Friday, 10 May 2019

Migration, and Scotland's one-way love affair with Europe

From my Daily Record column today

They say 50 per cent of advertising works 50 per cent of the time. The only problem is you’re never quite sure which 50 per cent. 

On Brexit Day, well the scheduled one on March 29th, the Scottish government launched a glitzy advertising appeal to Europe on the theme of “let’s continue our love affair”.

The £2.1 million advert, funded by public agencies, was screened at international airports like Munich and Paris and in prestigious newspapers like France’s Le Monde, Spain’s El Pais, and Germany’s Der Spiegel.

The beach looked brilliant and the casting agent for the smooth, dark-haired actor declaring “Hey Europe, Scotland is open to you,” must have had the phone ringing off the hook.

But the advert, which we all loved, probably missed its mark. 

Two weeks ago, in a humdrum Commons committee hearing, the romantic strain of the boyfriend on the beach mini-drama took a hard slap from the reality of what European workers think of Scotland.  

MPs were taking evidence on the effectiveness, or otherwise, of a pilot scheme for migrant workers.

Stephanie Maurel, from Concordia, one of two companies handling the pilot immigration scheme for agricultural workers, was asked casually about Scotland’s attractiveness as destination. Casual, in that the assumption of the question was we’re a great place. 

Her answer left MPs shocked.

She said, quite frankly, that agencies like her’s struggle to get people to go to Scotland.

She said: “We think there is more of an issue in Scotland in terms of recruitment, more than England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

“It is a perception issue to the point that we will get a worker in Bucharest coming into our agent’s office saying: ‘I will do anything but I won’t do strawberries and I won’t do Scotland.’”

“They may never have been to Scotland before or the UK before, yet in their mind they will earn less or will not be treated as well in Scotland. We have videos and leaflets that do an excellent job of showing that it not the case but there is a really strong mindset that potential workers do not want to go to Scotland.”

In case they hadn’t heard, Maurel illustrated Scotland’s reverse attractiveness in figures: “It used to be ten workers for one farm, four to one three years ago. We now have three or four offers for each worker. So, Scotland versus Herefordshire, it is very likely they will take Herefordshire first.”

If they had been showing the “Scotland loves Europe” advert it would have melted in the projector at this point.

As a mainplank of their Remain campaign, and for independence, the SNP government has drummed home how Scotland’s economy will need migrants as the native population gets older.

Evidence of that is all around. In December there were 2396 nursing vacancies in Scotland, 5.1 per cent of all posts.

Scottish Ministers argue for a separate immigration policy and for freedom of movement to continue. This despite figures showing 55 per cent of Scots (about eight per cent less than in England) think there has been too much immigration in the last decade.

For whatever reason (and the weather might be a factor) immigration into Scotland is quite meagre with about 80,000 incoming met by 59,000 on the way out last year.

Overall about 11,000 people came to live here from the rest of the world last year, and a net 10,000 from the rest of the UK.

What’s clear from that is Scotland cannot look on immigration from the EU as some kind of silver bullet to address population decline outside the central belt.

What has to be worked out is ways to make young Scots stay in rural areas or return to them after their college or university education. That means devolving jobs outside cities, more rural housing aimed at single people, policies and spaces that make living there more female friendly.

That involves the hard grind of policy and is less glamorous work than basking in self-reinforcing myths about a Scottish boyfriend on the beach.

Especially when it turns out Europe is just not that into us.

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