Dr Parag Khanna is the world’s leading authority on migration. He says a combination of climate change, economic deprivation, war and technology means billions of people will be on the move throughout this century. Scotland with its liberalism and natural resources will be a magnet. He talks to Writer at Large Neil Mackay

THE future for Scotland, like the rest of the Western world, is probably going to be Asian. The country will find itself swept up in the coming “Great Migration”. We will see a “brownification” of Scotland, as demographics and mass migration coalesce to change the complexion of the West.

Scotland’s political culture, with its pro-immigration slant, and our geography and natural resources, which see us well placed to withstand the climate crisis, will make us a magnet for a new generation of migrants set to reshape the 21st century.

Dr Parag Khanna – the world’s leading intellectual on migration – presents a stunning analysis of the future. To the pro-immigration side of the political debate, such as Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, Khanna’s claims will be well received; others, in the populist anti-migrant camp, will be infuriated, even fearful. Khanna’s comments will play directly into Scotland’s increasingly fraught culture wars.

Khanna, who has just brought out the celebrated new book Move: How Mass Migration Will Reshape The World And What It Means For You, is an expert in political science, international relations, economics, geopolitics and globalisation. He is a fellow of some of the most prestigious think-tanks in the world including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, New America and the European Council on Foreign Affairs.

Khanna also advised the US National Intelligence Council and has travelled to 150 countries researching global future trends.

Born in India, he was raised in the Middle East and America, lived in Europe, and is now based in Singapore. When it comes to the future of global migration in a world imperilled by climate change, mounting poverty, economic disruption from technology and deindustrialisation, threats of war and the forces of nationalism and populism – there’s probably nobody better placed to explain where humanity is headed.

Mass migration?

WE have always been on the move, says Khanna; migration is a central part of humanity’s long story. Since Western colonisation began, migration sped up.

“In every century since,” Khanna explains, “the number of migrants has increased because the number of drivers of migration has increased.” In the past, some Europeans wanted to get rich in new colonies, others fled disasters like the Irish famine. War played its part, as did the opening up of America, Canada and Australia. When it comes to the progress of migration through the centuries, says Khanna, “the decimal place always moves to the right. We went from millions of migrants to tens of millions in the 18th century”. By the 19th and 20th century, “we’ve got hundreds of millions of migrants”.

Today, climate change has been added to the forces compelling migration. Throughout this century, swathes of the planet will become uninhabitable, it’s predicted, displacing entire populations.

“In this century,” says Khanna, “in just 20 years, climate change already accounts for 30-40 per cent of total displacement in the world.” So, the drivers of migration are now threefold: “You’ve got one-third economic, one-third political [wars and persecution], and one-third climate change and, of course, they all tie together. Look at the Syrian drought which led to urbanisation, political unrest, civil war and an exodus of nearly one-quarter of the population as refugees.”

In this century, says Khanna, “we’re talking about billions of people moving – that’s what I’m trying to explain, literally billions”.

On the move

THE people of Asia will dominate the coming “Great Migration”. “Asia has more than 50% of the human population,” says Khanna. “Geographically, Asia and Europe share a mega-continent: Eurasia. Simply put: it’s far easier for Asians to recirculate around Eurasia than it is for Africans to move to Europe or Latin Americans to America. The Asian population is also younger and more mobile … If you want to capture the future of human demographics in two words it’s ‘Asian Youth’.”

Asian youth is well-educated too, with students excelling in science and IT.

“Asian birth rates are still high and Western birth rates are practically zero,” says Khanna. “Therefore, by the law of simple arithmetic, evermore of the world’s future population is Asian … The future is Asian.”

If the populations of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are combined they exceed China’s population. Khanna believes it is young people from the sub-continent who will make up the mass of future migrants. Much of the sub-continent faces more climate danger than China, with its higher proportion of “liveable areas”.

Chinese youth is less likely to want to leave home, Khanna believes. China is stable and strong and while young Chinese people might like studying in the West “not everyone wants to be a political revolutionary and live under liberal democratic freedoms”.

Indians also have role models in the shape of migrant tech tycoons like Sundar Pichai, Google CEO, and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal. Fundamentally, says Khanna, “Indians want to get the hell out of India”. The West needs to prepare for the rise of the “Asian European”.

Migration or die

EUROPE should view mass migration not just as a benefit but a lifeline, Khanna believes. The West’s entire discussion around migration is cock-eyed, he feels. We have low birth rates, ageing populations, not enough workers – especially to care for our growing elderly populations – and plenty of space. “Europe should be competing in a cut-throat manner to recruit as many smart Asians as possible.”

