No Voting Country for Old Men (and Women)
On this feast of St Andrews many unionists have spent the day gloating about an opinion poll, published in the Times, which shows a slight decrease in the support for independence.
Fair enough, I was hoping to see a firm movement in the other direction given recent political events. However, it appears the Brexit chaos, mass government surveillance, a generation long wage stagnation and the spectre of perpetual Tory rule aren’t quite enough of an incentive for some to give autonomy a bash.
Looking at the raw data does give some additional information. It confirms the finding from previous polls showing that while a lot of people have migrated from no to yes, this movement has been countered by a fair proportion flowing in the other direction. These are the pro-indy Brexiteers that we have talked about before and it will be important to try to win them back (as discussed the EFTA option may be appealing to them).
Another thing the raw data confirms is that people below the age of 50 are firmly in favour of independence while those over 65 are staunchly against it.
Three-quarters of the older age group say they would vote against independence in a second plebiscite. Perhaps this is not surprising given that they are the section of society most likely to get information from traditional sources that predominantly have a unionist bias. Most are reliant on pensions and they have been subjected to a lot of misinformation on the safety of their entitlement post independence. It is also fair to say that Yes Scotland did not do a great job in reaching this group of voters.
Whatever the reason, it is clear then that the UK government has a vested interest in ensuring that Scotland has an ageing population. This is funny as another report published this week by a Commons Select Committee confirms that the UK is doing a good job on that front.
According to the committee, the three main demographic problems facing Scotland are:
This situation obviously has serious consequences for the Scottish economy in terms of our ability to fill vacancies in important areas.
More seriously, as more income tax and vat powers are devolved in the future, these changes might have a serious negative impact on public services. A phenomenon which would disproportionately affect an ageing population who are much more likely to use health and social care.
While the report acknowledges the Scottish Government does have some power to combat the problem via the planning/housing system, realistically they can only tinker around the edges as immigration is a reserved issue.
The key solution to the dilemma which was suggested by most of the experts who gave evidence to the committee would be to devolve to Scotland some control over its own immigration.
However, in a submission to the committee, the UK minister for immigration dismissed this idea. He said:
having a separate immigration policy for Scotland is not something that we feel would be appropriate
Furthermore, experts were adamant that the post-study work schemes abolished by the current Government, should be reinstated for non-EU students in Scotland. However, as with immigration policy, the UK government does not seem to agree:
We find ourself in a situation where if nothing is done about the demographics, the economy and services in Scotland are likely to deteriorate.
That said, the UK government who have the most power to do something about it are incentivised not to, as younger working people are more likely to vote to break up the UK.
So, the future survival of the UK depends on Scotland having an ageing population worried about their wellbeing post-independence, yet that same elderly population will be the first to suffer due to the inevitable service cuts resulting from current policy.