Category Archives: demographics

Repopulating the Highlands will be necessary after Brexit and ScotRef

In her speech to the SNP’s spring conference yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said:

Scotland isn’t full up. If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster government is taking, come and join us.

Come here to live, work, invest or study. Come to Scotland and be part of building a modern, progressive, outward-looking, compassionate country.

I think this was a wonderful thing to say. Firstly, it’s true, and secondly, it shows the world that Scottish nationalism (or sovereigntism or independentism as I prefer to call it) isn’t racist in the slightest, but progressive and open to the world.

If the rUK continues moving towards a hard Brexit, and Scotland as a consequence votes for independence within Nicola’s window of late 2018 to early 2019 to escape the madhouse, I find it quite likely that many people from the rUK (both natives and EU citizens desperate to remain within the Internal Market), will take up the offer to join us in Scotland. They’ll be joined by many companies that need to remain within the EU and reckon the move to Scotland is easier than moving to a place outside the old UK.

As a consequence, Scotland's population might grow rapidly soon, perhaps by 10% in less than a decade.

That’s great in a lot of ways, but where do we house them? The Central Belt is already busy and congested, and although I'm sure there'll be space for a few more, I think a more radical solution will be needed.

At the same time, the Highland Clearances were a horrible and dark part of Scottish history, and it would be nice to right the wrong by reversing them in some way.

So I'm thinking we should start planning for a few new towns and cities in the Highlands. In some cases, existing towns can be expanded a bit, but sometimes it’d be good to think big.

For instance, I was looking at a map, and I thought Durness would be a nice candidate for expansion: It’s a beautiful place, there isn’t any large town in the vicinity, and from a historical point of view, it was the location of the Durness Riots of 1846 (when the women of Ceann na Beinne area defied the Sheriff's Officer sent to deliver the summons of eviction as part of the Clearances).

If we built a new town there the size of Milton Keynes (population 230k), the Highland council area would double in size, practically overnight (the current population of the whole area is 230k, too).

A new town could be built in a modern way, incorporating the area’s stunning nature as green areas, and building modern infrastructure such as trams at the same time as everything else. The houses should be built to environmentally friendly standards, and of course every house should have ultra-fast Internet as standard. The city should also be designed to be carbon-neutral from day one.

There has been a lot of talk about English universities setting up campuses abroad to maintain a presence within the EU, and Durness could become the best location for them, because their campuses could be designed and built at the same time as the rest of the city.

Given that Durness is almost as close to Reykjavík as it is to London (1050km vs 900km as the crow flies), it could also easily become a very attractive location for American companies needed a foothold in the EU if it had its own airport.

Some people would perhaps say that Durness would be a ridiculously northern location, but of course it’s further south than both Oslo and Stockholm.

If done right, the City of Durness could become one of the most attractive places to live in Scotland, and a real magnet for people moving to Scotland after independence.

Independence changes everything. We need to think big.

To vote Yes is to vote against xenophobia

Borderline Racists
Borderline Racists by Matt Brown, on Flickr.
Lots of commentators -- mainly, but not exclusively, based south of the border -- seem to have got into their heads that the SNP and UKIP are quite similar. Apart from the inescapable fact that both party names end in the letter P, the only similarity I can think of is that they're both excellent at articulating people's antipathy towards Westminster.

On the other hand, one of the biggest differences between the SNP and UKIP is their stance on racism and xenophobia.

The SNP is extremely open and tolerant. Nobody ever criticises me for being Danish; in fact, people are keen to hear how things are done in Denmark. The SNP is also full of people who have foreign relatives or have lived abroad. Some of the party's most popular MSPs are Humza Yousaf and French-born Christian Allard. It's not anti-English, either -- for instance, several of the party's parliamentarians were born in England -- it's just that the criticisms of the corrupt Westminster system at times get misunderstood.

The wider Yes campaign is if possible even more xenophilic than the SNP, given that the other political parties involved are the Greens, the SSP and the most progressive parts of Labour.

