Building a New Scotland: migration to Scotland after independence

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's proposals for migration policy in an independent Scotland.


Scotland is a country that has been shaped by migration. For much of our history, that has meant young Scots leaving home to build their lives elsewhere[1] – often London or somewhere else in the UK, seeking opportunities that historically did not exist at home. Scotland played a significant part in the expansion and administration of the British Empire, where Scottish emigration often had negative consequences for indigenous lands, people and cultures in other parts of the world. Emigration also had negative effects in Scotland, as communities were broken up and, in some cases, forced to leave their homes.

Scots setting out for new shores made lasting positive impacts as well. Scotland became a centre of industry, commerce and shipping from the industrial revolution onwards and, in that time, Scottish emigrants made a significant contribution to their new homes. In the United States of America alone, famous Scots with a national and international profile include the environmentalist John Muir, born in Dunbar, and the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, from Dunfermline.

Today, while there is naturally a high volume of movement of people between the nations of the UK, Scotland consistently attracts more people than it sees leave – every year since 2001, net migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK has been positive.[2] Scotland has also benefitted from people from other countries coming here. Ireland, our closest neighbour outside the UK, is a country with which many people in Scotland have a close and special affinity. There is a long history of migration between Ireland and Scotland and the importance of these Irish connections is felt in communities across the country.

The twentieth century saw large groups of Italians arrive in Scotland, followed by people from Eastern and Central Europe – Poland and Lithuania especially – before and after World War 2. Commonwealth connections brought many south Asians to Scotland in the post-war period, from India and Pakistan, and EU membership opened Scotland to Europe. This accelerated significantly in the early twenty-first century, with many people from countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 choosing to come to Scotland to live, work and study.

These waves of migration, and especially EU migration over the past 20 years, helped turn Scotland from a net exporter of people with projected population decline into a country with a growing population, enhancing its international outlook and the diverse nature of our society. That has required adaptation and change, from migrants and resident communities alike, to build a new, cohesive culture that recognises the contribution of all the people of Scotland.

That is now at risk because of the approach to migration, both in policy and rhetoric, adopted by the Westminster government. Independence would give Scotland the opportunity to devise a humane, principled approach to migration that is needs-based and delivers positive outcomes for our communities, public services and economy. Crucially, it would help those people who aspire to live, work and raise their families in Scotland to contribute to that inclusive culture and to thrive here.

The Scottish Government's arguments and proposals on migration in an independent Scotland are set out over several chapters.

The next chapter, on 'Migration and population', opens with an overview of how Scotland's population has changed in recent years and how it is projected to change in future. It highlights the role that immigration could play in addressing demographic challenges and supporting growth in our economy, the sustainability of our communities, and delivery of our public services.

The 'Safe, orderly and regular migration' chapter sets out the vision for migration policy for Scotland: a coherent immigration system which is simple to understand and navigate and which works as a whole system focused on meeting Scotland's needs.

In the following chapter, the paper reaffirms Scotland's commitment to free movement within the Common Travel Area, reflecting our longstanding social, cultural, family and economic ties with other parts of the UK and Ireland as well as resuming free movement within the EU as part of our common citizenship with our closest friends and neighbours.

The 'Helping Scotland prosper' chapter describes how an independent Scotland would be able to put in place a managed immigration system for people from other countries, with routes designed according to the needs of our economy and public services, and which welcomes people who want to live, work, study, visit or invest in Scotland.

The chapter on 'Family migration' addresses the question of family migration which has gained significance in Scotland over the past decade. The Scottish Government's population strategy aims to increase net migration to Scotland, and to encourage settlement, especially in areas facing depopulation. This section of the paper outlines who would be eligible to come to Scotland through a family migration route.

The 'Asylum and protection' chapter details how Scotland would play a responsible role on the world stage, working collaboratively to offer a humane approach to supporting refugees and people fleeing conflict and persecution.

The penultimate chapter sets out the current Scottish Government's proposals for how the policy, law and delivery elements of the border, immigration and citizenship system would operate.

A final chapter concludes with key reflections on Scotland's migration needs, and the opportunity independence gives us to enable the country to prosper.



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