THE next UK government must make sure the immigration system recognises Scotland’s “demographic challenges”, small business leaders have said.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland is also demanding that the country’s high streets receive a “fair share” of the cash aimed at boosting town centres, and for action to be taken to tackle the “patchy mobile coverage” which many parts of the country still endure.

In the run up to voters preparing to go to the polls and elect a new government on December 12, the UK’s business support group listed its demands for the next administration.

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With just over a quarter (26%) of small firms in Scotland employing at least one person from the European Union – a total which rises to two-fifths (41%) in the Highlands – immigration is high on the list of priorities. Figures show the percentage drops to about one in five employers (21%) for the rest of the UK, highlighting Scotland’s unique and welcoming position.

Research published by the FSB and the University of Strathclyde earlier this year showed that immigrant entrepreneurs make a £13 billion annual contribution to Scotland’s economy and support more than 107,000 jobs.

FSB Scotland policy chair Andrew McRae urged candidates and voters to consider the importance of immigration.

He said: “Our next batch of MPs will likely need to make a number of important choices about the structure of a UK future immigration system. At every turn, we’re urging them to push for a regime that recognises Scotland’s demographic challenges and is user-friendly and affordable for smaller business.”

McRae also insisted the next Westminster government “must dramatically improve Scotland’s mobile coverage provision, closing the connectivity gap between Scotland and England”.

He added: “Scotland’s patchy mobile coverage holds backs our businesses, as well as making many local places less attractive to visitors and potential residents alike.

“For years, decision-makers have failed to address this issue – the next UK Government must not.”

With town centres having been hit with a raft of store closures in recent years, he went on to demand a “fair share” of the £3.6bn Towns Fund is invested in Scotland.

McRae said: “Over the last few years, Scotland’s local towns have been hit with hundreds of local closures. And there’s no end in sight as many big-name brands announce restructuring programmes.

“That’s why we need to see the next UK government allocate a fair share of the £3.6bn Towns Fund to Scotland.

“This generational investment would allow us to find new uses for empty properties and help us install low-carbon infrastructure, like charging stations, in the centre of our local places.”