Scotland to publish new white paper on migration policy for independence
Scotland is preparing to release a new white paper that will outline its vision for migration policy after becoming an independent country. The paper, which is part of the Building a New Scotland series, will argue that Scotland needs to take a different approach from the UK government on the issue of immigration.
The white paper is expected to highlight the social and economic benefits of migration for Scotland, as well as the challenges posed by an ageing population and a slow population growth. The paper will also set out how Scotland can attract more working-age people to help pay for public services and pensions.
The Scottish government has long called for immigration powers to be devolved, so it can tailor its policies to suit its needs and aspirations. However, the UK government has rejected this demand, saying that immigration is a reserved matter and that a single system is best for the whole of the UK.
Why does Scotland need a different migration policy?
Scotland faces a different demographic situation from the rest of the UK, with fewer births than deaths registered since 2011 and a lower fertility rate. Without migration, Scotland’s population would have fallen by almost 50,000 in the last decade, according to the latest census figures.
Migration is therefore vital for Scotland’s population growth, as well as for its economic development and social cohesion. Migrants contribute to the labour market, the tax base, the public services, the culture and the diversity of Scotland.
However, Scotland’s migration needs are not met by the current UK immigration system, which is designed to reduce overall net migration and restrict the entry of non-EU migrants. The UK government’s decision to end freedom of movement after Brexit has also made it harder for EU citizens to come and work in Scotland.
The Scottish government argues that Scotland should have more control over its own migration policy, so it can design a system that is more flexible, responsive and welcoming to migrants. It also believes that Scotland should have a say in any future UK-EU agreements on mobility and migration.
What are the benefits of migration for Scotland?
Migration brings many benefits for Scotland, both socially and economically. Some of the benefits include:
- Migrants fill skills gaps and labour shortages in key sectors such as health, social care, education, agriculture and hospitality.
- Migrants boost innovation and productivity by bringing new ideas, perspectives and talents.
- Migrants enrich Scotland’s culture and diversity by adding to its linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity.
- Migrants support Scotland’s international relations and trade by strengthening its links with other countries and regions.
- Migrants enhance Scotland’s demographic profile by increasing its working-age population and helping to balance its ageing population.
According to a study by the Fraser of Allander Institute, migrants added £4.4 billion to Scotland’s GDP in 2016, equivalent to 3.4% of total output. The study also estimated that migrants paid £1.3 billion more in taxes than they received in public spending.
Another study by the Scottish Government found that each additional EU citizen working in Scotland contributes an average of £10,400 per year in tax revenue.
What are the challenges of migration for Scotland?
Migration also poses some challenges for Scotland, both in terms of integration and sustainability. Some of the challenges include:
- Migrants face barriers and discrimination in accessing services, employment, education and housing.
- Migrants may experience isolation and exclusion from social networks and community activities.
- Migrants may encounter cultural and linguistic difficulties in adapting to their new environment.
- Migrants may have different needs and expectations from public services and institutions.
- Migrants may have an impact on the environment and infrastructure of their host communities.
The Scottish government recognises these challenges and has taken steps to address them. For example, it has launched a New Scots strategy to support the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. It has also established a Fair Work Convention to promote fair work practices for all workers, including migrants.
The Scottish government also acknowledges that migration alone cannot solve Scotland’s demographic problem. It says that migration must be complemented by other policies such as increasing fertility rates, improving health outcomes, supporting lifelong learning and encouraging intergenerational solidarity.
What are the options for Scotland’s migration policy after independence?
If Scotland becomes an independent country, it will have full control over its own migration policy. It will be able to decide who can come to live, work and study in Scotland, as well as how long they can stay and what rights they have.
There are different models that Scotland could adopt for its migration policy after independence. Some of the possible options are:
- A points-based system: This is a system where migrants are selected based on their skills, qualifications, experience and other criteria. This is similar to the current UK immigration system for non-EU migrants.
- A regional system: This is a system where different regions or nations within a country have different immigration rules and quotas. This is similar to the system in Canada, where provinces can nominate migrants for permanent residency.
- A bilateral system: This is a system where a country has specific agreements with other countries or regions on migration and mobility. This is similar to the system in Australia, where it has free movement agreements with New Zealand and some Pacific islands.
- A multilateral system: This is a system where a country is part of a wider bloc or union that allows free movement of people across its members. This is similar to the system in the EU, where citizens can live and work in any member state.
The Scottish government has not yet decided which model it prefers for its migration policy after independence. It says that it will consult with stakeholders and the public to develop a system that suits Scotland’s needs and aspirations.
What will happen next?
The Scottish government is expected to publish its new white paper on migration policy shortly, as part of its campaign for independence. The paper will set out the case for why Scotland needs a different migration policy from the UK, and how it can benefit from migration after becoming an independent country.
The paper will also aim to counter the arguments of the UK government and the pro-union parties, who claim that Scotland is better off staying within the UK immigration system and that independence would create barriers and uncertainties for migrants.
The paper will likely spark a debate on the role and impact of migration in Scotland, as well as the future relationship between Scotland and the UK, the EU and the rest of the world.
The paper will also raise questions about how Scotland will implement its migration policy after independence, such as:
- How will Scotland negotiate with the UK on border controls and immigration enforcement?
- How will Scotland cooperate with the EU and other countries on migration and mobility issues?
- How will Scotland attract and retain migrants who want to live and work in Scotland?
- How will Scotland support the integration and inclusion of migrants in its society?
The answers to these questions will depend on the outcome of the next Scottish independence referendum, which is expected to take place before 2026. The referendum will be a crucial moment for Scotland’s future, as well as for its migration policy.