Unwelcome immigration policy that adds nothing but numbers
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 09 May 2006
WHEN it comes to immigration, the Scottish Executive and Scottish people seem to be talking past each other. The Executive claims great benefit from its Fresh Talent initiative; the people remain sceptical.
An opinion poll, conducted by the Campaign for Racial Equality in October 2005 found that 68% of Scots wanted to keep immigration low.
The "canny" Scots are right to be deeply sceptical. The arguments for large scale immigration turn out, on examination, to be amazingly thin. Perhaps that is why its advocates so often descend to innuendo - usually to the effect that anyone who opposes it must be a friend of the British National Party.
But let us start with some common ground. Limited immigration can provide seasonal labour as well as skills, such as languages, which are not readily available in the UK. It can also oil the wheels of the economy by filling temporary skills gaps. But it is oil, required in small quantities; it is not petrol, on which the economy might run.
For five years the government has been claiming that we need immigration to fill 600,000 vacancies. Yet despite net immigration of roughly 900,000 vacancies are still at - guess what? - 600,000. The process is actually endless because immigrants also create new demand which requires new workers.
The government’s other claims are little better. In April 2004, the Prime Minister claimed that immigration adds nearly ½% to our trend growth. But immigrants also add to our population so the annual benefit per head to the host nation works out at only about £2 a week for the average family. Is this a surprise? No. Major studies in the United States, Canada, and Holland have reached very similar conclusions.
So how does this square with the recent ITEM Club study of the impact of East European immigration? Professor Spencer claimed that the inflow of workers had "proved remarkably positive for the economy". He simply made the same mistake. He took no account of the addition to the population and made no allowance for dependants. If you allow an average of just half a dependent per worker the increase in production is about the same as the increase in population. The overall benefit is thus negligible.
The Professor also claimed that immigration "eased the pension’s burden". When will this false argument die? The Turner Commission on Pensions dismissed it saying that "only high immigration can produce more than a trivial (improvement) and this would be only a temporary effect unless still higher levels of immigration continued in later years…". The reason is incredibly obvious - immigrants also get older - yet this canard refused to die.
So the big picture is one of distinctly limited, but uneven, economic gain. Employers can buy skilled, non-unionised, foreign labour off the shelf. Good for profits. But bad for lower paid workers whose wages are held down.
The real issues about immigration are not about economics. They are about culture and space. The Scots are not alone in having made up their mind on these issues. In the UK roughly 70% feel that we are at risk at losing our own culture, that the island is already over crowded and that we are becoming increasingly segregated. That is why 76% wish to see an annual limit on immigration. Unfortunately the government refuses to listen, leaving the field wide open to extremists.
The truth is that the economic arguments are broadly neutral. The reason that the government is “tongue tied” on the subject is that they have little useful to say.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 9 May, 2006