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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
Immigration plan to halt crisis
Young mothers with pushchairs
Scotland's population is set to drop below five million
A new study is calling for the Scottish Parliament to be given control over immigration policy in order to halt the country's population crisis.

The Scottish Economic Policy Network said plans to increase the number of people settling in Scotland do not go far enough.

It believes the 8,000 annual immigration target suggested by ministers should be revised to 50,000.

Scotland faces the fastest falling population anywhere in Europe.

By 2009 it is expected that the country's population will be below five million.

Researchers for the network found that far more immigrants are needed to prevent the economy being damaged and public services being stretched by an ageing population.

Life expectancy for women will be 82.6 years
Life expectancy for men will be 77.6 years
Scotland's population will be below 4.5 million
People aged 65 and older will be 1.2 million, an increase of 50%
Children aged 15 and under will number 650,000, a 30% fall
People aged 65 and over will represent 27% of the population
Children aged 15 and under will represent 14% of the population
At present immigration is a reserved issue which is controlled by Westminster.

Author of the report, Professor Robert Wright, said that was "a bizarre" set up and argued it was time the Scottish Parliament was given more immigration powers.

First Minister Jack McConnell said earlier this year that the country's falling population was the "single biggest challenge facing Scotland in the 21st century".

Prof Wright said in his report: "A targeted immigration policy which attracts young individuals in sufficient numbers would both stop population decline and slow population ageing.

'Virtually powerless'

"In my view, if current demographic trends continue then population decline and population ageing will lead to a sizeable reduction in the standard of living of Scottish people."

The academic said that population ageing was a feature of most industrial nations with countries like Germany looking at radical plans to reform its labour market, pensions and health systems.

First Minister Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell backs increased immigration
However, he said it was unusual that there had been a lack of public debate and interest in the potential problems of population decline in Scotland.

Prof Wright said: "It is somewhat bizarre that the Scottish Executive warns us that population decline is our 'number one' problem and yet at the same time it is virtually powerless to do anything about it.

"There is no requirement on immigrants to locate or stay in a particular region. Without this conditionality, which is at the centre of immigration policy in other countries, then it is my view that Scotland will never be able to attract and keep the number of immigrants it needs."

The report states that a new visa system should be established which makes it conditional for an individual to stay in Scotland for a "minimum period of time".

Growth concerns

Prof Wright said that a target immigration figure for Scotland of 50,000 per year would help the country.

He added: "Such a number may seem unrealistically large. However, in percentage terms it is not dissimilar to the targets set by, for example, Australia, Canada and New Zealand."

CBI Scotland's Allan Hogarth has warned the situation could harm the economy.

Mr Hogarth said: "It's a twin-track problem - one, that it could adversely affect economic growth which is what we all want to see improve, plus it puts greater pressure on those currently working in public services."

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