Nicola Sturgeon is safely back home after her visit to the USA at the start of the week.
The First Minister seems to have had a nice enough time meeting Capitol leaders and think-tank boffins. Perhaps the benefit will come from any reforming ideas which that have planted in her ear.
However, without any obvious trade deal or economic benefit accruing from the visit, it rather looks like the Stateside trip will be marked down as another item in the Scottish Government’s news grid that is forgotten about within a week or so of it happening.
I’d like to suggest that, for her next foreign visit, the First Minister does something a little more long-lasting.
Scotland needs more people. As Aveek Bhattacharya wrote on these pages a few weeks back, Scotland’s fertility rate is among the lowest in Europe.
The consequence is that we are moving towards a Japanese style crisis with too few workers funding too many elderly people.
Increasing the number of children born per woman is a long-term task, as Aveek noted. A quick fix is to increase immigration.
The good news is that the number of workers and students coming to live and work in the UK is now at record levels: almost one million visas were issued in 2021, the highest figure ever.
As the Financial Times has reported, this is an ironic side-effect of Brexit. Now that people feel they have “control”, they are far more relaxed about the number of immigrants coming in.
And we are now welcoming into the UK far more immigrants from non-EU nations.
Last week, figures showed that nearly half of the new nurses and midwives registered to work in the UK in the past year have come from abroad – and almost all of them from outside Europe.
The blunt truth is that Scotland isn’t getting enough of them. As Ross Newton showed recently, the inflows of people coming into Scotland is just less than a third of the rate of the UK as a whole.
This needs correcting and Nicola Sturgeon is just the person to do it.
The First Minister has said time and again that Scotland is an open, welcoming nation that wants people from other countries to come and settle here.
So, rather than head to Washington think-tanks, she should instead head east instead.
Firstly, she should go to Hong Kong. China has restricted the rights and freedoms of its residents. Rightly, the UK Government responded by offering a pathway to its citizens to come and live here. The First Minister could use a visit to make the case that, rather that settling in over-priced London, they should make their home further north.
Then, on the way back she should visit India and Pakistan. The UK and India last year signed a new agreement which gives 18-30 year olds a faster route to come and live in the UK for up to 2 years. More than 50,000 students from India come to the UK to study every year – or a quarter of all international students.
Similarly, in Pakistan, the new UK points-based immigration system, introduced since Brexit, has led to a steep rise in the number of visas being granted: more than 50,000 in the first half of 2021 alone.
In both cases, the Scottish Government should be busting a gut so that those who wish to come and work or study in the UK, choose to do so north of the border.
A visit to Washington may provide a few good ideas. A visit to Asia may help drive Scotland’s economic recovery post lockdown by bringing more people into the country. Scotland is ready to welcome them: let’s see the Scottish Government go out and ask them to come.