Scottish Demography 101:
Basic Information for Immigration Patriots

S. J. Irving discusses the central role played by demography in Scotland's potentially bright future.


Whither goes Scotland? The prospect of Scottish independence has been an energizing topic, both within Scotland and farther afield. It’s surreal for me, as a Scotsman myself, to have heard political commentators discuss this topic in the most bizarrely narrow terms, during the run-up to the referendum. Outsiders seem to have a very confused understanding of Scotland’s situation in general, let alone the referendum specifically and, by extension, our prospects for making our way in the world. Their misconceptions are forgivable, but as much as they can be forgiven, they can’t be forgotten — and mustn’t go uncorrected, if facts are to win out over fears.

Among commentators on the Dissident Right, demography is a major bone of contention — most especially regarding the fears and figures surrounding immigration. Fear-mongering about Scottish independence has apparently afflicted the alternative right blogosphere as much as it has the mainstream of British politics. In this, we have a clear testament to the power of the mass media and organized financial interests (both of which closed ranks against independence) to influence even those seemingly on the fringes of their hegemony. Scottish independence has, by and large, exactly the same institutional enemies as patriotic immigration reform. This alone must make serious food for thought, to be digested slowly. Beside this, there is the question of hard facts, the question addressed — and answered, in some measure — by this article.

What is needed at this point is not more reflexive condemnation of Scottish independence as an option for our nation, but a certain amount of disabuse and serious re-thinking about the issue. The same, tired, old lines can be repeated ad nauseam, but they’re no longer really fooling anyone — whether they’re bemoaning the uncertain prospect of Scotland going her own way or assuming that the ‘No’ vote is anything other than a temporary victory, if indeed a victory at all. We’re told that it means both that (1) the issue is now settled (Clue #1: it’s not); and (2) remaining part of the union is somehow better than the alternative (Clue #2: it’s not). In both cases, it amounts to little more than wishful thinking. Again, rather than uncritical acceptance of the scaremongering narrative what we need instead is reference to simple facts, which show this narrative to be irrational and un-constructive.

The facts, in this case, need a spokesman with a different perspective. Since I’m in a position to clear this up and have already, in a previous article (namely, ‘England’s Missed Opportunity’ for the Civil Liberty website), addressed the demographic differences between Scotland and England in a cursory comparison of the proportions, it behoves me now to give a more detailed analysis.


Demography and Ethnicity

First, let’s expand on the statistics to which I alluded in the earlier article.

“A quick glance at the British census of 2011 shows the discrepancies in the statistics, between Scotland and England. The figures show that Scotland at the time of the census had a population which was about ninety-six per cent European, while England’s was about eight-five per cent. That’s not a small difference. Given the size of England and its much larger population, something around fifteen per cent is a lot of foreigners, their greater numbers making them far harder to assimilate culturally, if nothing else.

“Supposing Scotland left the United Kingdom, not only may there be the much-touted (perhaps oversimplified) right-ward shift in the make-up of the British parliament, but we will additionally see the English forced to look more closely at their own demography, as the non-European elements will suddenly become a bigger proportion of the UK population — and less pleasant fellow citizens than we Scots.”

The 2011 census to which I referred showed that nearly thirteen per cent (12.83%) of the population of Britain was non-white/non-European at that time, if we count the unspecified ‘Mixed’ as being non-European since it is a category for those who are not fully so or those whose heritage is a mixture of two or more non-European ethnicities (and this author counts them as such simply for the purposes of illustrating the extent of immigration and foreign birth-rates). The non-white statistic for England alone in this census was nearly fifteen per cent (14.6%). It may not sound like a huge difference between the UK baseline and England’s higher proportion, until one considers that the equivalent figure for Scotland is just under four per cent (3.98%), making Scotland ninety-six per cent (96.02%) native European as against England’s eighty-five (85.4%) at the time of the same census. This is not a small difference, by any stretch of the imagination.

Native births also merit a mention here. The percentage of Scotland’s population born outside the UK was around seven per cent (7%) versus the UK’s almost fourteen per cent (14%) or, in other words, nearly double.

Out of all of Scotland’s cities, Glasgow has the highest proportion of ethnic minorities at twelve per cent (12%) of the population. This means that our dear green place, at eighty-eight per cent (88%) native European (the lowest figure for a Scottish city), is still significantly above the English average.

When I said that “[g]iven the size of England and its much larger population, something around fifteen per cent is a lot of foreigners”, what I meant by ‘a lot’ was specifically the 7,731,314 identified by the 2011 census as non-white, non-Europeans resident in England. In other words, England’s population of mostly unassimilable aliens is larger than Scotland’s population period. Yes, to repeat that, more than our entire population.

