Scotland needs more people and the powers to attract them

Scotland should have increased powers over immigration to attract skilled workers and students in order to head off a looming demographic time bomb, suggests a new parliamentary report.

Although, after decades of decline, Scotland’s population is growing it is doing so at a slower rate than the UK as a whole. An aging population, lower life expectancy, reduced fertility rate, diminished levels of inward migration and continuing emigration out of Scotland have all combined to create a critical outlook for the future.

Scotland - plenty of room for a few more

Photograph by: Gerry McCannScotland, plenty of room for a few more

A report by the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee has highlighted the challenges ahead due to the makeup of the nation’s population and called for the UK and Scottish Governments to work together in tackling the problem.

The committee claims more could be done to attract skilled workers to Scotland and encourage people from overseas and elsewhere in the UK to study in Scotland and stay in the country afterwards to use their skills.

Support for examining sub-national migration powers for Scotland and for a post study work scheme for students are among the possible solutions considered by the report.

“Where it is encouraging that Scotland’s population is at its highest ever level, Scotland’s predicted population growth still falls behind the rest of the UK,” said Pete Wishart MP, Chairman of the committee.

“We conclude that a growing population in Scotland is to be welcomed and is necessary for the success of the Scottish economy. If we fail to keep pace with the rest of the UK there will be an economic cost to Scotland and an impact on our ability to support our social and economic ambitions. Our dependency ratio and life expectancy inequalities have also been identified as features in our report and we ask both Governments to put in places measures that will help address those.

“Witnesses consistently told us that consideration should be given to a subnational immigration policy to help us grow our population and more must be done to retain migrants to Scotland, attract migrants from within the UK and encourage more young Scots to remain in Scotland.”

The report also highlights the importance of understanding regional variations within the country.

“Significant population decline is still a worry for parts of rural Scotland. We must work to encourage business to set up in rural areas of Scotland and attract young talented people to those communities,” said Mr Wishart.

“In all Scotland is on course to meeting the average population growth of the EU 15 and closing its dependency ratio with the rest of the UK by 2029. However if we don’t address our relative population growth there could well be an economic impact for Scotland.

“Only through the UK and Scottish Governments working together, towards the same goals and using the powers that each Parliament possess, can they make an significant impact on demographic trends.”

In response to the report the Scottish Government’s Europe Minister Alasdair Allan maintained it underlined the need for Scotland to have immigration policies tailored to suit its particular needs and circumstances.

“We have consistently called on the UK Government to reintroduce a post study work route in Scotland – a view held widely across stakeholders in Higher Education, business and indeed the political spectrum in Scotland,” he said.

“Our demographic and workforce needs are different to those of the rest of the UK, and with the recent rhetoric of the UK Government as it appears to be moving toward a hard Brexit, I am increasingly concerned its polices will seriously damage Scotland’s population growth.”

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