Blog: Why consider a social integration strategy in Scotland?


This blog post from Dr Paulina Trevena presents the results of a SPICe and University of Glasgow research project: ‘Attracting and retaining migrants in post-Brexit Scotland: is a social integration strategy the answer?’. The blog post was originally published on the Scottish Parliament website on 28 June 2018; the full report can be downloaded here.


The Scottish Government aims to grow the population mainly through immigration over the next 25 years, yet there is no general strategy for attracting or retaining migrants.

Immigration policy is a reserved matter and Scotland is in competition for people with the rest of the UK. It therefore needs to consider ways of strengthening its attractiveness as a destination for migration.

A social integration strategy aims to promote the inclusion of immigrants within wider society, for instance, by building a culture of welcome and supporting migrants to build social connections. Implementing a social integration strategy for all migrants in Scotland is one of the options available within current devolution arrangements.

The project scoped opinion on this idea among experts, migrants and the local population. This blog presents a summary of the findings, and the full research report contains the detail.

There are mixed attitudes to immigration in Scotland

People in Scotland are generally seen as welcoming and friendly towards incomers. At the same time, they are not generally supportive of maintaining or increasing current levels of immigration, and have very little awareness such a need exists.

Attitudes towards migrants vary considerably depending on locality and section of society and are most negative in areas of multiple deprivation. Significantly, many newcomers settle in these areas creating a potentially highly inflammatory context.

Attitudes also vary depending on the ethnic and national background of migrants. Anti-English sentiment is reported as a particular issue, especially in rural areas.

The general public’s concerns related to immigration centre on competition for resources such as jobs, housing and school places, as well as costs associated with accommodating migrants.

There are also fears around safety and the social implications of migration. These include losing traditional identity and culture, and the isolation and ‘non-integration’ of migrant communities, particularly in rural areas where people are more likely to work or live in isolation. Third sector organisations and local councils reiterate this point.

Some local councils and employers are most concerned about the impact of falling numbers of migrants on local demographics and businesses.

Therefore, the findings point to the need for a social integration strategy in the interests of strengthening local communities, preventing prospective tensions in the future and preparing Scottish society for further immigration.

What approach should the strategy take?

I think to move forward with it [supporting immigration to Scotland] we need some form of integration just to get everyone to buy into it. We don’t want it to be a burden in 5 years, 10 years’ time that there comes friction between the locals and the not so locals. So yeah, if there was an integration policy, it would soon become the norm, you know, the next generation would adopt it quite easily and it would be second nature to them. They’d just think it’s all part of Scotland welcoming anyone for the greater good.

—Employer, agriculture

Political leadership is seen as paramount in shaping positive attitudes towards migrants and preventing future tensions. The Scottish Government should create and promote an inclusive vision for Scotland, provide a framework and funding for the strategy.

Other parties, such as third sector organisations, local councils and employers could support its delivery. Most importantly, the established population must ‘buy into’ the idea as well.

With a view to supporting wider community-building, the integration strategy should not be focused on ‘migrants’ exclusively. Instead, it should be mainstreamed – that is included in more generic policies related to education, housing, gender or disability –  and based on the principles of equality and inclusiveness for all. Particular migrant needs (such as language support) should hence be catered for within the mainstream.

The strategy should introduce standards at national level in certain policy areas. Examples could include English language policies in the Scottish education system; recognition of foreign qualifications; diversity training for public service providers; and a reception strategy for new arrivals.

There also needs to be flexibility in applying the integration strategy at local level. Present and past policies in Scotland, the UK and around the world can be drawn on in designing the strategy.

Can a social integration strategy support attracting and retaining migrants in Scotland?

A social integration strategy cannot act as an attracting and retaining factor in isolation. Scotland needs to be able to provide the basics: a secure legal status, employment and housing opportunities, and access to education for migrant children.

However, a social integration strategy which would provide additional support in settling in and becoming part of the community would be favourably received and increase Scotland’s attractiveness. Creating a welcoming atmosphere and fostering good community relations would add to Scotland’s competitive edge within the UK and support the aim of growing its population through migration.

Concluding, Scotland could benefit from having a social integration strategy for all migrants, providing it is mainstreamed and aimed at supporting the inclusion of everyone, regardless of their background. Implementing such a strategy would add to Scotland’s attractiveness as a destination within the UK and support the goal of growing its population through immigration:

Social connections keep people here. People who have good social connections here are happier and more fulfilled, and they don’t talk about leaving. If you lack social connections here then, you know, what’s the purpose of life, just going to work and sleep?

—Expert, third sector

Dr Paulina Trevena is the Scottish Parliament Academic Fellow on the project: Attracting and retaining migrants in post-Brexit Scotland: is an inclusive integration strategy the answer?