Rob Connell: Edinburgh's Immigration Problem

Rob Connell, prospective SNP candidate as MP for Edinburgh South constituency, argues that the capital city is heading for a major demographic time-bomb if it is constrained by UK immigration policy post-Brexit

EDINBURGH, and Scotland as a whole, is developing a serious immigration problem. 

Compared to before the Brexit vote, Scotland is losing more than 20,000 workers per year through people leaving or choosing not to come, and about 12,000 of these are EU citizens. Edinburgh is badly affected by this trend, as EU workers are key not only to our hospitality businesses, but also to our universities, health services and tech companies.

The UK Government’s immigration policies are have damaging effects throughout the UK, but these are more severe in Scotland due to our local demographics and employment needs.

In twenty years, the pension-age population of Scotland is projected to rise by 25 per cent, and the working age population by 1 per cent. All of Scotland’s current and projected population growth is as a result of net inward migration. If we assume lower migration, which UK policy demands, Scotland’s working age population will fall.

READ MORE: SNP MP calls on UK Government to apologise over 'misleading' EU citizen settlement status adverts

Brexit will exacerbate the problem, due to some EU workers being directly prevented from coming here, and by significant numbers of otherwise eligible workers who leave or choose not to come here as a result. The immigration implications of Brexit are projected to result in a reduction of Scotland’s real annual GDP of 4.5 per cent, and a decline in annual Government revenue of 3.5 per cent by 2040.

Factoring in the UK net migration target gives an even more dramatic projection. Over the next 20 years, real GDP would fall by 9.3 per cent in Scotland. Financially, this means the long-term effects of UK immigration policy could lead to an annual loss of £10 billion to the Scottish economy in the next 20 years. Annual Scottish Government revenue would drop by £3 billion.

There is a mechanism to take Scotland’s unique position into account via the ‘Scotland shortage occupation list’. However, responsibility for this list is not devolved to Holyrood, the Scottish Government has no official role in determining which jobs are on this list, and Westminster is not interested in Scotland’s needs.

The UK Government blocked Fresh Talent or post-study visas from being used to help Scotland welcome and keep valuably skilled people, despite these operating successfully in Scotland for years before the Tories came to power, and being recommended by the all-party Smith Commission after the 2014 referendum.

READ MORE: SNP demands immigration powers as new figures show Scotland set to lag behind European neighbours in population growth

The current UK system is littered with arbitrary caps and thresholds which take no account of the needs of communities and employers. These rules have obtuse and damaging results. For example, in December 2017 the salary threshold for a tier 2 certificate jumped from £20,800 to £55,000, preventing Scotland’s employers from recruiting vital staff in health, education and other sectors.

As well as the figures, the UK’s hostile immigration environment harms real people every day. Behind every deportation or refused visa, there’s a personal tragedy, a family torn apart, a life’s dream shattered. Behind every economic statistic, there is a missed opportunity, an employer’s job unfilled, a community’s need unmet. 

Many of my own friends and associates, and many more among the parents of the young people I teach, are being directly affected by this situation right here in Edinburgh. Some have lost business, lost employees and colleagues, or lost their own contracts. Others are living with the constant worry of whether their suppliers, customers, key workers or even they themselves will be able to continue to provide their vital services and support our local economy.

READ MORE: Devolve immigration and employment law to Scotland, argues new Common Weal paper

For Scotland, UK immigration policy is unfit for purpose, demonstrating that these decisions need to be taken here, by the people affected by them.  The upcoming election is a chance for Edinburgh, and all of Scotland, to proclaim its refusal to accept these hugely damaging policies being imposed by a Westminster parliament that is completely disconnected from Scotland’s needs and ambitions.

In 2017, Labour’s Ian Murray won the Edinburgh South seat convincingly, having set out his stall as being personally anti-Brexit and firmly against Labour ‘allowing’ another Scottish independence referendum. His difficulty now is that voters know his own party leadership are far more pro-Brexit and are open to having the people of Scotland decide their future for themselves. This leaves pro-EU voters reluctant to vote Labour when the SNP (and the Lib Dems) are much clearer and more consistent in opposing Brexit. Staunch Unionist voters are left with only the Conservatives and the Lib Dems firmly opposing another IndyRef. 

It’s time to take control of ourselves as a modern, successful, European country that works with our neighbours for mutual benefit. It’s time to embrace an optimistic future that recognises we will all benefit from cooperation and equity, not cut-throat competition and a race to the bottom. It’s time to vote SNP, in Edinburgh South and in every Scottish constituency.

Picture courtesy of Allie_Caulfield

COMMONSPACE FORUM 26 SEPTEMBER: Indyref at 5