Today’s eastern Europeanmigrants are tomorrow’s millionaire entrepreneurs
THE most visible sign of the latest wave of immigration to Scotland is the plethora of workers from eastern Europe in our hotels and restaurants. Much has also been made of the arrival in towns and cities of Polish bus drivers, and of the part which eastern Europeans have played in enabling food manufacturers in the north to go about their business amid otherwise chronic workforce shortages.
The recent enticement of Polish dentists by the Scottish Executive, to fill cavities in the National Health Service, also attracted much media attention.
However, while these are the instant signs of the welcome return of net inward migration to a nation which has been fretting over the brain drain and worrying about population decline, the true longer term benefit has yet to be reaped.
This is not to underplay the importance of these new workers in the hospitality sector, where they often go about their business with a deal more professionalism and enthusiasm than some of the indigenous staff, or of the dentists, bus drivers, or food factory workers.
A growing workforce should boost Scotland’s longer- term rate of economic growth, and the new arrivals are particularly welcome to employers at a time when the jobless total is blissfully low and many young Scots are showing little interest in a lot of the posts being filled by immigrants.
The enthusiasm of some of those arriving also bodes well for Scotland with, to cite just one example, a time- served electrical engineer serving as a builder’s labourer to get a foot on the ladder. And it is this type of entrepreneurial spirit, if history is anything to go by, which will provide that icing on the economic cake.
There is no end of statistics which highlight the greater entrepreneurial activity of immigrants and the names which bear this out trip off the tongue.
There are the Nardinis, of ice- cream fame, who came to Scotland as part of a huge wave of immigration from Tuscany in the late nineteenth century. It was PietroNardini who joined the flow of people from around the town of Barga, with “ hunger” cited as the driving force.
Then there is Sir Reo Stakis, the man who arrived from Cyprus selling lace before bringing affordable eating out to the masses and building a hotel empire.
There are the Tiefenbrun brothers, Ivor at Linn Products and Marcus at Castle Precision Engineering. Castle was founded by their father Jack in 1963 in Castlemilk where it remains to this day. Jack had fledVienna after Hitler’s thugs confiscated the family’s assets in 1938 and barely made it with his life to Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the impact of entrepreneurial Asian immigrants on the Scottish economy is impossible to miss.
Among those to have made their mark are Charan Gill, who built the Harlequin Restaurants chain, and Sanjay Majhu, who created theApple Pharmacies chain and now owns Harlequin. Maq Rasul built Global Video, and the late Yaqub Ali was lauded by none other than former Bank of England governor Sir Eddie George.
Returning to the Italian influence, there is Gio Benedetti. He was deposited on these shores from Italy 40 years ago as a 10- yearold boy to make a life with his uncle, who owned Joe’s Café in Irvine. Benedetti sold his first business, ICS, to Initial for about £ 30m at today’s prices, having built the biggest drycleaning plant in Europe at Kilwinning, although he has perhaps been upstaged in the publicity stakes of late by his violin- playing daughter Nicola.
When we look back in decades to come, there will undoubtedly be many more of these success stories. They will be remarkable human tales of triumph over adversity and of sheer hard work and perseverance. Together, they will have translated into a powerful economic contribution to Scotland.
In spite of all the current political pointscoring on immigration amid administrative bungles, the focus will hopefully return to the many valuable new arrivals rather than the few problem cases.
It is impossible to say with certainty that Scotland’s longer- term economic underperformance will be addressed by the return to net inward migration. However, the stories of entrepreneurial endeavour to this point suggest that it just might
Ian McConnell is Business Editor of The Herald