Leader comment: May must realise Brexit poses bigger risk to Scotland

Scotland could be pushed into recession by Brexit, partly because of its greater need for immigration

Scotland has long depended on immigration since the days of Robert the Bruce and before (Picture: Getty)
Scotland has long depended on immigration since the days of Robert the Bruce and before (Picture: Getty)

‘Michael McGrory from west Donegal

You came to Glasgow with nothing at all

You fought the landlord then the Africa Korps

When you came to Glasgow with nothing at all.

Abraham Caplan from Vilnius you came

You were heading for New York but Leith’s where you’ve stayed

You built a great business which benefits all

Since you came to this land with nothing at all.

In Scotland’s story I read that they came

The Gael and the Pict, the Angle and Dane

But so did the Irishman, Jew and Ukraine

They’re all Scotland’s story and they’re all worth the same.’

Scotland’s Story by The Proclaimers describes how this country has been a nation of immigrants from time immemorial. Robert the Bruce, arguably our greatest hero, was descended from a Norman knight who sailed across the English Channel with William the Conqueror.

Each wave of new people has helped create the nation we now live in and, at Murrayfield and Hampden, many of their descendants will have stood to sing the praises of Bruce and Co in Flower of Scotland just as passionately as anyone else. Unlike in much of the rest of the UK, there is a political consensus in Scotland that this flow of people should continue. Indeed, it is regarded as necessary to preserve Scotland’s economy as our population ages.

We are now just a year away from Brexit, the most profound change to the UK since the end of the Second World War. Expert after expert has warned of risks of putting up barriers to trade between the UK and the richest single market in the world.

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But Scotland, this tiny nation on the edge of Europe, is even more exposed than Britain as a whole because of our reliance on immigration and the anaemic state of our economy. GDP grew by 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2017, so it would hardly take much to push Scotland into recession.

At Westminster, Scotland’s concerns seem to be taking a back seat. The UK Government promised to sort out the row over powers returning from Brussels but dithered and it continues to rumble on. Scotland’s fishermen appear to have been used as a bargaining chip, so they will now be subject to EU quotas for the post-Brexit transition period, even though the UK will have no real say in setting the limits; Scottish Tory MP Douglas Ross saying memorably, if unpleasantly, that it would be “easier to get someone to drink a pint of cold sick than try to sell this as a succcess”.

It’s only fair to recognise that Theresa May does have rather a lot on her plate, what with hard Brexiteers and pro-Remainers in her own party at daggers drawn, a minority government, and the most difficult and complicated agreement in British diplomatic and trading history to be struck from a positive of relative weakness because of the EU’s economic power.

The UK may be just strong enough to cope with the shock to the system caused by Brexit, particularly if the least-worst option of remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union is taken. But if Westminster ignores Scotland’s particular problems, it could turn into a disaster north of the Border. So the Prime Minister needs to give serious consideration to special measures, such a separate Scottish immigration system, to protect the Scottish economy. After all, as The Proclaimers’ lyrics imply, no matter where we hail from, we are all in this together.