Scotland’s rural labor shortage fuels demand for independence

Scotland’s rural labor shortage fuels demand for independence

Rory Christie’s Pig and Dairy Farm is located in a scenic corner of the windswept coast off Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland. But wild beauty hardly attracts workers.

Christie, who runs the family farm with her brother, is one of many business owners in remote parts of Scotland struggling to find labour. After failing to attract local applicants, it is now trying to sponsor workers from as far away as the Philippines, a time-consuming and expensive process. “It’s incredibly disturbing and in many ways stressful,” he said.

Candidates “think we’re in the desert because we’re so far from anywhere,” he added. “It is extremely difficult to find the right people.

Labor shortages, which the Scottish government says are due to Brexit and the pandemic, are particularly acute in rural Scotland. Holyrood warned that depopulation threatens the long-term economic viability of the countryside.

He proposed a special trial visa program to help bolster the rural working-age population. Modeled on a scheme in Canada, it would grant recipients full rights of establishment in the UK after four years.

Mairi Gougeon, the Scottish National Party’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Islands, said: ‘If this is a proposal that the UK government accepts. . . it can show how we can work together to offer people.

Map showing that the population has declined in the west of Scotland.  Inverclyde reported an 8.9% decline since 2001. East Lothian reported the biggest increase in population with a 21.5% increase since 2001

But London, which has authority over immigration, rejected the proposal. Independence supporters within the SNP say the government’s refusal to compromise shows Scotland must be freed from Westminster’s control.

“It is clear that independence is the only way for Scotland to get an immigration policy that suits our needs and invites people to live and work here,” said SNP MP Kaukab Stewart.

When it left the EU, the UK introduced a points-based immigration system aimed at attracting skilled workers. But Scots voted 62% against Brexit and Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon said joining the EU and restoring freedom of movement would be one of the main benefits of independence.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Scottish Government began compiling its own data on labor shortages in key sectors and found that rural businesses were struggling to recruit workers. The number of European workers in the hospitality sector fell 17.6% in the year to May, while trade association UKHospitality said so-called ‘hard-to-fill’ vacancies were from 3,558 in 2015 to almost 30,000 today.

“In terms of the rural situation, it’s much more difficult,” said Leon Thompson, executive director of UKHospitality in Scotland.

Similarly, a survey by the National Farmers Union of Scotland found that 60% of respondents in Dumfries and Galloway were short of labour.

Long-term demographic trends indicate that labor shortages will only get worse. The gap between deaths and births hit a record high last year and official data suggests Scotland’s population will start to fall from 2028 and is set to fall by 1.5% by 2045.

In contrast, the population of England will increase by 6.7%, while those of Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to increase by 4.2% and 2.3% respectively.

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However, the Home Office said depopulation in Scotland is “neither caused nor solved by immigration”. He said devolved governments should look at the drivers of change, such as the lack of jobs and proper infrastructure, which fall within their purview, he said.

However, Highland Council organizer Bill Lobban said a weaker pound and labor shortages elsewhere may also have discouraged EU workers who had left the UK during the pandemic from returning. . “We’ve always relied on a traveling workforce and now we don’t have access to it,” he said.

The crisis is also being felt in the less remote regions of the country. Outside the town of St Andrews, Will Docker, owner of the Balgove Larder farm shop and cafe, who is also chairman of local charity Food from Fife, said businesses feared to replenish their skills as older workers would retire. He said the average age of butchers in the region was over 60.

He added that the lack of affordable housing also made it more difficult to hire and retain young workers who typically held lower-paying positions.

“We tried to train apprentices, but we struggled,” he said. “Staffing has been a recurring issue and it has certainly been made worse by Covid and Brexit.”

Councilor Altany Craik of the fire board, left, with Will Docker, owner of Balgove Larder. “Personnel is a recurring problem,” he said © Lukanyo Mnyanda/FT

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