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15 October 2019 19:53

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Can't get the staff: Scenic Highlands at eye of Scotland's Brexit storm

INVERNESS, Scotland (Reuters) - Glen Mhor Hotel, a picturesque base for tourists hunting Scotland's Loch Ness monster, is struggling to find staff for the summer season as workers from the European Union snub Brexit Britain. While Prime Minister Theresa May battles to win support for her plans to leave the EU, a shortage of migrant workers from the bloc is already threatening Scotland's economy and upsetting its politics. Sparsely populated Scotland is ageing rapidly so labour shortages affect its economy more than the rest of Britain. Scotland's working age population will only remain stable over the next 25 years if current migration rates persist, a University of Edinburgh study said. Moine, Glen Mhor's manager, says the Brexit vote had a "brutal, immediate" impact on his attempt to recruit up to 90 workers needed in the summer.

In densely populated England, many people voted for Brexit because of fears about migration. But in Scotland foreign workers help offset a birthrate at a 150-year low and keep the rural areas economically viable. But many of Sturgeon's supporters say plans to end free movement of EU citizens as part of Brexit amount to a huge change in Scotland's circumstances that necessitates another independence vote. But her 21-year-old daughter went back to Poland after the 2016 Brexit vote and at least 20 of her Polish friends have left Scotland since then. The number of foreign workers coming to start life in the north-east has dropped dramatically in the three years since Brexit was announced.

Nationally, the statistics show an 18% drop in the number of National Insurance registrations by overseas workers coming to Scotland between 2015 and 2018. Concerns around the sustainability of the workforce across the north of Scotland – and in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire in particular – were previously brought to light in a Scottish Government paper that reported Aberdeen will face economic shock and possible loss of businesses. Prominent Brexiteer Ross Thomson – the Conservative MP for Aberdeen South – however accused Mr Stewart of "complete disregard" for the oil downturn and said fewer foreign workers were coming to work in the industry. With an aging population, all of Scotland's population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration – in stark contrast to the rest of the UK where the working age population is expected to grow. Mr Stewart said: "The UK government's handling of Brexit and hostile approach to migration is failing Aberdeen and Scotland.

"As a city we rely on an international workforce and the fact the number of people coming to work here has dipped so drastically following the Brexit vote is alarming. "The simple fact is that without inward migration our working-age population will decline, meaning it's harder to fund vital public services like hospitals and schools in the future. He said: "The decline in foreign nationals coming to Aberdeen is a huge concern to the hospitality. Scotland still have those Nations League play-offs in our back pocket come the March of next year, but right now Euro 2020 seems a long way off. A new report finds that if immigration and population growth matched the rest of the UK, Scotland would have grown faster than everywhere except London.

Brexit may remove the appeal of Scotland for EU nationals, so attention could shift to attracting more, and more productive immigrants from south of the Border. They've asked the question: what if Scotland had the same level of immigration and population growth over the past 50 years that the rest of the UK has seen? Because immigrants are typically youngish, resourceful and hard-working, they have a habit of boosting the economic growth rate. Over last year, the growth rate for Scotland and the UK as a whole was the same, with total output from the economy 1.4% higher at the end of 2018 than it was at the end of 2017. Well, this economists report, published on Thursday, reflects figures back to 1970, setting growth rates alongside immigration and population change.

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But if Scotland had had the same levels of immigration and population growth as the rest of the UK, PwC reports it could have been the second fastest growing part of the UK, behind London. The efforts to make Scotland an explicitly, enthusiastically welcoming place for immigrants began 15 years ago. Now that Holyrood has income tax powers, it has a clear interest in attracting more immigrants, to help boost economic growth, income tax receipts, and thus public services. That is why Scottish ministers call for the right to operate their own immigration policy, with some significant support from beyond the independence movement. THE SNP has said the Tories' "narrow-minded Brexit rhetoric" is to blame for a fall in the number of overseas workers coming to Scotland, warning of the damage to the economy and public services. Latest figures from the DWP show an 18% drop in the number of National Insurance registrations by overseas workers coming to Scotland between 2015 and 2018. SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: "The UK Government's hostile approach to migration is failing Scotland. "The Tories' anti-immigrant obsession and narrow-minded Brexit rhetoric is driving people away from Scotland, putting our economy and vital public services on the line. The figures reinforce warnings that Scotland faces a demographic crisis that could jeopardise the country's ability to fund public services, with an ageing population leaving fewer working-age taxpayers. All of Scotland's population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration. Stewart continued: "The simple fact is that without inward migration our working-age population will decline, making it harder to fund vital public services like hospitals and schools in the future. "It is now imperative for Scotland to have the powers to set an immigration policy which suits our specific needs and recognises the huge benefits migrant workers bring to our economy and society."