Sunday 25 February 2024

Why does no one want to come to Scotland?

The problem with Scottish nationalism is that it would do nothing to address the fundamental problems Scotland faces, but instead would have added some new ones that we didn’t face before.

Scotland is a wonderful place to live. We are sparsely populated which means that countryside is always nearby and largely empty. The Highlands are as beautiful a part of the world as anywhere on earth. There are beaches to wander on and mountains to climb. There are historic sites to visit. If you have a reasonable job, you are likely to have a good standard of living. Why then does Scotland have a static population that is due to decline?

While the population of the UK has grown by nearly 30 million since 1939, the population of Scotland has grown by around 400,000. Scotland makes up 32% of the UK’s landmass but only 8% of the population. Why does no one want to live in Scotland?

It’s not the weather. Scotland’s weather is usually mild. We avoid the unpleasant heatwaves and, in the winter, now it only snows for a few days and is rarely extremely cold. Winter in Scotland is much more pleasant than either northern or eastern Europe.

It gets very dark in December, but the compensation is that we have wonderful amounts of light in the summer.

There are a number of reasons why Scotland does not attract people or give birth to enough babies to increase our population that way. The main reasons are history, geography and politics.

If you look at the British Isles you will find that those places that were most prosperous in the nineteenth century were those with the greatest degree of industrialisation. From the Midlands in England northwards there is a divide. Those areas including Wales and Northern Ireland that were involved in heavy industry have not recovered from the decline of that industry which took place not merely in the UK but all over the developed world. It simply became unprofitable for countries like ours to dig coal, make steel and build ships. What made us rich in the nineteenth century made us poor in the late twentieth. This is why these industries closed.

Scotland’s problem is that large parts of the country that were formerly industrialised remain poor with few economic opportunities. People from these parts of Scotland are more likely to leave than arrive.

The problem however is exacerbated by the fact that post industrial areas of Britain vote as if they were still industrialised. This makes the situation worse. In Scotland public opinion just as in northern England and Wales remains to the left. It blames Conservatism for the decline of its industries and thinks that the solution to its problems is socialism or social democracy.

In Scotland there are still people who think that socialist ideas like rent controls fixing food prices, raising taxes and increasing public spending to provide the population with free things will increase prosperity. But this is economically illiterate.

The problem with industrialised areas of Scotland was that they were making a loss on their steel, coal and shipbuilding industries. None of the above socialist solutions could in any way lead to these places making a profit.

As we are discovering with the SNP rent controls leads to housing shortages, raising taxes leads to less revenue, providing free things leads to rationing. It is harder for Scots to get into university because tuition fees are free. It is harder to get NHS treatment because there is a waiting list (rationing). If you try to fix food prices you will end up with a shortage too.

The only way for formerly industrialised parts of Scotland to become profitable and to have better living standards is if people in those areas follow the basic laws of economics that tell us that businesses will profit if you lower the burden of taxation, and you follow the laws of supply and demand to increase profits. But it is precisely this that no one in Scotland votes for.

Scots in poorer parts of Scotland think that their problems will be solved by higher public spending, more benefits and more free things, but it is precisely these things that keep them poor. It is not so much post-industrialisation that damages Scotland as the political mentality that goes with it.

Cut taxes, cut public spending make it easier to do business in Scotland and prosperity will gradually follow, but it is precisely this that the SNP does not want to do. This makes Scotland ever more dependent on UK Treasury fiscal transfers and ever less likely to vote for independence for that reason. It is as if the SNP were deliberately trying to make its goal harder.

Historically Scotland was divided by geography. The central belt and the coast from Edinburgh to Aberdeen were quite different from the rest. This is the fundamental reason for Scotland’s static population.

Much of Scotland is made up of marginal land that is inaccessible from the major population centres. Crofting may be necessary in order to keep the land occupied, but it doesn’t make a profit. Neither does small scale fishing. This leaves tourism. But even here the lack of infrastructure in many of the most beautiful parts of Scotland hinders us.

I would love to visit Scotland’s islands, but I am deterred by the cost of accommodation and the lack of reliable transport links. I love visiting the Highlands, but many roads are still single track and are totally unsuitable for the volume of traffic they receive in the summer.

But it is precisely this lack of infrastructure that makes it harder for businesses in remote areas to make a profit. These parts of Scotland don’t need independence, they need better roads, better ferries, more tunnels and more bridges. If the rest of the Scottish economy was performing better, we could afford to build these. But we can only afford to improve the infrastructure if our economy makes greater profits, but it is precisely this that it won’t do because the SNP is doing the opposite of what needs to be done.

If Scotland wants to increase its population, then those parts of Scotland that are at present almost empty have to be given the opportunity to develop businesses that are profitable which attract people to the area. But it is difficult indeed to develop a profitable business if your customers cannot get there because the ferries don’t work, and the roads are so narrow that the cost of transport is prohibitive.

Millions upon millions of people have arrived in the UK in the past decades. If we want to attract people to Scotland, we should first try to attract them, because it is easier for them to make the move to Scotland than anyone else in the world. We already have the scenery and the quality of life in Scotland. We have the space, and we have the beauty, but we don’t have the job opportunities and the salaries that would attract someone who has a good job in the area surrounding London to come here.

It isn’t merely that the SNP’s policies discourage business and make it harder to prosper, worse is that instead of taking practical steps to improve the Scottish economy it spends all its time banging on about independence, which would do nothing whatsoever to address the historical and geographical problems that Scotland needs to solve.

Worse the constant threat of secession discourages those people from other parts of the UK who might decide to make their future in Scotland, because they fear that they might end up foreigners in their own country with houses they can’t sell. Why come to Scotland to do the same job you have already only to be taxed more to do it? Why indeed? That is why no one wants to come to Scotland.

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