UK parties debate independent Scotland's immigration policy

The debate in the UK about Scottish independence continues ahead of a referendum that will be held on Thursday 18th September 2014. The latest Westminster politician to intervene is Labour's Yvette Cooper who has said that the Scottish National Party (SNP) must 'come clean' on its immigration policy.

All three major political parties at the Westminster parliament; the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, oppose Scottish independence. Only the SNP, which is currently the party in power in Scotland supports independence.

In November 2013, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which, as the name suggests, supports Scottish independence, published a white paper titled Scotland's Future: Your Guide to an Independent Future. The paper was 670 pages long and was described by the SNP leader Alex Salmond as 'the most comprehensive blueprint for an independent country ever published'.

Fewer migrants in Scotland

In it, the SNP said that an independent Scotland would introduce a much higher level of immigration than the rest of the UK. This, Mr Salmond said, was because Scotland has different needs. This is, in part because most immigrants to the UK settle in southern England.

Only a small number make it to Scotland. Therefore, Scotland has not in the past benefitted as much from immigrant skilled labour as other parts of the UK and need more skilled immigrants now. Many Scottish citizens too leave Scotland for England and other Countries so further reducing the number of skilled workers in the Scottish labour market.

The SNP would, it says, introduce 'a points-based immigration system targeted at particular Scottish needs'. It has said that it would increase the level of immigration into Scotland to help deal with a rapidly ageing population and a future pensions gap.

Immigration controls between England and Scotland

This has led ministers in the current UK government to warn that there would have to be immigration controls between Ireland and England and an independent Scotland if its immigration policy was radically different from that of the rest of the UK and Ireland.

This is because the government of England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and many other EU Countries including Ireland, would still be pursuing a restrictive immigration policy after Scottish independence.

Immigrants could gain visas from Scotland and then come and live in what would be left of the UK. As a result, they warn, the UK would have to introduce border controls along the Scottish border. There will likely be a similar situation in a number of other EU Countries.

SNP 'must come clean' on immigration

Recently, the shadow Home Secretary, Labour's Yvette Cooper, said that the SNP must 'come clean' on immigration. Ms Cooper gave a speech in Inverness, the city of her birth, on Thursday 24th April 2014, in which she said that Scotland would need over 1m new immigrants by 2050 to deal with its pensions gap.

Scotland's current population is only 4m. Polling shows that only 2% of those support the idea of increased immigration to Scotland.

Ms Cooper said 'All the evidence shows that there has to be a significant pensions gap in Scotland and that it has to be funded. If that isn't done as part of the UK, where the risks are shared, then it would have to be done by raising taxes, cutting pensions or raising immigration to meet the bill.

SNP 'not clear' on level of immigration proposed

She continued 'The SNP has said it would mean higher immigration for Scotland but haven't said just what that means. It wouldn't be possible to meet the needs of pensions in the future with just more university students from abroad.

'We all think more students would contribute to our economy but Scotland would need looser immigration controls and more low-skilled immigrants. That has consequences in terms of the pressure on public services and schools and the pressure on them'.

Ms Cooper was asked by journalists if increased immigration in Scotland would lead to border controls being introduced. She said 'Immigration policy has consequences for border controls of course but we simply don't know what the SNP immigration policy would be'.

Scotland 'could not use pound'

Senior politicians in Westminster have been seeking to show that an independent Scotland could not introduce the policies that the SNP has promised. Earlier in 2014, senior politicians from all parties at Westminster warned that an independent Scotland could not use the British pound after independence.

In 2013, the UK's Coalition government passed a bill which allowed a referendum on independence to be held in Scotland. It has recently emerged that the Coalition allowed this to happen because it was confident of a convincing victory.

However, this appears to have been a political blunder by Prime Minister David Cameron. Support for the 'yes' to independence campaign has been growing steadily.

Support for independence growing

The 'Better Together' campaign which supports the status quo is still ahead but the lead has been narrowing. The 'no' vote currently has about 50% support and the yes vote has about 40% with one poll showing it at 43%.

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