Immigration is not the answer to population fall

By Sir Andrew Green , Chairman, MigrationwatchUK
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 15 January 2004

There has been a lot of loose talk recently about the potential of immigration to solve some of Scotland's problems. Indeed, the myth has spread south, with David Blunkett claiming that the UK needs more immigrants because Scotland needs more people. That remark is absurd for reasons which I will explain. It demonstrates the government will seize on any argument, however flawed, in an attempt to justify the massive levels of immigration to the UK which it has now triggered.

Not that Migrationwatch UK is opposed, in principle, to immigration. The government tries to paint us as having "an anti-immigrant agenda". This is simply false. We recognise that immigration can be valuable. It can enrich our society. It can contribute to a better understanding between people and races. It can strengthen our links to foreign countries. And, up to a point, it can fill gaps in our labour market.

But all depends on circumstances. So it is time to examine the facts. In England, the numbers have simply got out of hand. In Scotland, the reality is that immigration is largely irrelevant. Why? For the very simple reason that immigrants usually do not come to, and certainly do not stay, in Scotland.

Migrationwatch has just concluded a careful and objective study, based on official figures provided by the Office for National Statistics and the Scottish Executive, which points to some clear conclusions.

First, Scotland's population "problem" needs to be placed in perspective. Her population has been about five million for 50 years. Over the next 40 years it is expected to decline by about 10 per cent - hardly a drama. Productivity will increase by far more than this over the period, so that individual wealth will continue to increase.

Scotland's population will also grow older as people live longer. This is not exactly a surprise - it is happening all over the developed world. The best response is that, as people remain fit and healthy for longer, they should work longer, as many would wish to do.

That may be a matter of opinion. What is not a matter of opinion is that international migration is not a solution. The reason is extraordinarily simple - migrants do not stay in Scotland.

Taking first the picture in Britain as a whole, not many people realise that until the early 1990s, more people left than arrived. That picture has changed dramatically in the past decade. Net migration has climbed rapidly to more than 150,000 a year. These are just the legal immigrants. An estimated 50,000 people were detected last year attempting to enter Britain illegally; nobody knows how many succeeded.

The picture in Scotland is quite different. In most years there has been a net outflow. Over the period 1992-2001, net immigration to the UK totalled 875,000, while there was a net outflow of 41,000 from Scotland. Thus, if experience is any guide, David Blunkett's suggestion that massive immigration into Britain will help Scotland's "problem" must rank among his less impressive contributions to the debate.

So where have all these immigrants gone? The short answer is London. 75 per cent have gone to London and the south-east, mainly to London. Indeed, a recent report from the No10 Strategy Unit stated that the annual overseas inflow to London had doubled over the past decade to 200,000 a year and that the outflow from London to the UK had steadily increased from 200,000 to 230,000 a year. In other words, London is experiencing a massive exchange of population without its people being properly informed, still less consulted.

None of this is proving of much benefit to Scotland. There has been an overall flow of people to Wales but, in contrast and with the exception of 2001, Scotland has suffered a net loss of people.

Of course, some will argue that, if Scotland has failed so far to attract immigrants, then the answer is to improve incentives for them. Even if such a policy were to have some success, it is important to be clear what immigration can, and cannot, be expected to achieve.

We still hear the old chestnut about immigrants helping to pay pensions. Here is what the Home Office Research Department has to say: "The impact of immigration in mitigating population aging is widely acknowledged to be small, because migrants also age." They added that, despite all the research to the contrary, the suggestion that migration was a solution to population aging "refused to go away." Indeed so.

Then there is the fallacy about immigrants contributing £2.5 billion a year to the Treasury more than they cost. We published a paper recently which took this claim apart. Indeed, the government's own paper on which this claim is based cautioned no fewer than six times that the results were tentative, that some evidence was contradictory, that the numbers should be treated with caution, etc - yet the government continues to proclaim it as a fact.

Can immigrants provide unskilled labour? Certainly, but that is not Scotland's main problem. It has a significantly higher rate of unemployment (6.8 per cent in 2002) than the UK as a whole (5.2 per cent). We must also consider the effect on the existing workforce. Britain's top Labour economist, Professor Richard Layard of the LSE, who helped to design Labour's welfare-to-work programme, wrote in a letter to the Financial Times that: "There is a huge amount of evidence that any increase in the number of unskilled workers lowers unskilled wages and increases the unskilled unemployment rate. If we are concerned about fairness, we ought not to ignore these facts. Employers gain from unskilled immigration. But the unskilled do not."

The government has not answered this. It has no answer.

The key factor in Scotland's future population is, inescapably, the birth-rate. This is now 10.4 per thousand, compared with 11.4 for the UK as a whole.

There are good reasons to think that the low birth-rate in Scotland is due to the net emigration of young people who, early in their reproductive life, move to England and elsewhere to obtain better jobs than are available in Scotland. During the past centuries many young people and their progeny have been lost to Scotland in this way. The net annual emigration in the ten-year periods between the 1901 and 1991 censuses have varied from 10,000 to 39,000, averaging 21,000 each year. If that is the explanation for the present low birth-rate, it should be concluded that Scotland needs more jobs, not more workers. Indeed, it is perfectly arguable that it is a vibrant economy which attracts migrants (and reduces outward migration), rather than the other way round.

A much better approach would be a policy resting on twin pillars - measures to create a dynamic economy and family-friendly policies that would raise the birth-rate. Such actions have been successful in Scandinavia, which, in contrast to the rest of Europe, still enjoys birth-rates which are at or near natural replacement levels.

Sir Andrew Green is the chairman of Migrationwatch UK and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Migrationwatch is a voluntary, independent immigration and asylum-monitoring organisation with no links to any political party.

© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Scotsman, Edinburgh, 15 January 2004

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