Go East Young Man and Woman: The Changing Face of Scotland


By Gerry Hassan, The Scotsman, March 3rd 2012

Scotland’s population is changing, its mix and its make up, and who and where we are, with huge consequences for the future.

General Register Office for Scotland population predictions estimate a Scotland of 5.8 million people in 2035, the highest ever figure for the nation; a rise of 10.2% overall in numbers, made up of 8.9% through migration and 1.3% in natural change.

The population will have more people of pensioner age (up 26.2%) and more young people aged 0-15 years (up 3.2%). There will be a shift to the East and away from the West, and major growth points around East Lothian (33%), Perth and Kinross (32%), Edinburgh (26%) and Aberdeen (25%).

Glasgow and Edinburgh will be more equal in size than now with 656,000 and 603,000 people respectively. The future will be a lot more lonely in the Western Isles with a 11% population decline and Inverclyde 17% decline.

These figures are only projections but they do illustrate some of the powerful trends and forces which are shaping and changing Scotland. We will have more older and retired people, less young proportionately, and certain parts of the West of Scotland and rural areas will have less people.

There is a negative take on with one newspaper bewailing ‘the increased burden that will be placed on housing, care and welfare services in the coming decades’.

This negativity has become the prevailing orthodoxy of how we view population demographics and migration aided by the interventions of groups such as Migration Watch UK and Optimum Population Trust.

The Scottish experience has been different in numbers; Migration Watch UK claims that 93% of migration to the UK has been to England making it they say the sixth most crowded nation in the world.

Two contradictory trends can be observed. The first is the myth of the homogeneous nation. This is based on Scotland not having large ethnic minority communities compared to England and feeling monocultural and overwhelmingly white.

A second factor is the story of ourselves as a ‘mongrel nation’. This is informed by the experience of Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries, and waves of immigration which saw the arrival of Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Jewish, Polish, Asian and English people.

Scotland isn’t that different in its attitudes to migration to the rest of the UK. When the Scottish Social Attitudes Surveys asked if Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to Scotland, 49% agreed and 30% disagreed. There were similar findings for black and Asian people with 45% agreeing and 31% disagreeing, and for people from Eastern Europe with 46% agreeing and 33% disagreeing.

It is true that Scotland has never had a popular recruiting ground for the NF or BNP, but there have been many other faultlines. There has been the contentious issue of anti-English sentiment, with half of all migrants to Scotland being English born.

Then there is the sensitive sore of sectarianism which some see as tribalism, and others as shaped by anti-Irish or anti-Catholic prejudice.

There are forgotten stories which Scotland needs to remember, of the extent of prejudice, bigotry and intolerance our society showed at points to incomers and those who are different. The Church of Scotland eventually got around to apologising for its infamous 1923 report, ‘The Menace of the Irish Race to Our Scottish Nationality’, eighty years after the event.

And the Glasgow and Edinburgh of the 1930s were marked by anti-Catholic parties, Scottish Protestant League and Protestant Action, respectively, which demonised Catholics, and called for them to be thrown out of public sector jobs and sent back to Ireland. This isn’t some distant memory of the inter-war years: John Cormack, leader of the Edinburgh party, held his Leith seat on the council until 1962.

Those histories show us that the familiar story of Scotland as an egalitarian, warm, welcoming land is a partial one, which has been constantly contested and argued over for decades.

The debate over Scottish independence and earlier discussions on the need to boost Scotland’s population has begun to throw light on some of these tensions. Migration Watch UK declared that ‘A separate Scottish immigration system would be futile’ seeing Scotland as a back door and potential soft touch for migration into England.

This also touches upon Scottish identity per se and the issue of eligibility to vote in a future independence ballot, and the claims of postcode Scots and the interests of the Scottish diaspora.

One of the wider influences in these debates which is seldom touched upon in Scotland, the UK and most of the West is the prevalence of anxiety, loss and worry in large parts of the population believing they are not being listened to by their political, business and media elites, and that their countries and traditions are changing in ways they do not like or understand.

Firstly, we have to acknowledge that feelings of anxiety and loss are not just found in modern times, as many accounts which go on about the pace of change and globalisation claim. They are part of what makes up being human and have been with us as long as we have been on the planet and started to evolve.

Secondly, there is a deep disconnect between how the world is seen and explained by political elites and how it is lived in by most people in Western societies. There is a big problem about how politics and public life tackles issues of inequality, massive wealth and concentrations of power, and how we hold the super-rich to account.

The Scotland of the future is going to be a very different place from that of today. It is going to look and feel very different, and change dramatically in ways which will be positive in some ways and challenging and difficult in others.

This requires not that we harp on about the burdens of public services or the costs of care for the elderly, but that we find a language which articulates and reflects the worries and concerns of voters.  And at the same time carries with it optimism about the future, about our collective future in Scotland. This is a huge challenge across the West, but in a place the size of Scotland we have a small chance of taking a step in a positive direction if we choose.


Courtesy of Gerry Hassan – http://gerryhassan.com