While Universities Scotland seeks to “understand, from the Scotland Office, the context” of this most recent instance of the British state hight-handedly overruling the democratically elected Scottish Government, few of us will have any doubts about Mundell’s motives. The decision to go against an overwhelming body of opinion in Scotland by blocking plans to allow skilled student migrants to remain in Scotland after graduating self-evidently panders to UKIP and assorted other xenophobic Little Englanders. Mundell and his bosses in London clearly had one eye on how the right-wing media would react to anything that could be spun as a let-up in the Tories’ vicious anti-immigration policy.
But there is another, perhaps less obvious, reason for this latest slap in the face for Scotland from Mundell. The British establishment is desperate to minimise policy differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK). They urgently want to bring Scotland into line with England. The British establishment abhors Scotland’s distinctive political culture. The fact that Scotland does things different – insofar as the shackles of an asymmetric political union allow – threatens to expose the folly of the austerity fetishism which has infected the entire British political system.
The reintroduction of post-study work visas in Scotland would surely be beneficial. It is unlikely that such a broad spectrum of support for the policy could be misguided. It is not easy to imagine that Mundell might be right while everybody else was wrong. I, for one, utterly reject the premise that this modern incarnation of the imperial governor-general alone knows what is best for Scotland. But that hardly matters. Because the decision has absolutely nothing to do with what is best for Scotland, and everything to do with what best serves the Conservative Party and the British nationalist cause.
A successfully operating post-study work visa system in Scotland would be a huge embarrassment to a UK Government intent on making a big show of expelling foreigners as expeditiously as possible. Just as other aspects of Scotland’s distinctive political culture constitute and embarrassment by fatally undermining the claim that there is “no other way” but austerity.
Once again, Scotland’s interests are casually sacrificed in the name of partisan self-interest and the preservation of the British state’s structures of power, privilege and patronage. Universities Scotland may need help understanding what is going on. To the rest of us, it is all too sickeningly familiar.