Sunday 23 February 2020

The demographics of Scottish independence

The population of Britain before the war was around forty-five million. It is has grown by about twenty million. The population of Scotland on the other hand was around five million and it has grown by only a few hundred thousand.  The British population as a whole has grown largely because of immigration from Europe and elsewhere, but this growth is concentrated in England and especially in London. Scotland by comparison remains mostly empty and mostly as it always was. In the big Scottish cities, especially Glasgow, other languages can be heard, but the vast majority of Scottish residents were either born in Scotland or in other parts of Britain. Our largest “minority” by far (over 400,000) are from England.

Why should Scotland have such a different post war demographic to England? English cities are multicultural and multiracial in a way that Scottish cities and especially the Scottish countryside are not. Yet everyone who has moved to Britain since the war could have chosen to live in Scotland. Why didn’t they?

 Every single person in my rural Aberdeenshire school was white. Even in Aberdeen in those days it was rare to see someone who looked as if they were from elsewhere. With the beginning of the oil industry I met people from other parts of Britain, but I hardly met someone from outside Europe until I studied in England.

Our ignorance of multicultural life meant that we had a shocking set of prejudices. Dubious jokes were told. Shameful words were used, because we knew no better and hadn’t mixed with people who might be offended by these words. England taught me about race and tolerance. It was in England for the first time that I met people who didn’t care at all about race or where someone was born or where their parents came from. In my youth it was Scotland that was racist not England. Perhaps this is why people from other races did not move here.

Scotland like everywhere else in the Western world has a problem with demographics. We have given birth to too few babies for decades and our population is aging. In the long run the best way to solve this problem is to make it easier for women have lots of children. If you want more taxpayers twenty years from now, then pay women to have children. Free childcare would benefit the country far more than free university places. But in the short run Scotland needs to attract people to live here from elsewhere.

Nicola Sturgeon would apparently like Scotland to have a more open immigration policy than Britain as a whole. But if Scotland could issue its own visas right now, what would stop those people getting on a train to move to London? If an independent Scotland were to rejoin the EU, why would we be more successful then at attracting EU residents than we have been up to now? Few EU citizens chose to live in Scotland, because they had better opportunities in other parts of Britain. Unless these opportunities improved, they would not be attracted to Scotland anymore than they are now.

The demographics of the EU are no better than in Scotland. Everywhere has a shortage of babies, an aging population and too few taxpayers. There is therefore an inherent limit to the number of workers who can come from the EU. If you can pay them a lot more than they can earn at home they will come, but this is harder as Eastern Europe is much more prosperous than it was twenty years ago.

If you really want to attract workers, you must look outside the EU to those places where women have lots of babies. Not merely will you get as many workers as you please, these women will tend to give birth to more babies when they get here. But they will still want to live in England, so you will have to do something to stop them moving there. This something was tried in Berlin.

The biggest demographic problem that an independent Scotland would face however would be an exodus of our present population. Every Pro UK person I know has an escape plan. There are nearly half a million Scottish residents who were born in other parts of Britain. What proportion of those would leave?

Many would leave because they would not want to be turned into foreigners in what had previously been their own land. Others would leave because Scottish independence would damage their job prospects, their savings or their house price. How many Scots would immediately move their money over the border? I would expect capital controls as soon Scotland became independent because the prospect of devaluation would lead to capital flight. This is just about the quickest way possible to wreck an economy.

Scottish independence would therefore at least initially make the demographic problem worse. It is quite clear that it would lead to higher taxation and cuts in public spending, not least because the money Scotland receives now from the British Government would have to be made up somehow. But high taxation and public spending cuts would hardly make Scotland more prosperous. So once more there would be a temptation for Scots to move to those parts of Britain with better prospects.

The greatest source of immigration into Scotland is from England. But Scottish independence would cause this to significantly lessen. If Nicola Sturgeon were really concerned about increasing Scotland’s population, she would encourage migration from within the UK. She doesn’t of course because these people are unlikely to vote for independence.

There are nearly sixty million Brits who all speak English and can usually understand Scots who can live and work in Scotland immediately without any need for language classes or retraining.  But it is the SNP who discourages these people from moving by continually threatening that they will end up living in a foreign land.

Scottish independence would cut off our supply of Brits, it would cause an exodus from Scotland of people and capital and it would leave us having to fill the population gap not from the EU, but from those countries with growing populations outside the Western world. Scottish independence would indeed change the demographics of Scotland, but not necessarily in the way the very monocultural independence marchers expect.