‘YE are my bonny blessed bairn, / My small miraculous gift. / I never kent luve like this.” Some of you may recognise these lines from the Jackie Kay poem that’s been tucked into each new ScotGov baby box (52,065 delivered in its first year).

For those who choose this journey, living on this bit of the planet, it’s hard to imagine the emotion could be expressed better.

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Yet I captured this following piece of shrapnel from the social media wars this week. It’s from a man with considerable sensibility himself, but who’s looking here at the miracle of birth from a more tough-minded angle.

“Deaths in Scotland, December 2018: 4881. Births in Scotland, December 2018: 3521. The 1360 deficit can only be made up by inward migration. Freedom of movement within EU is the best and easiest means, but Tory Brexit – which we did not vote for – will end it. That means inevitable economic and social decline.”

The tweet is from Mike Russell, Holyrood’s Minister for Brexit. And of course, the lovely Scots poem and these hard stats are hardly unconnected.

The National:

In the words of ScotGov’s own report on Scottish population needs: “Scotland aims to be the best place in the world to grow up, with a range of policy measures to support that including Baby Boxes, the Best Start grant and expanding childcare provision. There is some evidence that support for new parents can have a demographic effect, as prospective parents factor that support in when making decisions on family planning.”

Maybe, like me, you also know friends and colleagues who have started to make babies in Scotland, because of an analysis of the conditions around them. That includes the aforementioned support, but also the sense of a generally more caring society in which to bring up a family.

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(None of this mitigates for a moment the appalling statistics on children living in poverty in Scotland – nearly one in four, or 230,000, higher than the European averages we should properly compare ourselves to. A Holyrood commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2030 seems pretty far off.)

But Russell’s population numbers – charting the decline of “natural change” (births and deaths) and the consequent need for “net migration” – don’t lie. Scotland is in harmony with the overall birthrate decline in the developed world.

Sociologically, we can’t – and we wouldn’t wish to – escape the progress that causes the decline. Primarily, women are much more in control of their fertility, as traditional norms disintegrate and contraception stays available.

After careers are established, they are having children older (which, in terms of the biological limits of conception, means fewer children overall).

In the new book Empty Planet, by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, the authors’ claim that this will become a norm for the whole world. As more girls attend school, and cities take over from villages as places to live, children stop becoming direct productive and economic assets.

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Fewer and fewer women are “bullied into parenthood”, as Bricker and Ibbitson put it. This means that more children are made for the pleasure of having them – and one or two can satisfy that human need.

That’s the medium to long-term view. Right now, the Arab world teems with young people, passionately aspirant and pushing for a better life (and trying to effect that one way or another, by fighting where they are or fleeing for better prospects).

Mike Russell and the Scottish Government, spurred by faltering Scottish birth-and-death rates, seem to want to open their arms to them and others. And that’s in spite of the UK Brexit aspiration to reduce immigration to tens of thousands.

The National:

The Sustainable Growth Commission proposed a “Welcome to Scotland” package, where set-up costs could be absorbed into migrants’ tax bills. Let’s see if something like that transpires. And even if the pitch for indy2 kicks in first, it might well end up being up a feature of that campaign.

A Scotland aiming to be the best place to welcome both new weans, and new migrant Scots – and for that matter, new weans from new migrant Scots – warms the cockles of my progressive (and parental) heart. But there are a few issues here, about which I’d like to raise a querulous hand.

One is a constant theme in this column – the challenges of both climate crisis and of radical innovation. The first challenge would probably welcome an overall numerical reduction in carbon-generating humans, wherever it comes from.

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And as for the second: we have choices to make about automation, robots and AI. One direction could be towards a reduction in overall labour hours – at least of a certain kind, as blue and white-collar jobs are absorbed into smart machinery.

Our imitable labour, both mental and physical, could pass over to the black boxes and the five-limbed robots in the next few decades. In response, our inimitable labour – what humans do best and most uniquely: love, care, relate and create – will have to increase.

Now, we usually talk about economic migration in functional terms – say, a flow of foreign workers to the NHS or care services. We need them here (goes the orthodoxy) in order to tend to an increasingly geriatric population.

The National:

And if we build up a healthy working-age population in any case, whatever its composition, they will generate enough taxable revenue to pay for all that hands-on caring.

All I’m flagging up is the possibility that technological revolution, and the urgencies of global warming, may both blow giant holes in our standard wisdom here.

For example, could a three-day working week, or a citizens’ dividend wrested from automation, open up an entirely new culture of parenting, nurturance and community care?

Say we took the technological opportunity to reduce the pressures of work, time and insecurity on our lives. Perhaps there’s a beautiful existence waiting for us – balanced between children and community, play and work – that could become extremely desirable; one in which making babies, and bringing them up well, becomes the richest, most satisfying thing to do.

That’s one opportunity to grasp, if we can generate such civic plenty out of these massive coming changes. But it might also give us the headspace to think (and feel) deeper about the other part of this population equation – that is, migrants and new residents.

Could we start considering them as more than just a flow of workbots, solving our labour-market problems? In short, how can our relationship with new Scots be as much about reparation, as it is utilisation (or exploitation)?

Scotland’s growing national self-confidence is helping us face up to our long historical role in the structural inequalities of the world (Tom Devine’s Scotland’s Empire is a great place to start).

The mobility of migrants partly stems from the legacy of the distortions imposed by imperialism and colonialism. Regimes that Scotland was complexly but thoroughly involved in.

I’m urging that Scots get – or take – the technological chance to redefine themselves from being mostly workers, to being mostly citizens. So perhaps these citizens could begin to embrace a story about their deep responsibilities to those currently being thrown around the world? This will take a lot of communal talking. But it also implies some government action. With this agenda in mind, what would the diplomatic and trade policy of an independent Scotland be?

How could our post-indy footprint in the world be as much about repairing and restoring the damage of our past, as it is about trading on business-as-usual terms?

These are all demanding calls. But the black Scottish poet whose lines are slipped into the swaddling of a Baby Box near you is as much an embodiment of this truly worldly Scottish future as anyone could be.

We should be wildly ambitious for an independent Scotland – how it might feel, and what it might offer to the planet. If not now, when? Babies, and welcome strangers, are to me two good starting points.

To conclude with the appropriate words of our national Makar Jackie Kay: “O my darlin wee one / The hale wurld welcomes ye: / The mune glowes; the hearth wairms.”