Instead, Europe has seen the rise of anti-immigrant nationalist and populist politics. “You cannot simultaneously hold that labour shortages are becoming more acute and also hold that populism remains an immutable force because the truth is that the more painful the demographic and therefore fiscal circumstances become, the more likely it is that populism will have to bend to economic realities,” Khanna says.

“We tend to default towards this view that national identity and anti-immigration postures are the persistent norm and everything will have to hold and wait until a Great Enlightenment transpires. That’s not at all the case. If that were true Germany wouldn’t be the mass-migration country it is today.”

Around one million migrants arrive in Germany each year, and 13.7 million people are first-generation migrants. Recent elections saw Germany swing to the left with an SPD-Green-Liberal coalition, and the collapse of the hard-right anti-migrant AfD. That proves, says Khanna, that “populism is more bark than bite”.

Death of populism

IN fact, says Khanna, “populism is complete bull****”. Italy, he points out, “has more migrants than when Matteo Salvini [the right-wing anti-migrant populist leader] was at the peak of his powers”. Khanna notes that after Brexit, demographics and worker shortages now mean “it’s factually easier to migrate to Britain as a young Asian than it was five years ago – and right under Trump’s nose, America became more diverse, more mixed race. We should really view populism for the political blip it is”.

Unless Western nations want to decline inexorably, “immigration policy needs to be dictated by supply and demand” not insular notions of identity. Khanna also notes that the current manifestation of populism may, quite literally, be short-lived. The mostly elderly “xenophobic populist generation is heading for the Big Brexit in the Sky”, he says. Meantime, anti-migrant policies are damaging Western economies, he maintains.

Be Canada

WESTERN democracies need to change their policies for “pragmatic, rational and self-interested” reasons. If the West continues to adopt anti-immigrant policies, despite the economic and demographic pressures, migrants will still come anyway, only in an uncontrolled, dangerous manner, as we’ve seen in the English channel. Economics and demographics mean eventually “Britain is going to wind up reverting to pro-immigration norms”. Canada, with its liberal policies, “says more about the future of the West than Hungary does”.

The media has skewed the conversation on migration, Khanna believes: concentrating more on bogeymen like Hungary’s authoritarian populist Viktor Orban than Canada’s liberal Justin Trudeau.

Focusing on Orban flies in the face “of the nature of reality”. Says Khanna: “Canada absorbs more people in a few years than the entire population of Hungary; Orban is on his way out, and nobody wants to go to Hungary anyway. We put all this attention on a peripheral loser rather than the greatest mass-migration story of the 21st century: Canada. Shame on us for that. We do ourselves a great disservice.”

Pro-migration changes are quietly happening everywhere in democracies, despite the narrative that borders are closing. Khanna points to Japan liberalising due to its ageing population. Anti-migrant rhetoric in the West doesn’t surprise Khanna, though. For all the obvious freedoms and benefits, there’s always an “element of a race to the bottom” by political parties in democracies, and a focus on outrage in a free media. Khanna notes this “short-termism” also plays against self-interest over climate change.

Demographic dilemma

THE Western nations with the loudest anti-migrant voices, says Khanna, are the “same places where elderly people literally die alone” – as ageing demographics clash with lack of care staff. “Of all the metrics to measure a civilised society, one would surely be: do you let old people die alone? I can think of no greater moral crime than treating old people like that. It’s downright barbaric. Western society should be ashamed of itself. It’s repugnant. We can choose to be a civilised country or choose not to be.”

In Singapore, where “there’s practically one Filipino care-giver for every old person”, neglect of the elderly would be scandalous. “Old people are treated with the kind of dignity [the West] can only dream about.” Clearly, though, Singapore is far from a free, democratic society.

With demographic destiny staring the West in face, Europeans, says Khanna, “should actually be the most pro-immigrant people in the world. You should want your parents to have a Filipino nurse in Dresden so you can in good conscience go and be a millennial living in Berlin”.

Wise countries, Khanna adds, are “fighting a war for the Filipino nurse right now. I liken the Filipino nurse to the Lionel Messi of healthcare”.

The backlash

KHANNA is an optimist. He believes good sense will prevail in the West, primarily due to self-interest, and migration will rise without violent backlash or “democratic backsliding”.

“Good governance rests on the pragmatic understanding of the needs of society from a long-term point of view,” he says. Right now, though, Khanna would like to see “democratically elected leaders make the case for a more robust immigration policy based on demographic need”.

Ironically, anti-immigrant sentiment is often driven not by the effect of “outsiders” on a society, but by the policies of homegrown governments, which leave citizens poor, angry and seeking easy scapegoats.

