One of the things that makes our city and the festivals so attractive is the openness of it all – open streets for performances, open doors to galleries and museums, a city open for business, and the sharing of new ideas between open minds. And how we protect that sense of openness in the coming years will be important for all of us. Not just when it comes to the festivals but for our city generally and our country as a whole.
Because, unfortunately, at the moment, Tory UK Government immigration policy threatens that openness. The Tories’ distasteful, insensitive and incoherent “hostile environment” policy position is making the UK less attractive; and Brexit has the potential to make this worse. The Tories’ position is not only contrary to the internationalist spirit of the festivals and the character of Edinburgh as a city, but it’s also the exact opposite of what Scotland needs or wants.
In terms of the festivals, for example, there was the shocking news earlier this month that several authors were refused visas by the Home Office to attend this year’s Edinburgh international Book Festival. On a Scotland-wide basis, recent official figures worryingly show that, in the last year, inward migration to Scotland has dropped by 14 per cent. This is highly concerning for our economy as well as the continuing enrichment of our society.
It’s concerning because, over the next 25 years, projections from the National Records of Scotland show that the pension age population in Scotland will increase by 25 per cent, with the number of those aged 75 and over set to increase by almost 80 per cent. While there is an overall ageing population in many countries, the key difference in Scotland is that our working age population is projected to grow by only 1 per cent and is even projected to decline if migration is reduced. In order to prevent adverse impacts on Scotland’s economic growth, it is vital that we continue to attract people to live and work in Scotland, with all levels of skills and experience and on both a short-term and a long-term basis. Put simply, we need more people to make Scotland their home.
Faced with all of this and the challenges of a Brexit Scotland didn’t vote for, the Scottish Government is arguing for differentiated migration policies for Scotland and the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament to implement our own solutions. This is something my colleagues and I are vigorously pushing for, not just because of the facts about our population projections but also because of the strength that diversity brings to all of us – strength that is epitomised in Edinburgh all year round and especially during the festivals.
Ben Macpherson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith.