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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 February, 2005, 14:38 GMT
McConnell defends talent campaign
Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell said attracting talent will boost the economy
Scotland's first minister has defended his Fresh Talent initiative to encourage more foreign workers.

Jack McConnell sought to dispel concerns about immigration and said depopulation remains a greater threat to the country's future prosperity.

Speaking a year after the launch of the initiative, Mr McConnell said he remains committed to it.

However, the Scottish National Party said ministers must "raise their game" to halt population decline.

Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show, Mr McConnell said: "The way to preserve schools and hospitals and services in this country and the way to have a strong economy in the years to come is to have more fresh talent in this country.

"And that is why we'll continue to advocate the case and put in place policies that deliver it."

Scotland is the only country in Europe with a falling population and we need radical action now to attract more working people into the country
Nicola SturgeonSNP deputy leader

Mr McConnell rejected the findings of a newspaper opinion poll which suggested a majority of people opposed the Fresh Talent initiative.

He said: "My role as first minister is to convince people that this is the right thing for Scotland, to lay out the case that depopulation will mean less people working and therefore less resources for public services.

"It will mean not just less numbers of people working in the economy but it will also mean less dynamism in the economy."

The first minister said there were "a number of reasons" why the policy should be supported.

He said: "One is to reverse that depopulation, another is to have the sort of diversity, dynamism and talent that can help us grow our economy more successfully in the future.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon called for a "positive" immigration policy

"And a third is to play our part in the world. Scotland's got great values, a great history in this and we should have that again."

Mr McConnell said he does not have figures for the first year of the initiative but claimed there has been "huge interest" and that there was evidence of a slowing down of population decline.

The first minister said he would be launching a scheme in May which would offer foreign students the chance to stay in Scotland for two years after graduation.

However, SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon accused the Scottish Executive of a "lack of progress" on the issue.

'No progress'

She said: "Scotland is the only country in Europe with a falling population and we need radical action now to attract more working people into the country.

"It is now over a year since the first announcement of the Fresh Talent initiative and yet there is still next to no detail on the programme, its success rate to date or how Labour aims to build on it in the future.

"It is a policy that has made no progress and has no substance."

She said the policy was also being "undermined by UK Labour's competition with the Tories to keep immigrants out of the country".

Ms Sturgeon said her party would be announcing a "positive" Scottish immigration policy.


SEE ALSO:
Denial over population plan clash
08 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Clarke unveils immigration plan
07 Feb 05 |  UK Politics
McConnell: 'Come to Scotland'
11 Jan 05 |  Scotland
'Scotland needs foreign workers'
20 Apr 04 |  Scotland


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