The figures over time are also interesting. In the ten years from the census of 2001 to that of 2011, immigration and foreign birth-rates decreased Scotland’s white European proportion of her population by less than two per cent (1.97%) as against the nearly six per cent (5.6%) drop experienced by England over the same period. It’s estimated that about half of the birth rate in England and Wales right now is attributable to foreign (mostly non-European) fecundity.

By mid-century, projected at current rates, the United Kingdom will be the most ethnically diverse state in the West, overtaking the United States(!) as the world’s great ‘melting pot’. 2066 has been pinponted as the year when white Britons will become a minority in the British isles. Needless to say, the vast majority of this is accounted for by English demography alone and very little of it by Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

These numbers speak for themselves. Supposing we believe, as European Rightists are supposed to do, that ‘Demography Is Destiny’, then Scotland’s destiny is far more viable than England’s. It’s hard to adequately communicate just how far-reaching the ramifications of these divergent numbers are for the nations in question. At this point, the quantitative variables touch against and become the qualitative. It was accordingly that I wrote of the political ramifications of Scottish independence — the ‘ripple effect’ — in the Civil Liberty article.


The Verdict of the ‘Dismal Science’

What about fiscal, economic and employment figures?

First, Scotland contributes more in tax revenues than the rest. Recent figures show that Scotland paid nine point six per cent (9.6%) of the tax revenues last year and cost nine point three (9.3%), a net gain (0.3%) for the Treasury with regard to Scots. Scots have contributed more per head than the UK per capita figures for over thirty years. Indeed, despite selective citation of spending figures in Westminster and inane drivelling about ‘the Barnett formula’, suggesting we cost more than we contribute, it is the worst kept secret that we do much better than the rest of the UK off our own backs. Supposing Scots wanted to live high on the hob, on the rest of Britain’s ‘dime’ (as our American friends would put it), then why do Scots consistently and overwhelmingly seek the alternative of increased taxation powers at home? Block grants from the British state would do just fine were that the case; and yet, we oppose them. Why, indeed, do we want to support our spending with taxes raised in Scotland alone? The answer is simple: we want to have spent in Scotland what is raised in Scotland. It’s in Westminster’s interest, not ours, to keep us beholden to HM Treasury.

In addition to proportionately greater tax revenues, the rate of unemployment is lower in Scotland (6.4%) than any of the other three constituent countries in the United Kingdom; and this, despite the constant depiction of Scots as scroungers. This also means that unemployment has also returned to a low not seen in Scotland since 2009.

Food production is another area of interest. One of the scare stories told about independence was that we would ‘starve’ without the rest of the UK’s acreage to feed us. This is pure fantasy; wrong in a number of ways. In fact, Scottish agriculture is far more productive by comparison with the rest of the UK. Every year, we produce proportionately far more in crops and livestock than England, whether you measure per head or per hectare. We constitute less than ten per cent of the total UK population and yet, year after year, our farmers and our land produce consistently contribute over ten per cent of the total agricultural food production for these isles. Additionally, when you adjust the figures to show food produce for human consumption alone, we produce more than twice what England does, by any measure.


‘Scottish-ness’ and Ethnic Nationalism

There are more subjective factors as well. A figure which I neglected to mention in the Civil Liberty piece, which was relevant to the difference in national character between the Scots and the English, was national identity statistics. Specifically, I mean self-reported national identity, a question included in the 2011 census. The answer options for this question were ‘Scottish only’, ‘Scottish and British’, ‘British only’, ‘Scottish and Other’ and ‘Other’ non-Scottish. The majority of those who answered opted for the first answer, ‘Scottish only’, while in total there were between eighty-two and eighty-three per cent (82-83%) who identified as Scottish in some way. This figure trumped those for ‘Englishness’ in England and ‘Welshness’ in Wales.

Moreover, ‘Scottish-ness’ became a good predictor of how strongly areas would vote in last month’s referendum. The most strongly ‘No’-voting cities in Scotland, namely Edinburgh (61.1% ‘No’) and Aberdeen (60.4% ‘No’ in the Aberdeenshire council area as a whole) were also the ones returning the lowest levels of self-identified ‘Scottish-ness’ in the 2011 census, a respective seventy (70%) and seventy-five per cent (75%). Even so, the interesting thing is not simply that these cities both returned the lowest figures for Scottish nationality and the highest proportion of ‘No’ votes in last month’s referendum (both over 5% the national average); but even more so that their demographics for those born in Scotland almost perfectly match the two results, at seventy (70%) and seventy-five per cent (75%) respectively. Now, as of 2011, Aberdeen has the largest share of non-UK-born residents in Scotland (15.9%), whereas Edinburgh, although its share is a tenth of a percentage point lower (15.8%) has the largest population of non-UK-born residents in absolute terms.

In the ten years between the censuses, the percentage of the Edinburgh population born in Scotland specifically fell from seventy-eight (78%) in 2001 to seventy (70%) in 2011, the best part of ten per cent. Our former ‘Athens of the North’ is becoming — and has already become to quite an extent — a deracinated cosmopolis.

