Study looks at Scottish views on immigration

UK Border controls sign at Heathrow Airport Scottish attitudes to migration were different from the rest of Britain but "not massively different

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People in Scotland are less likely to want to reduce immigration than those in England and Wales, a new study says.

The Oxford University Migration Observatory said it was the first major survey to ask people in Scotland about immigration to Scotland.

Scott Blinder, from the observatory, said Scottish attitudes to migration were different from the rest of Britain but "not massively" so.

He said the majority of Scots would still like to see immigration reduced.

The survey, conducted by polling organisation YouGov, said 58% of people in Scotland wanted to see immigration reduced a little or a lot.

graph 1

The figure for England and Wales was 75%.

The other main findings of the survey were:

  • Immigration ranks well behind the economy on the most important issues facing Scotland
  • But immigration was ranked more important than crime, Europe, education and housing as an issue
  • 60% of Scots thought the Scottish government was best placed to make decisions about immigration policy in Scotland even if they did not agree with its policies
  • Scots were slightly more likely to think of EU citizens as immigrants
  • Scots were less likely to think of people coming to live in the country as illegal immigrants
  • Scots were less likely to say immigration should be reduced for groups such as students, immediate family members, extended family members and refugees.
  • Scots were also less likely to say immigration should be reduced for high-skilled workers, low-skilled workers, IT professionals, construction workers, restaurant staff and scientists.
  • A solid majority of those who want to reduce immigration are in the No camp in referendum-voting intentions.
  • 12% of Scots think of people coming from England as immigrants
  • Most people in England and Scotland think it unlikely that independence would lead to border controls between the countries

The survey spoke to more than 2,000 people in Scotland and compared their answers with a similar number of people from England and Wales.

One finding was that when asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 whether immigration was good or bad for Britain/Scotland, Scots were slightly more likely to give numbers which favoured immigration.

Graph 3

The observatory's finding are in line with a recent British Social Attitudes Survey which suggested that 78% of people in England thought the number of immigrants to Britain should be reduced and gave a figure for Scotland of 69%.

Dr Blinder says: "Pretty much all the previous work on Scotland has been based on small numbers of respondents and a small number of questions.

"It is the first time anybody has taken such an in-depth a look at Scotland in comparison to England on immigration issues."

The survey found that immigration as an issue was less important to Scots than it was south of the border and it was far behind the economy when it came to matters which would be vital to the Scottish independence referendum in September.

Dr Blinder said Scotland's attitude could be down to it having had a smaller number of immigrants.

He said: "The demographics are different. Scotland has a smaller and more ageing population so it may be that more people in Scotland see the benefits of immigration in supplementing their economy and population growing."

Scott Blinder Scott Blinder says the research was the first in-depth look at attitudes to immigration to Scotland

One finding from the survey was that the majority of people thought the Scottish government ought to make the most important decisions about immigration policy in Scotland despite most people not agreeing with its more tolerant approach.

The SNP's White Paper, setting out plans for Scotland should it win the independence vote, has promised to encourage immigration in order to rebalance the ageing population of the country.

The survey found that 45% of people thought an independent Scotland should be less welcoming to immigration, with just 14% thinking it should be more open (28% stay the same, 13% don't know).

However, when asked if they thought Scotland would actually be less open to immigration just 22% said it would.

Dr Blinder said: "We found that a majority would prefer the Scottish government to be the primary decision-maker on immigration.

"This is interesting because it is not as though there is a big agreement with what people expect them to do. In fact there is a pretty big gap.

"It's a funny thing. It's not like they are clamouring for the policies that they expect would happen but they still think the Scottish government is the best level of government to decide these issues."

graph 2

Dr Blinder suggested that the more tolerant political culture in Scotland could have contributed to the country being less opposed to immigration.

He said: "There has not been a lot of loud political discussion of immigration as a massive problem for Scotland. So I think the state of affairs in terms of political debate is reflected in public attitudes."

Dr Blinder said his analysis of the survey showed that people who stated they would vote No in the independence referendum were more likely to want to reduce immigration.

He said: "People who want to see immigration reduced are strongly in the No camp. It is 58% in the No camp versus 27.5% in the Yes (the rest are in the Don't know category)."

The senior researcher said it was hard to know whether potential changes to immigration policy from independence were aligning the anti-immigration camp with the No campaign.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Scottish government Minister for External Affairs Humza Yousaf said: "What we want is an immigration policy that suits the economic, educational, social and cultural needs of our country.

"That means you cut illegal immigration, but what you do is where there are skill gaps that cannot be filled by local, indigenous Scots, then you look to immigration to help with that and also with our population demographics.

"On top of that we would look to get the best, the cream of the crop, international students to come to study at Scottish universities."

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