SCOTLAND'S people are our most valuable resource, but like many countries around the world our population is ageing.

Though it is, at nearly 5.5 million, higher now than it has ever been, the primary driver of our recent population growth has been migration. Each year there are more deaths than births, and by 2045 the number of people aged 65 and over is projected to grow by nearly a third, with the number of children falling by nearly a fifth in the same period.

We want everyone to live long and healthy lives, and we are taking action to realise our ambition to raise both life expectancy and, critically, the number of years that all of Scotland's people spend in good health. However, an ageing population and fewer working age people, means fewer people in employment.

This means lower growth for businesses, and less money to support vital public services like our NHS. Alongside climate change, this is one of the most pressing challenges facing the future generations of this country.

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Part of the solution to that challenge lies in the paper we published this week – Citizenship in an Independent Scotland. We want to make it easier for more people, including those seeking to reconnect with family roots, to gain citizenship and settle here.

As the paper sets out, one of the ways we could do that is by removing disincentives, like the extortionate fees currently levied on individuals and their families who are applying for UK citizenship by the Home Office, which charges three times what it costs to administer that process.

Our proposals include a fairer fee system that’s based on the actual cost of processing applications. This may mean that our registration and naturalisation fees could be up to £800 less per person than the £1330 currently charged by the Home Office.

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We could also take a more welcoming approach to citizenship, one that takes account of our international diaspora, particularly those with a close and enduring connection to Scotland.

Whereas children born outside of the UK to British citizens by descent currently have no automatic entitlement to the citizenship of their parents, we could instead follow the Irish model, allowing those born outside the country to be automatically entitled to Scottish citizenship if at least one of their parents is already a Scottish citizen.

Of course, non-citizens living here would retain many of the same rights they currently hold, including rights to vote, but Scottish citizens could also enjoy benefits such as the right to hold a Scottish passport and eventually, following our commitment to re-join the EU as an independent nation, resumed rights as EU citizens.

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In making Scottish citizenship attainable and affordable, and leaving behind the "hostile environment" that characterises the UK’s approach to immigration, we aim to encourage many more New Scots to join the hundreds of thousands who have already made their homes in communities the length and breadth of the country, from Lerwick to Stranraer, Dunbar and Stornoway.

In the coming months, we will publish a further paper on migration policy with further proposals that we hope would reverse our population trend, and demonstrate the kind of open and inclusive independent country that we’re seeking to build, alongside our citizenship proposals.

Our paper on a stronger economy with independence has already set out our commitment that migration policy would address the needs of the whole country, including those areas most at risk of depopulation. That commitment sits alongside the establishment of housebuilding as one of the priorities for the £20 billion Building a New Scotland Fund, over the first decade of independence.

Of course, this work continues alongside our existing efforts to address the labour shortages faced by employers across the country, exacerbated by a Brexit that was overwhelmingly rejected by Scottish voters.

But mitigation can only take us so far. In taking responsibility for crucial issues such as immigration – an independent Scotland could take its own decisions on attracting people to come here to live, work and study, opening up opportunities to reverse projected population decline and address labour supply challenges.

Because that’s how we’ll get the working age population that Scotland needs to prosper – for the sake of our public services, our economy, and ultimately, our communities.