Politicians from various parties in Scotland have recently been extolling the virtues of increased immigration to Scotland. It’s a cause which the SNP have espoused with particular enthusiasm, including in their ‘Growth Commission’ paper earlier this year.
Of course, the benefits of greater immigration to Scotland could be debated, but let’s stick with the SNP’s stated position, in order to ask a pertinent question:
If the SNP are serious about encouraging people to move to Scotland, why aren’t they working harder to create the conditions to attract people from elsewhere in the UK?
The rest of the UK provides a ready pool of talent which Scotland could draw on; a pool of people who are already eligible to live and work in Scotland for as long as they like. Of course, there are other parts of the UK which could potentially benefit from inward migration; but let’s focus on Scotland and how our Scottish Government could attract more people from the rest of the UK.
There are measures which the SNP could take, and more importantly there is a positive attitude which our Scottish Government ministers could adopt, if they are really serious about wanting people to come to Scotland. These measures are possible with current powers, and many would have no financial cost because they simply concern the tone which our leaders could set. Any or all of the measures would help to create an environment which is clearly not hostile to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, as well as welcoming people from elsewhere.
Firstly, and most importantly: the SNP could make Scotland a more attractive place for individuals and businesses from the rest of the UK by ruling out another independence referendum for at least a generation. It’s pretty obvious that people with roots in the rest of the UK will think twice about coming to Scotland if there is a present danger that an international border will be erected between their new place of residence and the friends and family they have left behind. Furthermore, ruling out #indyref2 would almost certainly encourage greater UK business investment in Scotland: businesses value stability, and on-off threats of another referendum do not help to create a stable climate for investment.
Other policies enacted at Holyrood could be aim to minimise barriers to movement, by reducing differences unless there is sound evidence to justify these differences. The Scottish and UK governments should seek regulatory alignment between Scotland and rUK, unless there are very specific reasons to diverge. The experience of moving to Scotland should be as frictionless as possible.
More active measures to encourage movement to Scotland are touched on in the SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’ report. If the ‘welcome packages’ proposed in the report were to be offered to immigrants from outside the UK, then they should also be offered to people who move to Scotland from within the UK: someone coming to Scotland from England should get the same welcome as someone coming to Scotland from Spain.
Scottish public bodies could take further actions to promote our shared culture and to show new arrivals from the rest of the UK that they are still at home and that they are welcome in Scotland. Perhaps Transport Scotland could swap the three saltires currently at the border on the A1 for a union flag, a saltire and a Borders flag, mirroring the arrangement currently in place as one enters England: what better way to demonstrate a secure, confident and welcoming country?
There could even be a targeted marketing campaign - 'Come to Scotland, it's everyone's country'; or ‘Our home is your home’, targeted at Londoners; or something like that. And there could be more school exchanges with schools across the UK, and more use of 'more that unites us' imagery, rather than attempting to promote Scottish exceptionalism.
Meanwhile, the support of the UK Government could be enlisted. Just as other areas of the UK could benefit from internal migration from London and the South East, specific development funds could be allocated jointly by the Scottish and UK governments to encourage businesses and individuals to relocate. When the Scottish Parliament quite rightly exercises its considerable powers, the parties in Holyrood should exercise those powers in the spirit of cooperation and the breaking down of barriers between Scotland and the rest of the UK. A practical step would be to set up more joint cross-party Scottish Government-UK Government committees, to review proposed legislation and consider how to minimise cross-border friction for individuals and businesses.
Just as importantly, our leaders should set the right tone. Senior politicians of the party of government should not attend intimidating nationalist marches, or give social media approval to them. There should be zero tolerance for anti-English, anti-Welsh or anti-Irish remarks by members of any political party, just as there should be zero tolerance for discrimination against any group based on nationality or ethnicity. Politicians should take the lead on calling out any discrimination and demanding action to prevent and deter bigotry.
As well as being rightly proud of the successes of people from Scotland, our leaders should celebrate UK achievements, from sport to industry, particularly when there is a Scottish dimension to the achievement – such as Team GB’s achievements at the recent European Athletics Championships, or the completion of the Royal Navy’s biggest warships at Rosyth. And we should expect our leaders to use ‘we’ meaning everyone across the UK, as well as when they refer to people in Scotland, or people in their own area; they should work to bring people together, not to split them apart.
With the right tone set by senior politicians, Scotland would be presented as a confident, welcoming, warm-hearted and attractive location for people currently living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and would benefit more readily from the pool of talent on our doorstep.
If our leaders believe that there are benefits to increasing immigration, and that’s certainly what the SNP say they believe, then “Come to Scotland” should be extended to everyone, whether from overseas or from within the UK. We should be as welcoming to our neighbours as we are to those from further afield. Everyone should be welcomed to Scotland, and in particular our relatives and friends from England, Wales and Northern Ireland – a hundred thousand welcomes, indeed!