from Sunday Herald, 10/8/13
Suddenly, everyone's doing it. Following the royal baby. and the news that Edinburgh Zoo's giant panda, Tian Tian, may be pregnant, we hear that the birth rate in the UK is at its highest rate since 1972, according to the Office for National Statistics. It's official: we're bonking for Britain.
And for Scotland - at least a little. For the astonishing news is that Scotland's population is now higher than it has EVER been : 5,31 million - 14,000 more than the previous peak recorded in 1974. Yet only a decade ago, we were being told that Scotland was dying out, as the population dwindled to less than 5 million.
Back in 2003, the Registrar General forecast that, by 2017, there would only be 4.84m Scots. The workforce would fall by nearly 10%; the number of under-sixteens by 80% while the number of Scottish pensioners would increase by 25%. This was called the Demographic Time Bomb, and we were told that public finances would be destroyed by the greyquake.
As recently as 2005, the First Minister of the day, Jack McConnell, was desperately looking for ways to reverse what looked like a terminal decline in Scottish population. And meeting resistance from Westminster for his plans to increase immigration by, for example, allowing foreign students to remain in Scotland after graduation.
Professor Robert Wright of Stirling University, dismissed the Scottish Executive's measures as too little too late: "The demographic problem in Scotland is very, very serious," he gloomed. "The government is very näive to believe this problem can be solved by trying to retain a small number of foreign students."
Well, it seems that the problem was not quite as serious as supposed, and that under their duvets, Scots were taking matters into their own hands, as it were. Perhaps, with diminishing incomes, people have turned to sex as a low-cost recreational activity.
But more important than the increase in the birth rate in recent years (it actually dipped last year) has been the decline in the death rate. Thanks to remarkable work by the NHS, combatting heart disease and cancer, Scots are not popping their clogs as they were even ten years ago. Measures like free personal care and the smoking ban in 2005 have had a remarkable impact on the health of Scots. People are drinking less, taking few drugs and some of us are even exercising.
However, this most remarkable demographic turnarounds in Scottish history could not have been achieved without another significant factor: increased immigration. Not only are more people coming to Scotland, they are having larger families when they get here. And this is a UK phenomenon - which takes us into rather murky waters.
For, as soon as they hear that immigration is boosting the population, some people start to wonder if the demographic time bomb wasn't such a bad thing after all. The Daily Mail view is that "migrants" are not only flooding Britain, taking our jobs and houses, but their large families are swamping 'our culture'.
The UK government has responded to this by promising to cut immigration by a factor of ten, and has been sending poster vans round London boroughs warning immigrants to "Go Home". This is primarily directed at illegal immigrants, but aas a former commissioner for racial equality, Lord Ouseley, pointed out, all immigrants find this language offensive.
Labour has also been turning against immigration. Gordon Brown's confrontation with Labour voter Gillian Duffy in Rochdale during the 2010 general election campaign has seared the Labour psyche. Ed Miliband, the new leader, says "Labour was wrong to dismiss peoples' concerns over immigration".
But the truth is that, for all our sakes, we need more immigration not less. There really is no other way of ensuring that, in future, we have a large enough working-age population to pay the taxes that fund public services. Moreover, there is a lot of evidence that immigration makes communities more vibrant and creative, as cultures meld and fuse into new forms of music, dress, ideas.
London has become a world city largely because of its embrace of cultural diversity, as we saw most clearly at the 1012 Olympics. And while we may resent the way that the metropolis dominates economic and cultural life in the UK, there is one very obvious way in which we could start to emulate London: open borders.
Scotland, as the former BBC Director General,Greg Dyke might have put it, is "hideously white". It is the first thing people notice getting off the train from London.
There is a very hard working and well-integrated asian population in Scotland, but afro-caribbean immigration stopped at the border long since. Instead, the majority of immigration to Scotland is white, typically from Poland and the Baltic states.
This may be one reason why there is so little apparent animosity towards asylum seekers compared to the South of England. There, the United Kingdom Independence Party has legitimised attitudes that used to be associated with the far Right and the BNP. Nigel Farage's party wants immigration to cease for five years - a policy that, if it were possible, would be economically disastrous. It would also be incompatible with membership of the European Union - which doesn't bother Ukip, since it wants to leave the EU anyway.
Like Europe, immigration has become one of those touchstone issues that defines the divergence in political culture between Scottish and England. In the south east of England, and on the Conservative benches in Westminster, there is now undisguised opposition to immigration; whereas in Scotland, the issue scarcely registers on the list of voter concerns.
Some have argued that Scottish racism is only 'underground' and that Scots are just as hostile to mass immigration. But the evidence for this is hard to find, since Scots vote overwhelmingly for parties that are traditionally supportive of immigration. Indeed, the most successful party in Holyrood, the Scottish National Party, is one of the few nationalist parties in the world that that campaigns for greater immigration.
And there are historical reason why this should be the case. Scots have rarely felt threatened by immigrants. Since the Middle Ages, Scots have been migrating to other European countries in huge numbers. Our greatest export has always been our people, which makes it difficult to feel animosity towards incomers here.
Moreover, Scots had a subordinate, 'subaltern' role in the British Empire, and didn't indulge in that sense of effortless racial superiority that defined the English upper classes. The SNP does not have cultural or racial superiority writtin into its DNA - if only because Scots have never had anything to feel very superior about.
I'm not saying that Scotland is immune to racism - no country is. All I am saying is that it is not a defining political issue in Scotland in the way it is becoming south of the border. We have a utilitarian attitude to migrants - that if they come here to work and be part of the community they are more than welcome. And, come to think of it, that's one of the things makes me rather proud to live here