Thursday 29 June 2023

Has the SNP made Scotland shrink?


Something very odd is happening to the UK. Those parts that are most gripped by nationalism are shrinking, while the part they wish to be independent from is growing. Humza Yousaf wants his part of the cake all to himself, but its as if someone already took a bite out of it.

I was very dimly aware that there was a boundary review going on. There had been attempts to change Westminster constituencies for some time, but it had previously come to nothing. However, the next General Election will see England gain ten seats, Scotland lose two, Wales lose eight and Northern Ireland stays the same. Scotland might have lost more except that Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are protected even if their number of voters is way lower than the average constituency.

The reason for these changes is demography. While the UK population has grown enormously in the past one hundred years almost all of this growth has been in England. While England’s population has grown by fifteen million since 1951, the population of the other parts of the UK has barely grown at all.

Scotland’s population in 1951 was 5,095,969 while it is now approximately 5,466,000. The population of Wales in 1951 was 2,596,850 while now it is approximately 3,107,500        and has hardly grown at all since the last census. Northern Ireland had a population of 1,370,921 in 1951 and now has a population of around 1,903,175.

So, while England has grown by millions the other parts of the UK have grown by a few hundred thousand and the rate of growth is tiny, compared to the rate of growth in England being enormous.  

The population in the UK is not growing because of birth-rate. The number of children born for each woman has declined from 2.69 in 1961 to 1.56 today which is below the replacement rate. People are living longer, but that on its own won’t increase population. The increase in UK population is almost entirely due to migration. But it is migration almost exclusively to England.

In 1951 99.9% of the UK population was white. But while that has changed everywhere Scotland remains around 95% while, Wales 94%, Northern Ireland 96.8% white, while England is 81% white.

So, the reason that Scotland and Wales are losing constituencies must primarily be attributed to the lack of ethnic minorities in Scotland and Wales compared to England. But its not only ethnic minorities who prefer England, it’s also EU citizens, Americans, Australians and everyone else. But why should this be?

I think there are a number of reasons why migrants are attracted to England. The first of these is London and the Southeast. London is an international city, which is much more prosperous than anywhere else in the UK. People migrate there for the same reason they migrate to New York rather than North Dakota.

But its not just the southern part of England that attracts migrants. People migrate to the north and midlands because they perceive that there are greater opportunities there than in Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland I think is a special case because for decades the Troubles put off anyone migrating there.

Perhaps most importantly of all there are established communities of many linguistic and ethnic groups in England. These people will provide networks of help for newcomers, while in much of Scotland and Wales there would only be white English/Scots speakers who could not provide the same degree of help.

It is for this reason that migration increases in England particularly to London, where migrants know there will be a readymade community waiting for them.

The geography of England plays a part too. Much of England is flat and fertile, while much of both Scotland and Wales is mountainous and infertile. Hampshire can sustain a greater population than the Highlands because of the nature of the land. But also because of the nature of the land much of England is densely populated while much of Scotland and Wales is sparsely populated.

The rates of population density are extraordinary. While Scotland has only 70 people per square km and Wales (153), Northern Ireland (137), England has a population density of 434 per square km. This makes England one of the most densely populated parts of Europe and Scotland one of the least densely populated.

But density of population brings with it economic benefits. Any small business in England will have numerous customers nearby, while a small business in the Highlands might have to travel far to reach its nearest customer.

Both Wales and Scotland have progressive self-images, but it is hard not to view both Welsh and Scottish nationalism as a function of the demographics of these countries. Do they wish to separate from multi-ethnic England precisely because it is so multi-ethnic and precisely because so many ethnic minorities choose to live in England.

Both Welsh and Scottish nationalism are overwhelmingly white in terms of their politicians and their voters. This remains the case even since Humza Yousaf became leader of the SNP. He strikes me as a being a Scottish nationalist because of the racism he experienced in school. It makes him wish to be more Scottish than the Scots. His speech always strikes me as exaggeratedly Scottish rather than naturally so.

There is an element too of the reasons why Mr Yousaf got into politics in the first place as a response to 9/11 and his being asked about it in the context of being a Muslim. Mr Yousaf is hostile to Britain like all Scottish nationalists, but his hostility has a different origin. It’s neither because of the UK’s relationship with Ireland (a motivation for many in the West of Scotland), nor perceived historical wrongs perpetuated against Scotland by England. Rather I think Mr Yousaf resents the UK’s involvement in wars in Islamic countries and would delight in seeing it broken up.

But these are not the motivations of most Scottish nationalists, who base their desire for independence and Scottishness on historical connections with pre 1707 Scotland and the distant medieval past when Scotland fought against England.

So too I think Welsh nationalism is grounded in an historical resentment of England based on England conquering Wales in the Middle Ages and anglicising Wales to the extent that Welsh became a minority language that required revival.

But the historical contexts of both Welsh and Scottish nationalism are much less likely to appeal to people who lack any personal connection with the historical events which Welsh and Scottish nationalists resent. If I come to live in Cardiff from Japan, I may be Welsh I may even learn to speak Welsh, but I am likely to view Owain Glyndŵr as abstractly as most residents of Cardiff view Oda Nobunaga if they have heard of him at all.

So too if my family came from Poland why would I be interested in the Battle of Bannockburn, when my fellow Scots are uninterested in the Battle of Grunwald (1410) and most likely have never heard of it?

The problem for both Scottish and Welsh nationalism is that just as you cannot change the island on which we all live, you cannot change the fact that you have a neighbour with an enormous multi-ethnic population, which has grown by what amounts to three Scotlands since 1951.

The greatest source of both the population of Wales and Scotland is people born in England. Around 20% of the population of Wales is from England while around 8% of the population of Scotland was born in England. This is much more than the population from the EU and the rest of the world combined.

It is here perhaps that the demographic problem of both Scotland and Wales is exacerbated by nationalism. The best chance both Scotland and Wales have of increasing their populations is not by appealing to people from Europe and beyond. These people for the most part don’t want to live in Scotland and Wales anyway. They overwhelmingly choose to live in England when given the choice. Rather the best chance is to appeal to our fellow citizens living in England. They already make up the largest non-Welsh and non-Scottish group in both these places, but they are the most likely group to be put off by Scottish and Welsh nationalism, not merely because they might justly perceive it to be hostile to English people, but because they cannot meaningfully share in a nationalism that is contrary to their own birth. Who wants to become a foreigner in one’s own home?

To suppose otherwise is to suppose that I could move to Sapporo and lead the Hokkaido National Party. But this would be considered preposterous in Japan as well as grotesquely rude to the Japanese people, even though Hokkaido was annexed by Japan in the 19th century.

We are left then with a vision of Wales and Scotland losing seats and prosperity because people prefer to live in England, wanting to separate from the greatest source of their migration primarily due to their hostility to English people choosing to live in Scotland and Wales, without which the population of both would be still smaller.

The idea that separation would make Wales and Scotland more prosperous looks quaint in the context of few people choosing to live in Scotland and Wales at the moment due to their poverty, nationalism and hostility to anything that is not Scottish or Welsh.

Meanwhile England prospers by actually being what Wales and Scotland are not but pretend to be. Progressive and welcoming. No wonder Wales and Scotland are shrinking.