Independent Scotland could offer incentives to migrants, report says

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An independent Scotland could offer an incentive package to people from other countries who make their home there, a new report will suggest.

The Sustainable Growth Commission – which was set up by the SNP to look at future economic prospects – will set out proposals for a “Come to Scotland” package as part of efforts to boost the country’s population.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already said the report will “restart the debate” about Scottish independence.

The document by former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson sets out how the country can use the “3 Ps” – population, participation and productivity – in a bid to grow the economy.

The long-awaited report will argue an independent Scotland could be among the most successful small economies in the world, providing an economic boost that is equivalent of £4,100 per person.

There are currently about 429,000 people living in Scotland who were born outside of the UK – with this group contributing £1.3 billion to the public purse.

The 354-page report includes 30 recommendations on how to grow the economy, including introducing a new visa system for Scotland which would be in contrast to the “UK Tory government’s hostile approach to migration”.

Demographic trends mean Scotland needs to attract people to boost its working-age population, with the report setting the goal of the country retaining an additional 5,000 overseas graduates each year – which could be worth £1.5 billion a year to the economy within a decade.

Highly-skilled workers moving to Scotland could get “transitional relief” on their income tax to help offset the costs of relocating, it will suggest.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs could benefit from reduced costs and increased support.

Speaking ahead of the publication of Scotland: A New Case for Optimism, Mr Wilson said: “We have a great opportunity for Scotland to strike a completely different tone on a vitally important area of economic policy – how we attract talent to our country.

“For the next 25 years all of Scotland’s projected population growth is expected to come from migration.

“Under current UK policy there is a real danger that the working population in Scotland could fall – meaning fewer people creating wealth, jobs and contributing to our NHS.

“Growing our working population and, through it, our economy is perhaps the greatest national challenge we have – and is made even more urgent by Brexit and the threat it poses to our working-age population.”

He stressed that “Scotland needs more migration to drive our economy forwards and we need to extend a friendly welcome to international talent”.

Mr Wilson continued: “It is a fact that those born outside the UK who have made Scotland home for their businesses, their research or their families are significant net contributors to our economy and public finances – we need more of this.

“We also need more people from across the UK to consider the benefits of living and working here.

“Our package is designed to attract people to Scotland to study and to stay here, to build a career and a fulfilling future for themselves. We need investors, entrepreneurs and a skilled workforce to achieve our potential.”

Mr Wilson has already hailed the report as the “most substantial work on Scotland’s economic future that has ever been undertaken”.

It is split into three sections, looking at Scotland’s opportunities for economic growth, public finances and the key issue of what currency an independent Scotland could use.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: “Of course we want to attract the best and brightest to come and live and work in Scotland. But you don’t do that with high taxes and you don’t do it by trying to tear up the UK.

“You do it by growing Scotland’s economy – something the SNP government is failing to do, largely because it is spending so much of its time obsessing about independence.

“Four years on from the independence referendum, it really is time for the SNP to stop building castles in the sky, and to get on with the job of building a stronger Scotland now.

“Let’s be clear, the only purpose of this independence blueprint is to help Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to push us back towards a second referendum. We will oppose any attempt by her to do so.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also hit out at the nationalists, saying: “The SNP government can attempt to reboot the case for independence as much as it likes. The people of Scotland do not trust it and want a government focused on jobs, schools and hospitals instead.”

And Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie called on the Scottish Government to “focus on driving positive change and improvement in public services and the economy” instead of pursuing “yet another divisive push for independence”.

But a Scottish Green spokesman said: “Many No voters in 2014 will no doubt be open to the case for independence, especially when this report is compared to the bleak, post-Brexit economic analysis papers, which we have seen, from the UK Government.”

He added: “While independence would give us a better chance of running a fairer economy, that shouldn’t stop us taking action right now.”

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