There are more than 130 space companies operating from Scotland and, with only 11% of the UK population, it has 18% of all UK space roles.

On 2nd January 2023, the Scottish Government announced a strengthening commitment to making Scotland “Europe's leading space nation by 2030” by setting up a high-powered group of global experts from the space industry to guide developments.

In early December 2022, Telecoms firm Mangata Networks announced a new facility for building satellites expected to create up to 575 aerospace jobs in Prestwick in Ayrshire.

My great pleasure in the news, as the MSP for the area, was dimmed.

This was by concerns about filling 575 new vacancies for: “highly skilled technical engineering positions in product development, designing and manufacturing satellites, and operating the system end-to-end for skilled workers.”

Ayrshire has been identified as one of the three areas with the greatest shortages of skilled workers. As many as 33% of vacancies are unfilled due to a lack of applicants with the necessary skills.

Might Ayrshire hope to attract skilled applicants from other parts of Scotland where there is a surplus?

Well, perhaps not. The same report suggested a nation-wide problem. 24% of information and communications, and 7.2% of manufacturing employers experience skills shortages.

Only London and Northern Ireland have a digital jobs vacancy rate higher than Scotland.

In a report by the Daily Business Group in June 2022, it stated: “Demand for digital skills in Scotland is highlighted by new research revealing that one in ten of all job vacancies is now in the tech sector.”

Might local universities and colleges help to fill the gap? In part, yes, as some of the vacancies will be entry-level but, realistically, a cutting-edge industry like this will require most of its staff to be experienced.

The competition to fill the roles in Prestwick will be, inevitably, tough but why do we have these shortages?

The major contributor is the inability of firms to make the most of free movement of people from across Europe. This directly denies many of our businesses access to top tech talent.

For Scotland, a solution to this, pending full independence, has been talked about for some time. A Post-Study Work Visa.

Think tank Reform Scotland cited that 63% of Scotland’s growth is attributed to immigration, compared to 53% of the rest of the UK as a whole.

The group said: “As a result, Scotland’s economic needs are different from the rest of the UK and the Scottish government wants to reintroduce a Post-Study Work Visa scheme that works for Scotland. A policy which was recommended by the Smith Commission and is supported by all Holyrood parties.”

A visa like this would “help boost the Scottish economy by allowing students who have migrated to Scotland to study, to be able to stay, and put their skills and education to benefit the country.”

A Post-Study Work Visa scheme for Scotland would be particularly effective due to our relatively large number of universities able to produce the graduates needed so badly by our tech sector.

But, in 2016, the UK Government rejected it. The UK Government continues to manage visas, post-study and general, and immigration for Scotland.

Is that an end to it?

It shouldn’t be. The rejection was not based on the evidence. Both post-study and general work visas can be simply made to address the commonly expressed fears about them in terms of crime or migrants “stealing” employment from local workers.

The main argument against subnational visa arrangements is that they would be difficult to enforce because arrivals in a region with more liberal policies (Scotland) could then easily move to other parts of the country where immigration is not wanted (England).

However, this argument is quite easy to deal with. Regional visas can be designed so that it is illegal to work in other regions.

As for crime increasing because of the free movement of criminals, while there is, inevitably some evidence of that. It is existing county lines gangs and the arrival of non-EU organised crime gangs with the movement of illegal drugs, made worse by Brexit, which is largely driving increases in crime in England & Wales and spreading that misery into Scottish towns.

We need full independence and our own immigration policy along with free movement within the EU or, in the short term, a Scottish visa programme controlled from Edinburgh. Much depends on this.

It need not be difficult. Croatia has just done it with a civil war, ethnic cleansing, and economic collapse only two decades ago.