Immigrants also “pay more into the system than they take out, they fulfil social and economic services that indigenous people won’t do – like collecting trash”. Much more time, money and energy should be spent on integration, though, so that social “balkansation” doesn’t lead to racial friction.

Khanna points to France for failing miserably on this issue. “I don’t think France will ever get its s*** together,” he says bluntly. Significantly, Islamophobia and hostility to migrants currently dominates French politics.

Khanna sees Germany as the European country leading the way when it comes to creating social unity between races. Britain, despite all our fears over Brexit, isn’t doing too badly either when it comes to cohesion and migration. “Look at the number of wealthy south Asian peers in the Lords – there’s no equivalent in France.” Good housing, good education, and good job prospects mean good social integration.

Crucially, young people today – millennials and Gen Z – are broadly supportive of migration, albeit often for selfish reasons as they also want lives where they can move and work globally. The three words which characterise modern youth are “sustainability, connectivity and mobility”. Young Westerns – who feel “guilt” over their nations’ roles in the climate crisis – are also unlikely to oppose the movement of climate refugees.


MIGRATION means that racially the world is already “mongrelising”, says Khanna, and as the century moves forward we’ll only see more of this “robust mongrelisation of the world” – genetic mingling that’s inevitable as a result of different populations mixing in all corners of the planet”. In London, Mohammed is already the most popular baby’s name, Khanna adds. We’ll see the effects of “mass migrations play out over the next 30-50 years”, he says.

The West will undergo “brownification”, Khanna believes. “If Asian youth represent the majority of world youth and the majority of world migrants, they also represent the majority of future mummies and daddies. We’ll see an ever higher proportion of the world’s children with brown complexions and less with white complexions. You can’t refute that or do anything about it – it’s all part of the beautiful, deep tide of history and demographics.”

What Khanna wishes for globally is “programmable geography” – in other words, in the era of climate change and destabilising demographics, the ability to move large groups of people who want to migrate to the places where they’re needed most. So, Russia – the world’s biggest wheat exporter – needs farmers, and Bangladesh has people facing rising sea levels … why not put them together and solve two global problems at once? However, clearly, an anti-migrant Kremlin would never countenance such an idea.

Whether nationalists and populists like it or not, as climate change bites, populations will have to move. American coastal cities may flood. Khanna predicts settlements in polar regions as the century advances.

But he’s also aware that nations won’t relinquish control over immigration policy to some “global technocracy”. It’s likely then that big migration changes will come from “the bottom up” with migrants simply moving whether national governments want them or not. In the end, though, Khanna believes most nations would “rather be Canada than Russia – success begets success, nobody wants to emulate failed states”.

Four visions

KHANNA predicts four scenarios for the future amid mass migration and climate change: the “Regional Fortress” where Western democracies remain relatively stable but simply shut the doors; a “New Middle Ages” of widespread global chaos with more stable regions “fortifying themselves against climate migrants”; “Barbarians at the Gate” where climate change crashes the global economy and there’s anarchy and war; or the optimum “Northern Lights” where the northern habitable parts of the world absorb up to two billion climate migrants and humanity manages to flourish, perhaps even moving seasonally from region to region depending on extremes of weather.

We can easily make it to “Northern Lights” if we try, Khanna believes – we have the technology to do so. “This is civilisation 3.0,” he says. “Civilisation 1.0 was nomadic, agricultural and pastoral; Civilisation 2.0 was industrial and sedentary; Civilisation 3.0 needs to be governed by the principles of mobility and sustainability – moving people to resources with a minimal environmental footprint.”

There aren’t too many of us on Earth, he hastens to add. The entire world population could stand side by side in Singapore alone. It’s a big planet. “We don’t have a demographic problem, we’ve a distribution problem.”

Scotland the lucky?

SCOTLAND should count itself “lucky”, Khanna believes. “You’ve the good fortune to be a climate oasis.” We have plenty of water and are well placed to withstand environmental crisis. Although powerless over immigration, the Scottish Government also promotes “pragmatic policies”. Edinburgh is a “cosmopolitan capital”. Scotland “has a great future”, Khanna claims. Our geography, natural resources and openness to migration also mean we could become a new migration hotspot as the century advances.

Clearly, whether we turn that into a success story or make the journey into the future a bitter one filled with racism and animosity, isn’t just dependent on who leads the country and whether we’re ruled by London or Edinburgh –it’s also down to all of us ordinary citizens, and how we shape our opinions amid the coming “Great Migration” of the 21st century.