Scotland’s population will be half a million smaller by 2040 than it would be if control of immigration policy was devolved, restricting economic growth and harming public services, the SNP has claimed.
The party said current projections show Scotland risks being overhauled by smaller European nations such as Ireland and Norway within 20 years because of its “missing half million”.
The prediction comes as a new report reveals that skills shortages have cost Scottish businesses more than £360 million this year.
The cost of failing to find qualified staff has increased by more than £10m over the past year, according to the Open University Business Barometer.
Nearly two thirds of Scottish businesses surveyed by the Open University said they expect Brexit to make the skills shortage worse.
The Scottish Government and SNP MPs have called for immigration powers to be devolved to combat Scotland’s demographic crisis.
The country’s birthrate continues to fall, with just 12,580 births registered in Scotland in the fourth quarter of 2018, the second-lowest figure since records began in 1855. Scotland’s population is expected to grow by just 4.4 per cent between now and 2040, slower than Scandinavian countries and Ireland.
The number of people of working age went into decline in 2018, and Scotland’s population is ageing faster than the rest of the UK.
Last year the Scottish Parliament finance committee warned that low population growth would put pressure on the government spending public services. UK ministers have said immigration powers for Scotland are not required, and that a separate immigration system would create added bureaucracy for businesses.
However, the next prime minister is expected to give key economic sectors in Scotland more freedom to recruit from overseas following lobbying from Scottish Tory MPs.
“Scotland urgently needs to grow our population – or we face a demographic timebomb over coming decades that could make it seriously challenging to fund public services like the NHS,” SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said.
“But the Tories – who created a self-proclaimed ‘hostile environment’ for migrants and now want to throw up more barriers by leaving the EU – are taking entirely the wrong approach.
“It is increasingly obvious that Scotland needs our own powers over migration and the means to grow our population.”
But the Scottish Conservative taxation spokesman, Bill Bowman MSP, said the Scottish Government had to reduce the tax burden north of the Border to attract more workers.
“The best way to grow the economy and our working age population is to restore tax parity with the rest of the UK,” he said. “The SNP solution? Blame Westminster.”
According to the Open University Business Barometer, Scottish businesses are paying out an average of £17,028 on a combination of temporary staff, recruitment fees and increased salaries as they struggle to find staff with the required skills.
The overall cost is £361.2m, is up 2.5 per cent on 2018, and nearly two thirds of Scottish firms surveyed report difficulties in recruiting for a role due to candidates lacking the skills required.
Spending on recruiters fees has risen 85 per cent to £129.1m and training to increase the skills of workers hired at a lower level rising 4 per cent to £118.9m.
The annual study surveyed 950 senior business leaders across the UK.