A SPEAKER at a conference organised by Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing think tank has suggested Scotland’s rate of unemployment is an “ethnic” problem.

Tyler Cowan, a senior economist at George Mason University in the US, made the comments during an interview at the Centre for Policy Studies’ conference on growth on Monday, which also included talks from former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove.

Asked by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson whether Britain’s economic woes were due to a “failure to harness talent”, the senior academic suggested cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham were similar to “Scots-Irish parts” of America and that the problems could be rooted in “some practices of ethnic groups that are just not as conducive to success”.

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According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 4.8% of people living in Glasgow claimed out-of-work benefits - higher than the Scottish rate of 3.2%,  which is lower than the UK total of 3.7%. 

The official statistics body also found in its annual survey that Glasgow - and Scotland overall - had lower percentages of people out of work who did not want to get a job. Of those not working (including the long-term sick, those discouraged from working and the retired) in Glasgow, 78.6% did not want to get a job versus a rate of 81.5% in the UK as a whole.  

Nelson said: “I wonder if one of Britain’s economic problems is a failure to harness talent – certainly when it comes to, as we’ve discussed – the way there’s, I think, that non-whites prosper here is pretty good. It’s pretty difficult to look at Britain and think, ‘This is a country which does worse than other countries at harnessing the talents of those who come here.’

“I think the group least likely to get to university are the white, working-class boys. That is a demographic which we have got problems with.

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“We also have a problem in trying to integrate the economy…a chunk of the workforce into the economy. In Glasgow, in Liverpool, in Birmingham, something like 20% of these cities are on out-of-work benefits. Now that is a pretty big chunk of any city, of any workforce.

“Yet we’ve somehow managed to do this at the same time as having 1.2 million vacancies, that’s pretty much a record high and about twice as many as we had on average, over the last decade.

“So what do you think is going wrong where we seem to have, combined, a crisis in shortage of workers with historic levels of people on out-of-work benefits?”

Cowen replied: “The Scots-Irish parts of the United States have very similar problems.

“I don’t pretend to understand culturally, at a deep level, what is going on but that’s what I suspect is going on – that there are some areas, some histories, some practices of ethnic groups that are just not as conducive to success. They can change a great deal over time but in most short runs, they’re fairly sticky.

“I don’t think I have an answer as to what you should do. Again, there’s plenty of parts of the continent where you don't go and see the same problem.

“There might be high unemployment in some of those countries as a whole for periods of time, but it’s not so concentrated in particular places in this particular way. So I wish I knew the answer to that one.”

The Centre for Policy Studies is a right-wing think tank which was founded by Thatcher and Keith Joseph in 1974 – five years before the Iron Lady came to power.

Thatcher described the think tank as being where her “conservative revolution began” and it claims to be the birthplace of some of the Conservatives’ most far-reaching policies under her reign, including anti-trade union laws and mass privatisation.