The Scottish often say that their most valuable export is people. It’s accepted that the young, bright and adventurous leave their small nation for London or abroad, perhaps returning to their homeland only to settle down or retire.
This has resulted in a brain drain that sucks talent out of the country, leaving an ageing and static population behind. If Scotland votes for independence on 18 September, a priority will be to stop this trend. The Scottish government has laid out a raft of policy proposals to attract young people, students and skilled migrants into the country. Should the rest of Britain get ready for a loss of talent?
Scotland is now home to 5.2 million people, roughly the same as the English county of Yorkshire, but this number has barely grown since the 1960s, while its depopulation goes back for generations.
The two great rival cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, have a more mixed population than the sleepy towns of rural Scotland, yet Glasgow, with its School of Art, club culture and dizzily rapid regeneration, has still to shake off its reputation as the jobless capital of the UK. Similarly, Edinburgh was recently voted the second-best place to live in Britain, but neither city has been able to compete with the allure of London. If Scotland breaks away from the rest of the UK, it would take significant steps to turn this around.
The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) roadmap to independence, the White Paper, is packed with policies to help keep and attract new skilled, educated and ambitious young people. Key to this goal is the commitment to shake up migration policy, a target miles away from the British government’s pledge to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.
The SNP would introduce a points-based system to prioritize skilled and educated migrants coming into Scotland, providing incentives for moving to remoter areas like the highlands and islands. People from outside the EU wanting to move to Scotland would get points for degrees, languages spoken and other skills, with less emphasis given to having a job lined up in advance.
Should the UK choose to exit the European Union (EU) in 2017, Scotland’s pro-migration measures would prove all the more significant. Westminster’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and increasingly punitive policies give immigrants a reason to leave, or stay away from, England.
However, immigrants have a significant economic impact – since 2000, they have made a net contribution of around £25 billion ($42 billion) to the British economy, while EU immigrants are the most likely to make a positive contribution, paying more in taxes and receiving fewer benefits than the average person already in the country.
If its points system works, an independent Scotland might find itself in the enviable position of picking and choosing from skilled and well-qualified immigrants who are unwilling or unable to live in the rest of the UK’
[Read more in The New Internationalist]