Emigration is Scotland’s Problem, Not Immigration – Former SNP Leader Gordon Wilson on Population Policy After The Referendum

An independent Scotland will need a coherent ‘population policy’ to provide  financial incentives to discourage young Scots from emigrating and taking their children abroad.
Tax breaks, family support grants and much more help with pre and post school child care are essential to keep families from quitting the country.

That’s one of the major findings of a discussion paper produced by former SNP leader Gordon Wilson through his referendum discussion unit OPTIONS FOR SCOTLAND which is intended to highlight constructive options open to Scotland with independence.
Mr Wilson, who has written the paper with Nick Dekker, states: “The message is stark. Without children, the nation dies.”

In his paper Mr Wilson states that emigration in the 20th century was “disastrous” for the country with the loss of 2 million in a nation of only 5 million.

The average age was 16-29 with mainly skilled young people emigrating. Of the 2 million almost 40 per cent – 749,000 – moved to other parts of the UK, mainly England. From 1960-70 emigration totalled 300,000 with 1 per cent of the population moving abroad in 1965-66 alone.

Mr Wilson states:

No country can continue with the economic debilitation which loss of population on a huge scale causes. It is a continual bloodletting that weakens the body.”
Over the next 50 years (2012-62) the Scottish population will grow by 4.4 per cent and the UK would grow by 22.8 per cent – and Scotland would have a higher ratio of old people.
Mr Wilson says: “This illustrates the need for Scotland to take control of its own economy to ensure that population growth in an Independent Scotland has a key priority, which under Westminster it has not.

He continues:

Emigration has a human cost not expressible in monetary terms. Few Scots families have not seen one or more of their children leave. Not all families can afford the high travel costs of keeping in touch. Skype is no substitute. There is a loss of contact with grandchildren on a regular basis. Grandparents miss seeing their grandchildren. In turn, young parents lose the support that comes from having parents within easy reach to deal with child care and emergencies.A greater burden of care will fall on the state and local authorities.

There is a clamant need for an independent Scottish government to have a population policy. This cannot be restricted to migration issues. There must be greater incentives and support for childbearing families. Given the high costs of rearing children and the huge impact of expensive pre-school child care, the state must offer tax breaks, family support grants, extensive pre-school education and post school classes and care beyond normal school hours so that both parents can work and be economically productive. The message is stark. Without children, the nation dies. Many grandparents would willingly allow some of their side benefits to be taxable provided the money was hypothecated to children.”

He continues:

If the most ambitious or creative people leave, then it becomes progressively more difficult to facilitate the recovery of an economy.

Co-author Mr Dekker added:
Few people living in Scotland realise that the cost of educating children who leave comes out of their wallet or purse. It is a subsidy by them to some other country whether it is England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. And apart from Poland, there is very little corresponding benefit we get back.

We estimate that the subsidy to England alone for education of Scots migrating to England is around £30 billion net. If other social and medical costs of childrearing are added, the subsidy is much more. Scotland cannot remain as a reservoir of talent for other economies and societies without descending into decline.

Of course, many talented Scots will continue to see the world as their oyster – and good luck to them. It is the scale of the current loss from enforced emigration that is Scotland’s problem. This is also why we shall need to attract talent from abroad through intelligent immigration policies.

Mr Wilson says the ongoing problem for Scotland is one of a static population offset only recently by Polish and other younger immigrants from the less prosperous areas of the European Union, something which might turn out to be a transient blip.

He adds:

The progressive immigration policies first adopted by the Labour/Liberal Coalition of First Minister Jack McConnell and supported by the SNP Government have helped close the age gap within the Scottish population. In recent years, the hampering restrictions in overseas immigration by the current UK Government faced with an English population believing that their country is becoming overcrowded have run counter to Scotland’s needs.

He states:

This cannot go on indefinitely. People go where the jobs are. At the present time, the UK and the Bank of England concentrate their monetary and economic policies on securing the future of the British heartlands. This means that the City State of London (especially the financial sector in the City of London Corporation area), the South and South East, and to a lesser extent the remaining manufacturing reservoir of the English Midlands, get priority.

If Scottish economic growth rates emulated those of the South of England then the outward flow of jobs would dwindle. And if Scotland equalled the economic growth of the Nordic countries, then that improvement could set in motion a counter-flow of inward migration from other parts of the British Isles to Scotland.

He is encouraged by recent figures for business start-ups in  Scotland with Companies House registrations up 19% on the 2012 figure showing that “Scotland may be entering a ‘can-do’ phase”.
In addition to more aid for families the paper calls for the Scottish Government to:

  • draw up marketing policy to encourage Scots to return home to share the excitement of building a new independent country and
  • Seek agreement on the numbers of     non-EU immigrants coming to Scotland and immigration procedures until such time as the Scottish economy improves to allow open market forces to operate to the     benefit of all the nations in the British Isles.

Incoming non-EU immigrants should be allowed to settle on a points based   system designed to secure graduate research and technical skills suitable to occupy unfilled job vacancies or cater for strategic gaps in industrial requirements. Special rules should be designed to permit graduates to stay for a limited  time to allow universities and colleges to maximise foreign student intake and fees and for the Scottish economy and research to benefit     from their expertise. The  income qualifications for foreign spouses married to a Scottish national, now £18,500 and £22,500, should be removed to encourage  settlement of families with a defined connection to Scotland.


Gordon Wilson is Director of Options for Scotland and former Leader of the SNP.

Nick Dekker is a retired lecturer in civil engineering at Strathclyde and author of Electricity Generating Options for Scotland (2013)