BY EFFIE DEANS
It is expected that soon Nicola Sturgeon will announce her latest attempt to have a second independence referendum. Lots will be written about this, but it is not the most important issue facing Scotland. The most important issue is demographics, but almost nothing will be written about that.
Alastair Allan SNP MSP for the Western Isles has admitted the importance of demographics. He wrote “Anything we can do to reverse depopulation trends should be encouraged.” He is also supportive of an SNP scheme to pay 100 people £50,000 to move to a Scottish island.
But the problem is not limited to Scottish islands, although it is more acute on these. The problem is that Scotland has an aging population that at present is growing very slowly and is predicted to fall in the decades ahead. Currently around 5.47 million people live in Scotland, but it is predicted to decline to 5.39 million by 2045. This amounts to Scotland losing Paisley.
I would suggest to Mr Allan that the thing that he most needs to do is to cease supporting the SNP.
The SNP has been ruling since 2007. If Scots don’t want to have babies or if Scots choose to live somewhere other than Scotland, it is because of the SNP.
What would make someone decide to live on an island in Scotland? £50,000 might help, but it isn’t going to be enough to buy a house unless that house doesn’t have a roof and has been abandoned since the clearances. Even then the land might well cost more than 50K.
To move to a Scottish island, I need to be sure that the transport links to the mainland are secure and reasonably cheap. I am going to need a good Internet connection and a job that pays a similar wage to the one that I have at present, otherwise the SNP’s grant will run out soon. I am going to want good education and healthcare and I am going to want access to shops that sell products at a not much higher rate than on the mainland. I will want Amazon and other retailers to deliver to me almost as quickly and cheaply as they do elsewhere.
What has the SNP done to guarantee these things? Nothing. In fact, it has made the issue of transport considerably worse by its failure to build ferries. I would be dubious about even going on holiday to a Scottish island in case my ferry home was delayed or cancelled. I wouldn’t even consider moving there until the SNP sorts out the ferries.
From where does Scotland get most of its immigrants? Scotland has 408,000 people who were born in England, plus around 50,000 from Wales and Northern Ireland. This is more than the EU and the rest of the world put together. Well Scotland can only increase its population by increasing its birth rate and immigration rate. So, if you want to populate Scottish islands, you have to either make the islanders have more babies or you have to make Scotland more attractive to people from the places most likely to come here.
But the SNP continually tells English people living in England that they want Scotland to the leave the UK. This is about the worst possible way to attract people from other parts of the UK.
The SNP is saying to someone living in another part of the UK, move to a Scottish island, but next year there will be an independence referendum. Your mortgage for your house on your Scottish island will at present be in pounds Sterling, but we have no idea what currency it will be in when we are independent. We might use the pound for a while unofficially, but then we might have to create a new Scottish pound, and then we might have to join the Euro, but we don’t really know.
What’s more I hope that your job won’t depend on the UK’s internal market with no borders and with rules and regulations that are the same everywhere. If you work at present in financial services, it will be tough luck when your business can no longer rely on the Bank of England, but never mind you will have stunning views over the Minch.
The SNP might argue that joining the EU will mean lots of Europeans will come to Scotland instead of English people. But when the UK was an EU member relatively few EU citizens wanted to come here. Why would that change after independence?
Language is everything. Most of can’t easily move to Slovakia, because we don’t speak Slovakian. The best chance of increasing immigration to Scotland is from fellow English speakers in the UK who can understand our accent easily. But the SNP are saying we will pay you £50,000 to come to a Scottish island, but we expect you to be a foreigner in a couple of years. Of course, we will give you a Scottish passport, but your friends and family in England will be as foreign as the Japanese or Saudi Arabians. Try getting someone to move to Brittany from Paris if it will soon no longer be French.
There is a reason that Scotland has a demographic problem. There are better opportunities elsewhere. Scotland is beautiful, but much of the land is poor, and undeveloped and much of our farming marginal. We had lots of heavy industry, but like much of the world that used to rely on coal and steel and shipbuilding we have been unable to replace the jobs lost. This is partly the fault of successive governments, but really it is the fault of the Scottish population. It is people that create jobs not governments.
Because much of Scotland is empty and sparsely populated, the cost of providing goods and services is much higher than in England. A person on a small Scottish island will quite possibly have better access to education and healthcare than someone in inner London. But the cost of providing these services will be massively higher. So too it costs hugely more to deliver a letter or a parcel or a tin of beans to Harris than to Hampstead, but the cost to the islander will only partly reflect this.
He won’t be charged the market rate for goods and services because as a British citizen he can expect similar prices wherever he lives, but where is the guarantee that this arrangement would continue after independence? This is the real folly of people on Harris electing Mr Allan. If the Outer Hebrides were independent its standard of living would collapse, but the people there think they can get by without the UK. Does the rest of Scotland really look so rich that it can subsidise the Outer Hebrides? Which part? Paisley.
Scottish services are subsidised by the UK taxpayer because they cost more to deliver on a Scottish island, but that subsidy would cease after independence and the SNP are unable to explain who would make up the difference. So, if the doctor and the teacher on your Scottish island depends on the UK taxpayer, who is going to fund it if Scotland leaves the UK? After all there are going to rather fewer Scottish taxpayers and who knows how many more might choose to stay in the UK by moving south.
If the SNP really wanted to help reverse Scotland’s population decline it would
- Cease going on about independence.
- Encourage Scots to stop looking at English people as the Enemy
- Focus on building an economy that can provide good jobs and cheap childcare
- Build ferries and improve roads.
- Encourage people from other parts of the UK to move to Scotland.
But instead of doing any of these things the SNP will waste millions on a scheme that will at best bring 100 people to Scotland’s islands and millions more on an independence campaign that will go nowhere for a very simple reason. Scotland cannot afford independence.
This is why our population is falling. Despite the SNP winning elections our confidence in the future of Scotland amounts to choosing not to have babies or else choosing to leave.
We are voting with our feet.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.