Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Negative population growth

A few weeks ago, E. and I went out to one of those big DIY superstores. We needed an obscure piece of cable or wire in order to further be-gadget our living room. Rather than drive around to every crappy wee hardware store in town, we thought we'd cut to the chase and supersize it.

The store was massive. And it was deserted.

Apart from the aisle where said obscure wirethingummy was located. Apart from the space directly in front of obscure wire. Where six or seven people stood, jostling to inspect every single one of the items on the shelf, and in so doing blocked our access to our intended purchase. So we loitered around in the paint department for a few minutes, waiting for the crowd to clear. Came back 10 minutes later to find a new set of six or seven people had now parked themselves in the same spot.

Given the propensity for somebody to be in my way everywhere I go, I sometimes find it hard to give credence to the almost daily reports of Scotland's population crisis. This country is obsessed with population statistics. It's up! It's down! It's worseningby the day. Or not.

Whether or not the population is in fact slowly ebbing away, there does seem to be a consensus that there is a problem with fertility. According to the Registrar General (the people you tell about births and deaths, respectively) in 2002, Scottish fertility reached a historic low. I don't think it has gotten much better since then.

The causes would appear to be complex. Everything from the biological (decline in semen quality) to social (women having careers and not babies). And the solution- well, having looked at the various pronatalist strategies in other countries such as Singapore and Sweden- the solution is apparently not straightfoward.

The government is currently focused on dealing with the problem by attracting immigrants. To that end there is talk of gaining some control over things like immigration policy, which at this time remains firmly under the iron grip of the Home Secretary. For those of you not versed in the finer points of the devolution settlement, that means that the UK Parliament can tell Scotland what to do about immigration, and we have to go along with it. Viva la pseduo-independence.

Now. Having more immigrants is all well and good, except the Scottish government is rather preoccupied with getting "the right sort of people." That basically means they want "more skilled people from other countries to resettle here" as part of the Fresh Talent initiative (whatever that is. No Stale Talent required, thanks).

What they don't really say out loud is that what they think Scotland wants is more skilled white people. As long as they are not English. Or possibly German. And even if the government don't say it, that is precisely what your average bigot in Auchertfacthermachauter (or Glasgow) thinks. I don't want to make a generalisation, and there have been some strides in the right direction, but I do notice a degree of unacceptable prejudice and bigotry in Britain as a whole. That, if nothing else, is going to hinder immigrants wanting to come here, or wanting to stay. And that's before they discover the rotten weather, appalling public transport, and weird tendency to deep fry everything (i.e pizza, or Snickers bars).

It seems to me that in addition to luring immigrants here, a solution to the Population! Crisis! might be to improve access to and availability fertility treatment in Scotland. Reduce waiting lists. Make treatment cheaper, or better yet, free in certain circumstances. Increase awareness as to fertility issues. I'm not even talking about reproductive incentives for all women in this country (like decent, open maternity wards). I'm talking about some real assistance for those of us who are desperately trying and are unable to manage it, for some reason.

But the government get all twitchy as soon as the word fertility is mentioned, not wanting to suggest that women should give up careers, not wanting to look as if we are a backward looking nation, forcing women back to being pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen for the good of Scotland. Plus if women do try to work and have familiies, nobody is clear how it is really meant to function in terms of the much ballyhooed work/life balance. At which point they start talking about immigration again.

All I know is we're having our own little population crisis right here at home. And meanwhile everywhere I go, someone stands in front of the thing I need to reach.


At 12:42 AM, Blogger Jen P said...

Dear Scotland, you and I have a whooole lot in common. Bloody shame about the state of your Rugby, but maybe we can exchange white people who aren't exactly English but definently not American or Eastern European. Seems a lot of yours are moving here and a lot of ours are moving there. A merge perhaps to try and increase both populations? Any chance you want the bloody natives? Keep in touch. Lots of love, New Zealand.

At 1:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess Scotland wouldn't want me and my barreness move there either. Oh well, just as well, I can go and screw up Alabama's statistics as one of the most fertile places or something like that.


At 1:49 PM, Blogger JJ said...

Hmmm... if you insist on not coming to Toronto, maybe Hubby and I should move to Scotland...

I've got some Scottish blood (and we'll just lie about the English stuff. Hubby's French... how do they feel about the French? And by French I mean his family came to Canada before it was even Canada and have been here ever since.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger JJ said...

Oh, DAMMIT! We have to be skilled???

I can blog... is that a skill?

At 4:38 PM, Blogger Demented M said...

I would move to Scotland in a heartbeat. I loved Inverness and my ancestors
came from Raasay (my maiden name is Rasey).

You've been warned. I'm coming.

And I'm infertile--let's just keep that part a secret.

Now I just need to get me some skills.

I'm really really good at never ever ovulating.

At 4:55 PM, Blogger Jen said...

I understand your concerns for Scotland's immigration/health policies, but I think you are too quick to dismiss the illicit joys of deep-fried candy bars!

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Anotherjen said...

I think that increasing the avalibility of fertility treatments would just make too much sence. It's the kind of rational thought that i think most governments are allergic to. I mean- really- there's a way to have an increase of babies born to scottish people thereby increasing the population of scotish people? break out the Benadryl! i feel some hives comming on!

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Pazel said...

I remember reading a long article on international population changes. One portion was about Japan, which had extremely decreased rates. They believed it was more societal. I'm going to butcher the article here, but it basically said that tradition had it that married women served their husbands, whether the wife worked or not. The women were then choosing to marry later or not marry at all. I couldn't blame them when they described the depth of the servitude.

Another portion was on a particular Scandinavian country that had a very generous national maternity policy. I want to say it was something like 6-9 months and nearly full salary. Also, the men also had a paternity leave, and traditionally did 50% of the chores. The population was rebounding.

Here in the U.S., only about 7% of companies offer any infertility benefits, and they're usually pretty poor. Maternity leave is usually only a few weeks at a % of your salary or using up your vacation time, unless you choose the 3 months unpaid leave. Men help with chores, but not 50%. My husband believes himself to be a much better contributor to household chores, but that depends on how you count time spent working in the garage.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Orodemniades said...

Yes. I had a heck of a time convincing Mr Oro that Scotland was just as racist as any other place where there's a majority of white people, and that the only reason he didn't hear about it was because he doesn't know any non-white people since he left college. Now, as I'm mixed race, I know darned well and good that any child from my body is going to have to deal with race issues. If we have to adopt, I presume we'll either have to go international, as I can't imagine there are many mixed race kids available in Scotland.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger Willow said...

OOhhhhh!!! Can hubby and I come? We're both college grads. We visited the Edinburgh area in late April this year and were both swept away with the people and the place. We've both said, only partially joking, that we'd move there in a heartbeat if we could.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger sexy said...



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