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Seeing like a region: parliamentary discourses on asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland and South Australia


  • This title is a play on James Scott's (1998) book title Seeing like a State that explores why large scale projects of state planning that were originally set up to improve the human condition so often go wrong. In this paper, I am suggesting that seeing like a region may make a positive contribution to an aspect of the human condition – asylum.


Although policy making on migrant, asylum seeker and refugee flows falls within the responsibilities of the State, there has been a growing recognition that sub-state regions may have different perspectives on these matters. This paper looks at two regions threatened with population decline, Scotland and South Australia, and compare how their political representatives used demographic, human rights and sovereignty arguments to support or challenge the asylum policies adopted by the nation-state. In both regions, politicians looked to international human rights instruments and regional devolved powers and responsibilities as platforms from which to fight for refugee entitlements. While regional demographic considerations are connected in both regions with representations of asylum seekers and refugees as potential contributors to the regional economy and society, in Scotland the integration of asylum seekers is considered in the national interest. The presence of the national factor is also responsible for a greater urge to assert the humanitarian qualities of Scottish society and institutions. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.