UKIP on the other hand is clearly blowing the racist and xenophobic dog whistle so hard that my ears hurt. They might be trying to appear respectable in public, but anyone who has seen their recent election posters knows exactly what they're thinking. It's a horrible party -- if possible even more repugnant than Denmark's Dansk Folkeparti.

However, Scotland after independence won't be run by the Yes campaign or even just by the SNP. Labour will probably get into power at some point, and it's likely Scotland will also develop a right-of-centre party at some point. So why should Scotland in the longer term continue its tolerant trajectory?

Apart from the fact that the Yes side will be in the ascendency after a Yes vote and will be able to infuse Scotland with its values, there are several reasons to believe Scotland will be very different:

Firstly, Scotland has a great history of tolerance. For instance, as Frank Angell wrote in the Jewish Chronicle:

[O]ur history is at least unstained by anti-Jewish discrimination, rare among European nations, and our 14th century independence Declaration of Arbroath contains the statement: “There is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman.”

Secondly, as I've discussed before, Scotland has never been a homogeneous country, it’s always been a country of immigrants and emigrants, and the native use of English is a good bulwark against parochialism. This means that right-wing politicians can't appeal to memories of the "good old days" when everybody spoke one language and belonged to one religion.

Thirdly, most of the UK hasn't actually had that much immigration, but the fact that most of the mainstream media are based in London makes many people overestimate the actual amount of immigration that has happened. In an independent Scotland, the media would be basing their reporting on Scottish statistics, and they would be located in Scotland, so they would reflect the actual reality, which should make immigration debates less fact-resistant.

Of course nobody knows the future, but the likelihood is that Scotland after independence will be an open and tolerant country. However, so long as we're part of the UK, we'll keep receiving the BBC's UKIP propaganda, and if a future UK government decides to close the borders, it's Scotland's economy that will suffer the most (because we need immigration more than the rUK).

The IFS report and population growth

Yesterday's IFS report is quite interesting. It's basically confirming that an independent Scotland will do well at first, but they have some worries about the longer-term sustainability of the Scottish economy once the oil has stopped flowing.

However, these worries are due to the fact that the IFS are simply projecting current trends into the future. Because Scotland is currently part of the UK, economic policies are broadly identical, so the only real difference between Scotland and the rUK is the projected population growth.

Basically, if two countries have similar economies, but one is growing rapidly and the other one isn't, of course the former will end up with fewer pensioners per worker than the latter.

So what are the population projections the IFS are using?

Between 2012 and 2062, in the ONS’s ‘low migration’ projection, the population grows by 22.8% in the UK compared with 4.4% in Scotland. In addition, in Scotland, all of this population growth arises from growth in the population aged 66 and over, while in the UK there is projected to be growth in the population at all ages. The median age of the Scottish population is projected to increase by six years from 2012 to 2062 (from age 40 to age 46), compared with an increase of four years (from 39 to 43) for the UK. [p. 13f]

In other words, they think Scotland will have a static population, and probably a continuation of the current situation where dynamic young people feel they need to move south to further their careers, whereas England will grow by more than 10m people.

Population growth 1900-2010.
Population growth 1900-2010.
This would indeed be a continuation of past trends. The graph on the right shows how England's population nearly doubled over the past century, while Scotland hardly grew at all. (Interestingly, Ireland seems to have suffered from Scotland-style stagnation for a few decades after independence, and then their growth rate started to mirror other independent countries.)

However, is a continuation of current trends really likely? I hear English politicians going on about the need to cut down on immigration, and I hear Scottish politicians talking about the need for more immigration here.

If an independent Scotland starts growing at a faster rate than the rUK, the fiscal gap will be smaller here in fifty years' time than down south.

It would have been nice if the IFS had highlighted this instead of talking only about the need for higher taxes and/or lower spending.

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland

Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog published an article by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I've made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?