Thursday 21 January 2010

Goodbye Scotland

A funny thing happened around the turn of the millennium. The flow of people between Northern Ireland and Scotland also turned. Back as far as the statistics are available (1991) the flow had been in Scotland's favour – more Northern Irish people moved to Scotland than the reverse. But in 2000 that changed, and Northern Ireland's ebb became a flow. In every quarter since 2000 Q2 more people have moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland than have moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland:

What could have caused this reversal of the flow? It would be nice to think that the Good Friday Agreement led many Northern Irish émigrés to return, but this is unlikely. People move for economic reasons, and rarely for ideological reasons.

Perhaps Scotland had become an unattractive place – economically and socially – following its devolution? This is also unlikely, as migratory flows between Scotland and England and Wales are very much in Scotland's favour. Over the period from 1991 to 2009 Scotland gained a net 320,000 people from England and Wales, but gained barely 800 from Northern Ireland.

So why are Northern Irish people no longer emigrating to Scotland in the same numbers?

Changes in funding arrangements for third-level education could be playing a part. Up-front tuition fees were abolished in Scotland in 2000 – but only for Scottish-domiciled students. Those from elsewhere in the UK had to pay fees (though, ironically, students from outside the UK, including the south of Ireland, were treated as 'local' students and paid no fees). This had the effect of encouraging Scottish students to stay in Scotland. The increased cost of going to university may have led more students to stay at home in Northern Ireland, thus greatly reducing the outflow to Scotland. With a reduced outflow, perhaps the underlying inflow from Scotland came to the surface. This still does not explain why there is an underlying positive inflow though. Some may be Northern Irish students returning after graduation, but who are the rest?

It will be interesting to see if this pattern continues, and if it does, whether it has any effect on Northern Ireland's increasingly close community balance. Scottish migrants could, after all, be either unionist-minded like Ian Paisley's parents, republican-minded like Pat Doherty MP MLA, or socialist like James Connolly.

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