These two cities are really the notable exceptions which prove the ‘Scottish-ness’ rule. So, what does the high level of Scottish national feeling mean for demography? What exactly is the sticking point with Scottish nationalism, independence and immigration?


Independence and Immigration

The white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’ (PDF) makes the immigration priorities of the Scottish Government clear: a couple tens of thousands of skilled workers, supplemented by university students. This is the heart of the SNP’s immigration platform. According to this white paper, “[the Scottish] Government will take forward a points-based approach targeted at particular Scottish requirements. The system will enable us to meet the needs of Scottish society with greater flexibility, for example by providing incentives  to migrants who move to live and work in more remote  geographical areas, assisting with community sustainability,  or adding new categories of skills.” (p.270)

The proposals regarding students are even more precise. “A particular issue for Scotland is the post-study work visa”, according to the Scottish Government.

“There are over 30,000 international students from more than 150 countries in Scotland; over 11 per cent of all students studying in Scotland are drawn from elsewhere in the EU and about 10 per cent are from the rest of the world. This Government plans to reintroduce the post-study work visa. This visa will encourage more talented people from around the world to further their education in Scotland, providing income for Scotland’s education institutions and contributing to the local economy and community diversity.” (Ibid.)

Disappointing concessions to PC and fashionable phraseology (e.g. ‘community diversity’) aside, the main concerns of the Scottish Government speak quite clearly from the text. This is all a fancy way of saying that the immigration concerns are economic — specifically to benefit the national economy, rather than the narrower needs of corporate interests — and result from pragmatic politics.

Skilled professionals and graduates are not particularly objectionable categories of newcomer. Those also happen to be the two groups least opposed by Scottish public opinion. The Migration Observatory survey touches on this: “Only a minority wish to reduce immigration of highly-skilled workers (23%) and university students (22%)”.

Conveniently, the more vague and generous aspects of the SNP’s immigration platform (that is, generous from the immigrant’s point of view) benefit from the fact that Scotland doesn’t currently set its own immigration policies. So, the SNP get to appear generous without actually giving anything away. There are compelling reasons to believe this would change, if the Scottish Government became the government of a sovereign nation.

Besides, the SNP’s immigration policy, even if adopted as proposed, would not lead to imminent minority status and replacement for native-born ethnic Scots by mid-century, whereas remaining in the United Kingdom would push us farther and faster in that direction with every passing year. So, all in all, the worst-case-scenario of independence with the SNP is better than the best-case-scenario staying in the UK.

Now, we know the SNP’s position on immigration, but where to real flesh-and-blood Scots stand on the issue?

The University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory (an excellent academic source for immigration data, by the way) reports in its Scottish Public Opinion survey ‘Immigration and Independence’ (PDF) that a majority of Scots, fifty-eight per cent (58%) still want to see immigration reduced, compared with England’s seventy-five per cent (75%). The fifty-eight splits into thirty-seven (37%) who want to see immigration ‘reduced a lot’ and twenty-one (21%) ‘reduced a little’. More importantly, only ten per cent (10%) wanted to see immigration actually increased (versus 8% for England and Wales).

In February of this year, an article from the BBC (‘Immigration: Is Scotland really different?’) cited the main figures of the Migration Observatory survey (58% vs 75%), along with those of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey. BSAS places our opposition at around sixty-nine per cent (69%) compared with England’s seventy-eight (78%). The range of difference these two sources give us, namely the 9-16% range, is quite considerable, but also understandable in light of the innocence that comes with homogeneity.

Scots on average have much less contact with immigrants, much less harmful contact in particular, and this is reflected in our relative magnanimity toward them. Furthermore, our attitudes also reflect differences in what is meant in context by ‘immigration’, i.e. different kinds of immigration and different kinds of immigrant. Are we talking about EU or non-EU immigration? Students or asylum seekers? Highly skilled workers for specifiable jobs or incalculable masses of cheap labour? Legal or illegal?

Interestingly, Scots and other Britons have different things in mind. The Migration Observatory survey shows that more Scots thought of immigrants as more likely to come from the EU than did respondents in England and Wales; “similar numbers had EU and non-EU citizens in mind (64% and 65%, respectively) while respondents in England and Wales were more likely to report thinking of non-EU citizens (75%) rather than EU citizens (59%). This difference between Scotland and the rest of Britain is consistent with migration patterns, in that EU citizens make up a larger share of the migrant population in Scotland than in Britain as a whole.”

A higher proportion of our immigrants are European. Scots see more fellow Europeans as immigrants than the English do. This is bound to influence our viewpoint.

