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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

Filling the cracks of doom

We face a stark future unless we can attract skilled immigrants to boost our falling population,

WHAT HAS Wendy Alexander been up to since she resigned as Minister for Enterprise and lifelong Learning? As a visiting professor at the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University she has been organising the Allander series of lectures by internationally respected economists.

Of the three lectures so far, only one has created a real economic scare — the demographic timebomb. Respected economists such as William Baumol and Paul Krugman were relatively reassuring about the economic performance of Scotland, but all agree that Scotland is facing an enormous challenge in the future as its population ages and drops. The third lecture, shared between Heather Joshi and Robert Wright, concentrated on this issue.

Between 1707 and 1914 over two and a half million Scots emigrated, many taking up positions running the British Empire as recently expounded in Tom Devine’s book, Scottish Empire, and the related television series.

Between 1951 and 1971, over 600,000 Scots emigrated, many boosting the populations of Australia , South Africa , Canada and New Zealand . But at that time, at least we were well placed to supply the world with highly educated and skilled people, as we had more than we could use.

We were also producing the raw material: in 1951 the average Scottish woman had 2.5 children, above the replacement level of 2.1 (the level at which the population is maintained). By 1964, the average woman had 3.1 children – known as the ‘baby boom’ period.

But, over the last forty years, we have dropped into being one of the least fertile countries in Europe . The average Scottish woman now has fewer than 1.5 children, the lowest of all the UK nations.

At least emigration has stabilised, with numbers emigrating roughly balanced by the incoming.

However, with the falling fertility rate we are facing a shrinking and ageing population. It is currently just above five million people, but is set to drop to four and a half million by 2041, and the proportion of the population over 65-years old will grow from 16 per cent to 27 per cent over the same period.

Any day now, the proportion o the population over 65 will overtake those under 15 for the first time.

This is dreadful news for Scotland . It is impossible to have a prosperous, growing economy capable of supporting its citizens in comfort, with a falling, ageing population.

So we face a stark future unless we can do one of two things: increase the fertility rate, or significantly increase the rate of immigration, or preferably both. This is why Jack McConnell has been speaking recently about the need to attract more immigrants.

It is estimated that the UK will gain between five and seven million immigrants over the next 10 years, with the arrival of 10 new members of the European Union, potentially granting right of residence to a huge population from Eastern Europe. On current trends, well under five per cent of these immigrants are likely to come to Scotland.

For the future of Scotland , it is essential that we create a climate that attracts more of those immigrants north of the border. Otherwise, as Private Frazer used to say in Dad’s Army: “We're all doomed. DOOMED!”

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