Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Domestic policies deter people from moving to Scotland – Roy Leckie

It is hopefully understood by all politicians in Scotland, if not yet by most of the wider public, that Scotland faces a serious demographic challenge. Our population is rapidly ageing, and our rates of fertility and immigration are currently too low to prevent an impending decline in our numbers. There will soon not be enough working taxpayers to support the promises we’ve made to our elderly. It’s a hugely serious problem, albeit one of the many that extends beyond the five-year electoral cycle, and so is imperceptible relative to the concerns of the here and now.  

Immigration is not a responsibility devolved to Holyrood. It is extremely disappointing therefore, that the Scottish government has fumbled a golden opportunity to encourage thousands of British National (Overseas) passport holders from Hong Kong to settle here. The BN(O) visa program, which opened in January 2021, is a welcome route to British citizenship for many thousands of Hongkongers who no longer fancy residing in authoritarian China. It is the first big migration policy post-Brexit Britain. Of the 166,000 Hongkongers who have so far applied for visas to come to the UK, it seems that substantially fewer than 5% have chosen to settle in Scotland. Some useful platforms and networks have been established to welcome settlers once in situ, but very little imagination or energy has been extended to encourage them to come in the first place.

I discussed some of the many potential benefits to Scotland of an influx of well-educated, law abiding, enterprising and industrious Hongkongers in a November 2020 article. It will enrich the UK, culturally and economically. I had hoped that the strong diasporatic connections, specifically between Scotland and Hong Kong, would stand us in good stead, even without any encouragement from Holyrood. I’ve wished the aphorism ‘if you put 20,000 Hongkongers in an empty field, before long there’ll be a thriving metropolis’ to be prescient.

But it has not come to pass. Sadly, few Hongkongers have chosen Scotland, and the more I’ve thought about it, the less surprised I am. It is unlikely to have much to do with, as some have suggested, our accents being hard to decipher, or our weather being less clement, or that we have fewer YouTube influencers enticing people here. It’s a good deal more fundamental than that.

There are few folk more obsessed with their future than the people of Hong Kong. What is the key ingredient for underwriting a prosperous future? A sound education. Unfortunately, Scotland no longer registers as a leading light in that regard, at least in the primary and secondary sectors. Standards have fallen across our state education system, which has failed to keep pace with best practice. There is no obvious long term strategy or vision for revitalisation. Our independent schools, which should be celebrated as global flagbearers for Scotland, are being increasingly bedevilled by the politics of envy.

Additionally, Hongkongers are hardworking, resourceful, and self-reliant. They cherish an economy that is unrestricted and growing, over and above an economy that is ‘well-being’. The Scottish government’s mantra of ‘vote for me, and I will give you free stuff’ is not a political economy that sits at all naturally with Hongkongers.  When it comes to a ‘fair tax system’, the basic sentiment of Hongkongers is that they get to keep the significant majority of what they earn, rather than it being taken by big government to (mis)allocate.  The top rate of salary tax in Hong Kong is 17%. The higher rates of income tax levied in Scotland vis-à-vis the rest of the UK, a position that may get worse still, is a deterrent. Indeed, it is not just a deterrent to would-be immigrants, it is a position that is driving aspirational Scots southwards.

There is a range of other conditions and circumstances that have provided a headwind to Scotland becoming the destination of choice. The rule of law has been an important and reliable underpinning to Hong Kong’s success. Scotland’s ruling party is under investigation for criminality. Our police force is institutionally racist, apparently. Our main cities increasingly appear down-at-heel and poorly administered. Our basic road, rail, airport and ferry infrastructure is deteriorating. Our politics is consumed with niche issues like gender ideology and recycling schemes. Wealth creation is deemed to be an unsavoury subject matter. And of course the primary reason Hongkongers are leaving the former British colony in the first place is because of the constitutional upheaval they’ve experienced. If half of Scotland gets its way, our own constitution will soon be re-written. This creates unappealing uncertainty for would-be immigrants.

So sadly Scotland is not, in totality, an attractive proposition for Hongkongers looking for a new home and a bright future at this juncture.

A few years ago passengers arriving at Edinburgh airport were greeted with a series of beautifully scenic but ultra-hubristic posters, that proclaimed Scotland to be the ‘best small country in the world’. If only.

Roy Leckie