In perspective, Scotland’s opinion poll figures for opposition to current immigration policies, while not as high as English figures, are remarkably high for such a small, homogeneous country with little experience of the immense and sobering kind of demographic transformation undergone by England or, say, the United States.

Comparisons aside for the moment, let’s return to specifically Scottish attitudes. Additional figures stand out.

Scots at a ratio of virtually two-to-one would prefer that immigration policies, as well as asylum/refugee policies, were set at Holyrood as opposed to Westminster.

Supposing Scotland were independent, though, exactly what direction would Scots (and what proportion of Scots) prefer for its immigration policy?

The Migration Observatory’s survey covered this as well: the largest number of respondents, at forty-five per cent (45%) favoured more restrictive policies and less immigration, the second largest (28%) preferred basically the same policy the UK has currently, while only fourteen per cent (14%) thought there should be more immigration.

For asylum/refugee policies, the numbers are almost the same; forty-three per cent (43%) more restrictive, twenty-nine per cent (29%) for the same as current UK policies and only sixteen per cent (16%) favouring more generous refugee and asylum rules.

So, the largest categories of opinion are for more restrictive policies regarding asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants in general, while an overwhelming majority of those polled believed that such policies would be best set in Holyrood, rather than Westminster. These overlaps are too considerable to ignore.

Now, when you add Scottish independence to the mix, things get even more interesting. After all, independence would have an impact on immigration specifically, as surely as it would in other areas — but how would it impact these issues?

In an article for Civil Liberty back in 2012, Colin Liddell detailed the “powerful effects” of independence on our political landscape:

“With Scotland freed from Westminster, there would be much less reason for Scottish voters to vote Labour. This would effectively result in the collapse of Labour in Scotland. Of course, the SNP, having fulfilled its historical purpose might also face a serious drop in support as a range of new parties rose up to take advantage of the new political ecosystem.”

There is no reason to believe that immigration in particular would be immune from drastic changes to our whole way of ‘doing politics’. On the contrary, it’s probable that immigration would be more impacted than other policies. After all, what’s more crucial to the National Question than the issue of immigration and birth-rates?

Liddell may be the only one to state it with such force or nuance so far, but the academic experts seem to agree with him on the skeletal facts of the issue.

Indeed, the abovementioned BBC article quotes two Scottish scholars to the effect that independence (and, implicitly, responsibility for our own immigration policies) will change everything.

First, the article quotes Robert Wright, a professor of economics from the University of Strathclyde:

“I think the difference between Scotland and the UK really boils down to the fact there has been less immigration in Scotland than the UK for a significant period of time. So the fact I think there is more tolerance here is because there has been less of it. That does not mean there will be tolerance in the future when there is more immigration, so this will be a hurdle we have to jump later.”

So much for ‘tolerance’ in Scottish public opinion.

Next, Christina Boswell, of the Politics Department at the University of Edinburgh:

“Even if at the moment the SNP, Lib Dems and Labour are largely supportive of a more liberal approach, in the event of independence, actually the temptation to break ranks and criticise and tap into public concerns about immigration would be quite high.”

Professor Boswell’s point, interestingly, differs very slightly from Professor Wright’s in that it’s not simply about a shift in attitudes among the electorate, but an adjustment of policies and discourse among the Scottish political parties, which could potentially bring more fluidity and dynamic change to the party system in Scotland.

Everything would be up for grabs in the immediate aftermath of independence. The issue of immigration would take on newfound importance for a nation finding itself again, restructuring its identity — that is, determining what it is and what it’s not — and formulating the answer to its National Question. On this, its most pronounced weak point, the SNP would have to learn its hardest lesson: evolve or die.


Demography Conclusions

What one senses confidently from the amassed and collated evidence is a Scotland which, overall, can work on its own — and not only that, but do better on its own. I see very few worrying signs and a great many reassuring ones. Economics, regarded as the strong point of the ‘No’ argument, reveal itself in Scotland’s favour; GDP, tax revenues and employment are all in her favour. Scottish agriculture, fisheries, oil wealth and exports are all in her favour.

Overall, the feeling of a self-evident Scottish national identity is at a high point in Scotland and shows little sign of abating. Perhaps ‘critical mass’ better intimates the political implications. Its effect is positively alchemical. In any case, we find that it trumps most other factors, including Scots’ reputed ‘tolerance’ for immigration. Scottish identity is incredibly strong and could potentially yield great gains for an explicitly identitarian Scottish political force in years to come. The song given to us in living memory reminds us that we can still rise now and be the Nation again.

What more is there to say? Both on the whole and in particular cases, we are presented with figures which build a compelling case for Scottish independence.

This Scotland, which we sense here, is the genuine article as it were, not the straw man of the British media’s sensationalized headlines.

One of the most thoroughly European nations in Europe; wealthy, educated, increasingly self-confident; proudly Scottish — all of this and more; this is Scotland. Simple words could never do her justice.