Leaders: Population figures | Acid attack

Scotland's population hit a record high in the 12 months to June 2012. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Scotland's population hit a record high in the 12 months to June 2012. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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NEWS that Scotland’s population hit a record high of 5.3 million in the 12 months to June 2012, an increase of 13,700 on the previous year will provide a measure of relief and reassurance.

It is reassuring because economic growth and business ­expansion require more workers. The younger and more skilled, of course, the better. And such is our demographic profile, with an accelerating rise in the numbers of retired people over the next 30 years, that we need to see a continuing rise in population ­numbers.

It is also encouraging that, ­despite the magnetic attraction of the London megapolis, with its high concentration of global companies headquartered there, Scotland is continuing to attract inward migration.

The figures show that an ­estimated 35,900 people came to Scotland in the 12 months to June last year. After outward migration, there was a net gain of 9,700, including a net rise of 3,000 from the rest of the UK. The rising birthrate saw 4,223 more births than deaths over this period.

However, encouraging though the overall trend is, it is of concern that the rate of increase has slowed markedly compared with previous years, and indeed is the slowest recorded since 2003.

The net increase of 13,000 compares with previous average annual increases of around 25,000 a year. Economists say that if we are to keep pace with European economies, Scotland’s population needs to grow by 24,000 a year. External affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop reminded us yesterday that the Scottish Government has set a target to match average ­European population growth over the ­period 2007 to 2017.

For the UK overall, the figures show a 419,000 rise in the population to 63.7 million, the biggest growth of any country in Europe. The increase is due to a baby boom and a net migration level of 165,600, fuelling concerns particularly in the South-east, of unsustainable pressures on welfare, housing and social work agencies. Attitudes to immigration in Scotland are not just less apprehensive, but altogether more positive.

One striking statistic in the census is the sharp increase in the numbers of Scots who moved overseas in this 12-month period. It jumped 55 per cent to 26,200 compared with 16,900 in the previous corresponding period. Whether this is “just a blip” or evidence of a more permanent trend – retirees, for example, opting for warmer climes, or young people worried about their long-term job prospects, given the length and depth of economic slowdown, remains to be seen.

It would be of considerable concern if young graduates in particular, disillusioned with the jobs they have been able to ­obtain in recent years, are deciding that a better and altogether more rewarding life lies elsewhere. Ms Hyslop would do well to find out what lies behind this sharp rise in overseas emigration and, indeed, the slowing rate of population increase.

Acid attack needs swift resolution

The acid attack on two young British women working as volunteers in a nursery school in Zanzibar is nothing short of a heinous crime. Although it brought swift condemnation from senior ministers on the East African island yesterday, it will have posed serious questions also for external aid agencies and volunteer workers, who give of their time and skills to give help in countries suffering from acute resource shortage and high poverty levels.

The two girls were working as volunteers on the island when two men on a moped threw the acid.

They had been walking through Stone Town, the old part of the island’s capital, a Unesco world heritage site.

The two, who were working for the charity Art In Tanzania, were in the final week of their stay on the island. Local police have not yet established a motive for this terrifying attack and there is only speculation at this stage that it may have been provoked by religious ­fundamentalism.

There is no doubt that trips to volunteer in far-flung places have become much more widespread among today’s youth, and are a very welcome one. Many Scottish families will now face the strange combination of pride, admiration and trepidation as children head off on their well-meaning adventures.

It would be a terrible shame if this incident were to discourage the altruism that inspires many young people to undertake this type of work for underprivileged people – often in the most difficult and remote areas.

The ­island authorities should act swiftly to track down the perpetrators and act firmly against a repetition of such attacks.