Reform Scotland

Scottish immigration and the battle for independence – Kieran Isgin

As support for Scottish independence is on the rise, questions are beginning to be asked about how Scotland would deal with its borders and immigration policies.

A poll carried out by STV news found that support for an independent Scotland has now reached a record high of 58% with only 39% unreservedly opposing it.

Debates over Scotland’s immigration policy in relation to the devolved powers have been a major issue in parliament for a long time. This debate has had renewed interest amid talk that the SNP will push another Scottish independence referendum.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already overtly hinted at pushing for another Scottish independence vote, which Boris Johnson rejects on the basis that the 2014 one was supposed to be a “once in a generation vote”.

Scottish ministers have already complained about being unable to respond to specific population problems in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon complained that Scotland is suffering due to a lack of control over immigration, she said on Twitter: “the Tory immigration policy can’t be justified – it would have a devastating impact on Scotland & the opposition to it from all sectors tells its own story.”

UK Immigration minister Kevin Foster rejected calls for Scotland to have individual power over immigration for their own borders and said: “”We don’t think that having different immigration systems in different parts of the United Kingdom, literally putting an economic migration border across this island, would be a way of doing that. It would produce confusion.”

When Holyrood demanded more power to control their immigration policies, they were met with accusations of holding an “agenda of separatism”.

While Foster made this statement alongside an announcement that the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system which has apparently been organised with Scotland, such claims, however, have evidently failed to consider the concerns of the Scottish public.

Issues with the Scottish working population

The Scottish government openly criticise the UK’s “one size fits all” approach to immigration which does little to benefit the economy of Scotland. Currently, Scotland is facing an aging populating at a faster rate than the rest of the UK. Under 15s are now outnumbered by those aged over 65. Scotland’s population is only growing thanks to immigration.

This has had a knock on effect on parts of Scotland’s working population, such as in Moray, where 60% of jobs are below the so called ‘low skilled’ salary threshold. The MSP Richard Lochhead stated that there is: “a greater need for a working age population.”

Moray, Lochead’s constituency, has seen a rise in those claiming Universal Credit with number almost doubling between March and May from 3537 to 6632.

Since 2007, Scotland has relied on migration for population growth more than any other region in the UK. 63% of Scotland’s growth has attributed to immigration, compared to 53% of the rest of the UK as a whole.

As a result, Scotland’s economic needs are different from the rest of the UK and the Scottish government wants to reintroduce a Post-Study Work Visa scheme that works for Scotland. A policy which was recommended by the Smith Commission and is supported by all Holyrood parties.

The Scottish government claims that such a visa would help boost the Scottish economy by allowing student who have migrated to Scotland to study to be able to stay and put their skills and education to benefit the country.

The Scottish government stresses that a robust screening process is currently in place with communications with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) who are responsible for protecting the rights of refugees.

Regardless of the outcome of another referendum, it could take years for Scotland to become fully independent from the UK. For immigration policy, this would mean great care would have to be taken to streamline the process of Scotland developing its own immigration system.

Because of this, Scotland would likely still have to operate within the UK immigration system for quite some time.

Kieran Isgin writes for This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and newsaround the world.