Scottish population rises to highest level since 1977

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by a Newsnet reporter

After decades of decline, Scotland’s population is now increasing and has risen to its highest level since 1977.    Figures released by the office of the Registrar General for Scotland show that the number of people in Scotland rose by 28,100 last year bringing the total population to 5,220,000.

Registrar General for Scotland Duncan Macniven said: “When I was appointed in 2003, Scotland’s population was estimated to be 5,054,800 and had been slowly reducing since 1974 when it reached 5,240,800, the highest-ever recorded figure.   

“Trends suggested the decline would continue and the population would fall to below 5,000,000 by 2010.  But over the past eight years, the number of people coming to Scotland has been higher than the number leaving, by an average of 22,800 per year.”

In 2010, 46,100 people came from overseas to live in Scotland from overseas whereas 24,600 left to go and live abroad.  Of the 46,100 arrivals from outside the UK, an estimated one quarter were British citizens returning home after a period of living abroad.   43,000 people left Scotland to live in other parts of the UK, while 47,000 arrived to live in Scotland from England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The population has also been boosted by a continuing decline in the death rate, now the lowest recorded since the 19th century, and a rise in the birth rate.

Mr Macniven said: “The number of deaths has reduced by 4500 in the last 10 years while the number of births rose by 6400.  This represents a dramatic alteration in the natural change which, instead of reducing the population by 6000 (as in 2003), increased the population by 5000 in 2010.

“More surprising has been the increase in the number of births, up by 12% in the past eight years.”

Population growth in Scotland has not kept pace with that in England.  The population of Scotland was estimated at around 1 million in 1707.  Scotland’s population was approximately one fifth that of England, where there were an estimated 5 million people.

Today the population of England is estimated at 52 million, ten times the Scottish figure.  Had Scotland enjoyed the average population growth of European countries, today her population would stand at around 10 to 12 million.  However the natural increase in the Scottish population was more than offset by massively high rates of emigration, not just to the former British colonies, but also to England.  The main export of Scotland was not oil or whisky, it was people.

The effects of such high rates of emigration are most clearly seen in the Highlands, which are now home to less than 7% of the Scottish population.  In 1707 over a quarter of the Scottish population resided in the Highlands.  The region retained high population figures until well into the 19th century, when the effects of the potato famine, the Clearances and the attraction of jobs in the industrialising Central Belt combined to produce a demographic collapse from which the Highlands have never recovered.  This collapse destroyed the demographic heartlands of the Gaelic language.

There has always been migration into Scotland.  Migrants have continued to arrive in the country from northern England and Ireland throughout history, and in more recent centuries Scotland has attracted people from Poland, Italy, the Indian Subcontinent and China.  However it is only in recent years that migration into Scotland has exceeded migration out of Scotland.  The figures released yesterday also show that emigré Scots are returning to the country in significant numbers, perhaps a sign of increased confidence in Scotland and her future.