Leaders: Population boom brings positive challenges

If only the weather was a little better. Picture: AP
If only the weather was a little better. Picture: AP
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SCOTS may be now cursing winter after a sodden summer and wondering why they choose to live in such a miserable climate. Actually, quite a lot of other people think Scotland is a better place to live than where they were.

This is the principal explanation of why the country’s population – as counted in the 2011 census – is now at a record 5,295,000.

In the decade since the last census, the population has grown by 233,000, a 5 per cent increase. It is quite a turnaround since 2001, when there were fears that the population might slip below five million, raising the spectre that Scotland, unlike England, was in some irreversible decline. Instead, numbers have grown faster than at any rate between two censuses in the past century.

One reason, according to the Registrar General, is that there have been more births than deaths in the past decade, a welcome reversal of the previous trend. But the second and more important reason is that the number of immigrants is ahead of the emigrant tally, which is also a reflection of more people seeing this as a land of opportunity rather than a dead end.

Of course, these positive findings mask the fact that Scotland is experiencing the same demographic trend as is apparent in other developed parts of the world – the size of the workforce relative to the total population is slowly shrinking and the number of pensioners is rising.

This has the consequence that the bill for public-sector and state pensions – and for the health service – is also rising faster than growth in the working-age population, putting more of a strain on the tax revenues generated by the workforce.

Planned rises in the state pension age reduce the effect, but not entirely. Against that, today’s retirees are staying healthy and active for longer. More of them also do voluntary and charity work, which enriches social and community fabric for all.

This, however, does not render unnecessary the challenge of getting the balance between the age groups right. The fact that so many people have moved permanently to Scotland in the past decade can be used to attract more. The emphasis needs to be on luring people with young families so that, if this is not putting it too crudely, tomorrow’s pensioners are bringing their own supporting workforce with them.

Despite the privations of austerity, Scotland has a lot to offer immigrants. Some residents may worry they may take jobs from the natives, but this is the lump of work fallacy. The volume of employment is not fixed, for opportunity migrants tend to create their own employment and increase overall economic activity from which everyone benefits.

To those suffering the effects of the financial crisis and recession, it may not seem obvious, but the Scotland of 2011 is a better country than it was ten years ago.

Now if the weather could just be a bit better...

Gray’s offensive rant serves Scotland ill

Acerbity in a writer can be an excellent thing, cutting through humbug and platitudes to expose hypocrisy and failure. But the latest thoughts of Alasdair Gray, famed writer of Lanark, show that it is a thin line between that and a corrosive acidity.

Mr Gray’s rant against people who move to Scotland to work, especially in the arts, for a number of years and then

depart as “colonists” is simply offensive. To imply that there is some moral equivalence between people who are dispatched by an imperial power to occupy land at the natives’ expense and individuals who have been invited to Scotland is just plain wrong, even allowing for artistic licence.

His attack on Vicky Featherstone, the first director of the new National Theatre of Scotland, does him and the nation no

favours. Scotland’s playwrights and actors owe a huge debt of thanks to Ms Featherstone who, through the production of such plays as Black Watch, lifted Scottish theatre to an elevated position on the world stage such as it has never enjoyed before.

Mr Gray’s venom appears to be solely directed at “colonists” from south of the Border. Presumably, he thinks that people such as Stéphane Denève, music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra 2005-11, and whose conducting thrilled hundreds of thousands as well as taking the RSNO to foreign audiences who had not heard of it before, are quite acceptable.

To welcome some, but bar others, apparently on the grounds of their country of

origin, is discriminatory and would corrupt artistic creativity. A period of silence, both written and spoken, on the part of Mr Gray would now be welcome.