexit horror has been its impact on EU nationals who chose to make Scotland their home and now find themselves living in a state of uncertainty. That’s why I was so proud to see our First Minister, as one of her first acts after the EU referendum result, make a point of telling EU nationals that they were welcome and valued, and that this was their home.

The National

First published in The National, 3 January 2017

ONE of the most heartbreaking parts of the drip-fed Brexit horror has been its impact on EU nationals who chose to make Scotland their home and now find themselves living in a state of uncertainty. That’s why I was so proud to see our First Minister, as one of her first acts after the EU referendum result, make a point of telling EU nationals that they were welcome and valued, and that this was their home.

It’s a two-way street though, and a new report from Milan Zver MEP has suggested that Erasmus+, the catch-all sequel to Erasmus, should be made available free to students on lower incomes, and the funding forms made much more simple. It’s a great idea, and exactly the kind of programme we would benefit from with EU membership. We should be sending our kids out into the world, telling them to learn more languages, make friends abroad, and come back here with those skills and experience to improve our communities.

Cards on the table: I was an Erasmus student, and it changed the path of my life. Carrying my books along those same corridors walked by Nobel Prize winners and centuries of students, it was a transformative experience – one I’ll confess I’d make the norm, not the exception, for Scottish students. The Erasmus programme was founded on an old principle in Scottish legal education, which meant students had to spend a year studying overseas. It creates pan-European links and opens up opportunities as well as giving participants a greater sense of the world they live in.

No doubt there are already some readers thinking “but there aren’t enough jobs here – surely we should be putting the brakes on immigration?” In times of fear and uncertainty, it’s natural to want to circle the wagons. If your partner can’t get a job, your children can’t get a house, and you feel you’ve been left behind, of course you’ll want to lash out. New polling data shows that people turned up for the EU referendum in far greater numbers than the last General Election, and make no mistake, that was a huge gain for the Leave side, with their message of “look after your own first”.

But there’s a reason “divide and conquer” is such a tried-and-tested maxim for those who want to advance their own interests at the expense of others. Just like the Yes movement is stronger for being such a broad church, Scotland is stronger by being part of Europe. If we want independence, if we want to have a powerful voice on the world stage, we need to make overtures to Europe. That starts with making sure that our EU neighbours know that they are welcome, they are safe, and they can call this country home.

As soon as you start putting up walls and isolating yourself, you’ve blocked investment. Look at the way London-based businesses are already being wooed by our continental cities – France’s leading financial regulator has publicly announced that major banks are already planning to shift operations from London to Paris. It’s not just banks, though – who’s going to build homes, create jobs, or invest socially in a place that treats outsiders with barely-veiled hostility?

We, as citizens of the world, face common challenges, which we cannot address by cutting ourselves off from one another. Remember, we all got through 2016 together! Now, let’s take the next few days to rest and come back in 2017 fighting fit and ready to face our new challenges together.