How UK’s migration policies could spell economic disaster for Scotland – Craig Vickery

The Scottish and UK governments need to find ways to address Scotland’s particular needs for inward migration, writes Craig Vickery.
Can Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson work together to find an acceptable compromise over immigration? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)Can Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson work together to find an acceptable compromise over immigration? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Can Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson work together to find an acceptable compromise over immigration? (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

The Scottish Government received short shrift from Westminster for its recent proposal for a Scottish visa to encourage migration, but if nothing else, the proposal highlights the challenge Scotland faces post-Brexit as we fight for talent.

Scotland must encourage talented workers to migrate both from the EU and from the rest of the UK. Our problem is a cocktail of a shrinking working age population, full employment and projected higher death rates than birth rates.

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So, we must compete for talent, across high-salary professions like accountancy, that offer vital support for small and medium businesses and exporters, but also, crucially, across a swathe of lower paid occupations that keep Scotland moving – including hospitality, agriculture and social care.

Tory plans to end free movement for EU nationals after Brexit might raise cheers in some parts of England, but they amount to a looming economic disaster for their union partners north of the border.

And, as Boris Johnson amply demonstrated recently with his summary dismissal of the Scottish visa, from Holyrood no-one can hear you scream.

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The clock is ticking, and Nicola Sturgeon has a growing ‘to do’ list, with the migration crisis somewhere near the top.

Leaving aside the politics, and the apparent enmity between political leaders, we need answers. What sort of ‘tailored approach’ on migration will work for Scotland and win the support of Westminster?

And how would a system of contra-policies north and south be workable and enforceable to prevent gaming of the system for backdoor entry to England?

Scotland needs special measures

Without a solution, there is consensus that the economic consequences for the country are grim.

The death rate is expected to surpass the birth rate over coming years, leaving Scotland with a challenge to increase the population solely through migration.

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Other countries with similar population decline issues are tweaking their immigration systems to help boost numbers, but Scotland needs special measures with the agreement of a union partner that is set on reducing migration and restricting the free movement afforded by EU rules in a post-Brexit world.

Scotland can look at what will help – allowing students to stay after studying at universities is helpful, but we also need to attract skilled migrants to train, attract qualified people and bring high income jobs to Scotland.

Making Scotland an attractive place to study, work and live is vital. And in the battle ahead for the best talent, we will have to compete with European countries and the rest of the UK to catch the talent our economy needs.

At ACCA, we have been reimagining the future of our profession to ensure that we develop the flexible, multi-skilled financial professionals that will be sought after and work-ready now and in the future. We’ve piloted an apprenticeship programme with Robert Gordon University that allows students from all over Scotland to get a degree and qualify towards ACCA – while in employment. And our ‘accelerate’ internship programme with Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of the West of Scotland helps students secure placements and paid employment with local businesses.

Quality of life

It’s not just about skills and study, of course. Scotland’s leaders need to consider the wider human dimensions of this issue; what conditions would enhance the country as a place to live, including staying long term and bringing up a family?

What improvements in infrastructure can improve quality of life?

High-speed fibre broadband connectivity is a business enabler, but outside of our major cities, 4G mobile coverage can be patchy. According to Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations Report for Scotland, up to 20 per cent of Scotland has no good 4G mobile coverage from any operator.

The report also showed that 92 per cent of Scottish homes have access to superfast speeds of at least 30Mbps and 83 per cent of business premises.

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These figures are due to be boosted further by the Scottish Government’s R100 investment programme, which aims to reach 100 per cent of premises across Scotland with superfast broadband.

One of our challenges is encouraging migrants to settle in rural and island communities that will most feel the benefit of their contribution, but in a world where even the smallest contractor must fill out their VAT return online, fast connectivity is pivotal.

Similarly, on the roads, in situations where face-to-face meetings are still vital, dualling the whole of the important A9 could play a role and bring economic gains to the Highlands. Or modernising the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail link to deliver a faster service.

The proposed Scottish visa may have been turned back at the border, but the problem remains for the future.

The Scottish Government needs to find a way to fight for talent that doesn’t involve a dust-up with Westminster that leaves us stuck in the departure lounge.

Craig Vickery is head of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in Scotland



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