Scotland shows net inward migration for first time in 300 years

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By a Newsnet reporter

Figures released by the General Register Office for Scotland yesterday show that the country’s population has reached a historic high of over 5.25 million.  The office estimates that on June 30 last year there were 5,254,800 people living in Scotland. 

In addition, the figures show that for the first time in over 300 years, immigration into Scotland exceeds emigration from the country.

The figures show a continuous growth in Scotland’s population since the 2001 census was conducted.  The growth has been caused by a higher birth rate than death rate, but also because Scotland now has net inward migration.  

Publishing his annual report “Scotland’s Population 2011 – the Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends”,  Registrar General George MacKenzie said:

“Scotland’s population has seen a continuous increase in recent years, partly because there have been more births than deaths, but mainly because more people have moved to Scotland than have left.  This trend continued in 2011, with migration largely responsible for an increase of 0.6  per cent in the population.  At 5,254,800 the population is now the highest ever recorded, 14,000 higher than the previous high in 1974.

“Behind this headline figure, the pattern of population change is more complex.  The population in some areas of Scotland has decreased.  Although births still outnumber deaths, there were fewer births than in 2010. In 2011, the number of deaths in Scotland dropped to 53,661, the lowest annual total since registration began in 1855.  But life expectancy is still lower than in many other European Union countries.

“Despite this, the number of older people has increased and this has contributed to a rise in the number of households.  This is likely to continue, with an anticipated increase of 63 per cent in the number of people aged 65 or over by 2035.

“In the 12 months between July 2010 and June 2011, around 43,700 people came to Scotland from the rest of the UK and a similar number from overseas.  Most migrants to Scotland are young, aged between 16 and 34.”

Net inward migration to Scotland is a new phenomenon, and a welcome reversal of the pattern of previous centuries, when Scotland was a land of emigration.  Scotland has attracted inward migration throughout its history, but during the 18th and 19th centuries, and well into the 20th, those who settled in Scotland from other countries were heavily outnumbered by those who left Scotland to live elsewhere.  

The effect of this 300 year long outflow of Scottish talent, skill and experience can be seen the depopulated tracts of the north and west of the country, but also in the historic decline in Scotland’s percentage share of the population of the UK.

In 1707, the year of the Treaty of Union, it is estimated that Scotland had a population of approximately 1.25 million people, compared to an estimated population of just over 6 million in England and Wales.  The Scottish population was then around one quarter the size of the population of England, or 20% of the population of the newly United Kingdom (excluding Ireland).  

However by the census of 1811, Scotland had a population of 1.8 million against 10.16 million in England and Wales, or 15% of the population of Britain.  By 1911, Scotland’s 4.76 million people represented just 11.66% of the population of Britain.  

Scotland’s population continued to grow slowly in absolute numbers throughout, although it grew far more slowly than the population of most other western European countries.  

By the start of the 21st century Scotland’s share of the UK population had dropped even further.  After reaching a population of 5.2 million in the 1970s, Scotland’s population figures then began to drop again, due in part to the high levels of emigration caused by the loss of traditional industries in the 1980s.

Although Scotland’s population growth is now showing signs of recovery, it is now estimated that Scottish residents make up just 8.5% of the population of the UK.   

The figures released this week are estimates based upon the 2001 census.  The results of the recent 2011 census are expected to be released later this year.  The Scottish census traditionally counts the number of Gaelic speakers in the country, but for the first time the 2011 census counted the number of speakers of Lowland Scots.