Reform Scotland

Scotland needs immigration – but it’s no sliver bullet, says public policy expert

Former government adviser says Scotland must learn from the successes and failures of other countries

Reform Scotland, the independent non-partisan think tank, has today published a detailed report – Entry Points: Making a Success of Immigration to Scotland by international public policy expert Heather McCauley on what Scotland can learn from the experiences and policies of other countries.

There is broad political support at Holyrood for greater levels of immigration to Scotland. Without it, Scotland’s working-age population is projected to decline over the next 25 years, while the number of Scots in the 65-74 age group is expected to increase by 17 per cent, and those aged 75 and above by 79 per cent. Scotland also has the lowest fertility rate in the UK. This would mean a smaller proportion of working people funding the expanding costs and care of a rapidly-ageing population.

In Entry Points, produced in partnership with the Scottish Policy Foundation, Ms McCauley – who has worked as a senior civil servant for the Scottish government and been an advisor to two prime ministers of New Zealand – examines the role immigrants might play in tackling this looming crisis. She also explores the experiences – good and bad – of migrant-receiving countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the US, and looks at the lessons a post-Brexit Scotland should draw. 

McCauley has concluded that global immigration programmes have, on balance, been beneficial, but that the size of these benefits is often small. She warns that well-designed and well-managed immigration policy is essential to managing economic, demographic and cultural change. Immigration is no silver bullet, she says – there must also be a focus on retaining and upskilling the existing population.

The full report can be downloaded below.

“Irrespective of Scotland’s constitutional future, its demographics mean that it needs to enter a serious debate about how it responds to projected population decline. Growing the population as a goal in itself, or as a means to economic prosperity, is problematic, even if it were to be feasible. Maintaining population size, and particularly boosting the size and strength of the working-age population, can be supported by immigration, but only in the short term. Other policies to support adjustment to a different age distribution will be much more important.

“It is easy, in this debate, to look at immigration as a fix-all, but the experience of other small migrant-receiving countries shows that while immigration can be beneficial overall, it is important for policy makers to be realistic about how much it can contribute to improved outcomes.

“In considering their strategy and policy, the Scottish Government and the opposition parties should consider the full range of costs and benefits for the people of Scotland as well as potential migrants themselves, and should focus primarily on retaining and upskilling their existing population as well as addressing the root causes of challenges such as depopulation in remote and rural areas.”

Heather McCauley

“Reform Scotland believes in immigration for economic, demographic and cultural reasons - as has been said, ‘Scotland is not full up’. A healthy level of immigration can improve our nation in welcome and diverse ways. Heather McCauley’s report gives a fascinating insight into what has worked and what hasn’t in other countries, and it’s important that the Scottish Government absorbs her findings when setting future policy.”

Chris Deerin, Director, Reform Scotland

“The Scottish Policy Foundation is delighted to have been able to support Reform Scotland to deliver this work. This is the second in a series of papers we are funding with Reform Scotland in advance of the Scottish Parliament elections and we believe it makes a valuable contribution to the policy debate."

Alison Moore, Director of the Scottish Policy Foundation