There could not be a more glaring example of how UK Westminster immigration policy is failing Scotland than the example of the Brain family. Here is a family who have clearly invested in Scotland, who passionately want to remain here and have the potential to make a huge contribution to our community and our economy. Exactly the type of people we should be trying to encourage to come to Scotland.
The principles that govern UK immigration policy are simple and brutal. Stop people from coming here and make life as difficult as possible for the poor souls who have made it. This Government have an obsession with immigration and immigrant numbers in a way that is almost beyond reason and they have set themselves up to constantly fail. That’s because we live in an interconnected, globalised world where the movement of people has never been so profound. Add to that the conflict zones that engulf so much of the world and we have large populations constantly on the move. Meanwhile the UK sits behind its island fortress like a Faragist Canute trying to beat back the engulfing tide.
In Scotland we are therefore lumbered with an immigration system that couldn’t be more designed to work against our national interest. Only 20 years ago there was real fears that our population would dip below the iconic five million mark such was the concerns about our population. Because of European migration our population is now steady, showing modest growth. There are, though, still massive difficulties ahead in the many population and demography challenges we will soon face unless we do something different in Scotland.
In the 2011 census, Scotland’s population was 5,295,000, making up 8.3 % of the overall UK population. This compares to a population of 54.32 million in England where population growth will dramatically outstrip Scotland’s. This is only half of the story though. It is what is described as the ‘dependency ratio’ where our population issues become potential economic problems. This is where the number of people aged under 16 and those of state pension age become more reliant on those of working age. In Scotland this is expected to rise from 58 dependants per 100 working age people in 2014, to 67 per 100 in 2039 way behind the UK as a whole. This is why we need more economically active families like the Brains to come to Scotland.
During the discussions around the fiscal framework the UK Government seemed to throw down a challenge to Scotland to grow our population in apparent recognition how important our comparative populations are. Apparently we are to achieve this with no access to the critical levers of immigration policy. Even modest demands for a post study work scheme in Scotland to help retain some of the fantastic international talent that comes to study in Scotland is to be rejected out of hand. It seems that the UK wants to constrain Scotland and deny us the tools required to take up the gauntlet they threw down in front of us.
And the UK knows that sub-national immigration policies do exist and work perfectly well. In Australia and Canada state legislatures have immigration responsibilities that address their specific immigration requirements. Meanwhile we are stuck with a one size fits all immigration system that is almost fashioned to meet the opposite of our needs.
Meanwhile the Brains will prepare to leave Scotland and our nation will lose their potential contribution. This case has brought home almost perfectly the precarious situation the UK has placed us in. The simple fact is if we don’t get some immigration levers we will be trying to grow our economy with one hand tied constantly behind our back.