Earlier this year, a poll conducted for Scottish Green Party Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) showed two-thirds of Scots want the Parliament to have control over immigration policy, with almost half of those planning to vote against independence from the United Kingdom backing the idea.
At the time, Alison Johnstone, a Green Party MSP, commented, “There is a huge economic opportunity for Scotland if we have control over immigration policy. It’s significant that even those opposed to independence at this stage appear to see the potential. Our digital technology, tourism, renewable energy, science and food sectors are all starting to take off. With a more welcoming policy we’d have a better chance of addressing any skills shortages, in turn generating tax revenue to support public services.”
Ms. Johnstone also stated, “Immigration presents huge economic and social opportunities for Scotland, and it’s pleasing to see local authorities are keen to attract more people to their areas to address issues such as population decline and an ageing population. But it’s a real concern to hear that many are struggling with resources.”
Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, commented, “Ms. Johnstone is promoting immigration as a source of economic growth. Instead, she should promote population stability and then reduction, which is an essential component of the sustainable future we all want.”
The environmental case for reversing population growth
If we are concerned about carbon emissions, ecology and food and energy sustainability, we should be concerned about our numbers. More people mean more pressure on the environment and on resources of all kinds. Scotland is already heavily dependent on food imports, as a recent government report revealed. As demand for food rises from growing population numbers and per capita consumption around the world, is it prudent or even ethical for Scotland to increase its dependence on the resources of other, often much poorer, countries?
The economic case
One might question the benefits of economic growth when any additional income has to be spread amongst ever more people. Moreover, additional numbers puts pressure on utilities, transport and public services. This increases both delivery costs and often necessitates costly infrastructure enhancements, as local authorities rightly recognize.
Increased immigration is not a long-term solution to an ageing population — immigrants will become elderly, too.
The public view
While Scots might want control over immigration policy, that does not mean they want more immigration. In a poll Population Matters commissioned in May 2014, one-third of Scots wanted a stable UK population while a further half wanted a decline. Fewer than one in five wanted an increase.
An alternative approach
Instead of seeking to fill any skill gaps and address the issue of an ageing population through immigration, we should instead seek to improve the skills of our existing workforce, including the many Scots who are unemployed or underemployed. This should include providing help to working mothers and older workers to enable them to participate in the workforce.
We should also not be concerned about the prospects of a falling population. Fewer people mean that there are more resources per head and could mean more prosperity — not less.