Sunday, 3 February 2013


I tweeted mid-week that I was bored with the referendum. I suspect I'm not alone.

There is currently a definite Groundhog Day element to the whole thing. Neither side has a fresh argument but, at least as importantly, neither side has even a fresh face. For us it is Anas, Ruth Davidson, Alistair Darling and Michael Moore on a continuous loop. For them, Blair Jenkins, Eck and Nicola.

Sure, very occasionally, you'll see Maggie Curran or Charlie Kennedy; Humza Yousaf or Patrick Harvie. But even the stand ins have a sameness to them.

Now, at least on our part, there might be some logic to this as visible demonstration that not all our politicians are "obsessed" with Independence but how it benefits the Nationalists to create the impression that their cause is in the hands of a handful of monomaniacs is a complete mystery to me. Where are any of their numerous Holyrood backbenchers? They are by no means all numpties.

Anyway, until something interesting happens I've decided to forgo blogging about the referendum and instead  talk about some of the real policy challenges facing Scotland.

And, since I enjoy an argument, I thought I'd start with a controversial issue. Fertility rates.

Here's an interesting wee graph. It shows the number of live births in Scotland over the period covered. And its evidence is stark. There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of children being born in Scotland

Figure 11: Births in Scotland (1951-2009) (thousands)
And here is an interesting fraction: 1.73. That is the average number of children now (2011) born to a woman in Scotland.

Now you don't have to be some sort of mathematical genius to work out that this is nothing approaching a "replacement" rate. (In fact, to allow for early mortality, the replacement rate in advanced economies is generally accepted to be 2.1)

Of course it is not as simple as that for it excludes the issue of immigration. But, for the avoidance of any doubt, factoring in natural native emigration, a birth rate of 1.73 anticipates that, simply to maintain the settled population, something approaching one young adult in six will have to have been born outside Scotland. And also that this will continue indefinitely.

Now, for the avoidance of any doubt, I am not opposed to immigration but you don't have to be some mad ethnic nationalist to have concerns about a small country's ability to manage that level of continuous demographic change. And, even then, to worry about absolute dependency on an inflow of population from people who have an entirely free choice as to whether to come here at all.

But, of course, the ability of women (and couples) to control their own fertility is an absolutely given positive on the left. And quite right too. So, if there is a problem, as I believe there is, then the focus must be on trying to comprehend why that control is producing the 1.73 result rather than to condemn or restrict the means.

And, of course, the principal reason is that women now regard themselves as being entitled to a career as well as a family. And quite right too again.

But society has only conceded that up to a certain point. Even in the most progressive of employments, the approach to maternity leave at a managerial level is too often that while one child might be understandable and two (at least in close succession) acceptable, any more smacks of self-indulgence. Bluntly, that has to change.

And so has the attitude of "progressive" men. Too often the "difficult" bits of child rearing: illness, unreasonableness, just plain randomness are ultimately left to the mother. As indeed is the assumption of the "default" principal child care responsibility when a relationship breaks down.

But most important of all is the fact that we do not recognise the extent to which it is expensive to have children. Not just expensive in terms of upkeep but also expensive in terms of what, in a different, personal injury, context, lawyers define as "loss of opportunity". And no amount of employment law tweaks will ever correct that.

Bevan said that the language of priorities is the religion of socialism. Surely, without translation, the first priority must be not only to look after children, out of sentiment and as the workers and taxpayers of tomorrow, but also to ensure they have sufficient progenitors. I struggle, currently, to see a single government policy, at Holyrood or Westminster, designed to that end.

And the significance of 1.4? That's the Italian equivalent of our 1.73. So if you were a potential immigrant with a choice where to go?