WILSON'S WEEK: LONDON CALLING; England's Capital Is Draining Us of Young Scots Whose Talents Are Needed at Home

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), July 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

WILSON'S WEEK: LONDON CALLING; England's Capital Is Draining Us of Young Scots Whose Talents Are Needed at Home


Byline: ANDREW WILSON

OK, so you might not be able to drink the water or breathe the air, and travelling from A to B can be about as pleasant as having your prostate gland inspected.

But it is an exciting place and has one of the richest cultures of any city going.

I quite like London, a nice place to visit, undoubtedly - but I wouldn't want to live there.

But many young Scots don't agree with me. Every time I go to London, it seems that another 10,000 have arrived to make a life for themselves.

Many of them don't return and their talents and best years are lost to Scotland forever.

If you open a cupboard in any London office, it seems that a young Scot falls out of it, auditing your accounts, building something, nursing you back to health or reporting for the media.

I don't blame any of them. Every one of us is entitled to do the best we can in our lives and there's no doubt that London can be an exciting place with lucrative opportunities for the young Scot on the make.

What I do blame, though, is the lack of opportunity at home that sent them on their way.

Despite the ignorant nutters who bump their gums all the time about immigrants and refugees, the truth is that it is emigration and not immigration that has long been Scotland's problem.

Of all the detailed statistics economists swap about the well-being of a country, for developed nations like ours the population numbers can be the most telling. And in Scotland they tell a very worrying story.

At the time of the Act of Union in 1707, when Scotland lost her independence to London, our population was approximately one-fifth of that of Britain.

By 1851, our share had nearly halved, to 11 per cent.

After the industrial revolution and through the wars of the 20th century, our population continued to decline relative to the UK. By the 1960s, fewer than one in 10 UK residents were living in Scotland.

Today, it is dropping still, and will be hitting eight per cent soon.

If we had maintained our share rather than losing it, there would be more than 10 million people living in Scotland today. So where are the missing five million?

"One instinctively knows when something is right," as the toff in the old sherry advert used to say.

Well, looking at our population decline throughout the last three centuries, "one instinctively knows when something is wrong". And it is clearly very, very wrong.

The only comparable country to have suffered a similar fate over this period has been Ireland.

But one of the less-publicised benefits of their huge economic success over recent years is that at last they have reversed the centuries-long drain of talent across the seas.

The lesson in all of this has to be that Scotland is not full up. We need to do all we can to halt the drain of our youngest and best.

Or if not, we should be working on enticing them back at some point in their careers. And when it comes to immigrants, we should welcome them with open arms.

As America has shown, they tend to give more than they take.

I GOT a really warm reception from my SNP colleagues at Westminster this week. Teamwork will be the order of the day for all our members in Edinburgh, London and Europe. …

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