Magnetic east: Why population growth is set to move

Scotland’s population is set to grow to a historic high by 2035, but, driven by economic forces, will shift from west to east, according to new official figures. By Scott Macnab

Scotland is undergoing a mass population “tilt” as people migrate from the west, attracted by the better opportunities in Edinburgh and its surrounding areas.

And they’re doing it in big numbers, with Scotland’s population expected to hit an unprecedented high of almost six million in the coming decades.

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The finance sector, the oil and gas industry in the North-east and the emergence of the Scottish Government in the capital have all served to create a sense of eastern promise. It has come alongside the decline of the traditional west-coast industrial powerhouse, as the once dominant shipyards, steelworks and even the car industry have disappeared.

East Lothian, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Kinross-shire will all have massive increases in population over the next couple of decades, according to figures released by the General Register Office of Scotland (GROS) yesterday.

It is feared that population numbers may fall so low in some areas that provision of public services could be in danger.

The population of Eilean Siar (The Western Isles) is expected to drop from 26,190 to 23,220 by 2035. Inverclyde, encompassing unemployment blackspots such as Greenock and Port Glasgow, will fall by about 13,000 over the same period to just over 66,000.

Edinburgh, by contrast, will see its numbers surge to more than 600,000 from the current 486,100 – around a 25 per cent growth. Glasgow’s population is set to rise, but at less than half this rate leaving the cities of broadly similar size by 2035.

“People are moving to places where they have economic opportunity,” says Dr Chris Wilson, a reader in demography at St Andrews University.

“In the broadest sense, Edinburgh and the east of Scotland are doing better than western Scotland, relatively speaking. The projections are anticipating an east-west tilt.”

All ten council areas which are seeing projected population falls by 2035 are in the west of Scotland, according to the GROS.

Professor Mike Danson, an expert in regional economics at the University of West of Scotland, says the public and private sector bases in the east are a pivotal factor, noting that the changes have been driven by the finance industry and the Scottish Government. “Government always attract other services. They’ve been very important in driving this movement, and in the north-east oil has obviously been a big factor.”

The trend is reflected in the changes expected in the number of children under 15 in the years ahead. They will increase significantly in East Lothian (41 per cent), and Perth and Kinross (32 per cent). But large falls are projected in the Eilean Siar (34 per cent) and Inverclyde (27 per cent).

Scotland’s cities are all continuing to grow, with the council regions of Dundee, Stirling and Highland – which includes Inverness – all expected to expand significantly in the coming decades.

Scotland’s population will grow to a historic high of almost 5.8 million, up 12 per cent from 5.2 million at the moment. Migration will account for the bulk of this, as people from across the UK and further afield flock to Scotland.

“This would be the highest we’ve ever seen,” Dr Wilson says. “Scotland’s population has been remarkably constant at just a little bit below 5 million for 90 years. This would be the first really big departure from that.”

The steady net migration flow into Scotland has seen the population grow steadily over the past decade.

“More non-British people have moved into Scotland in the past ten years than at any time in recorded history,” Dr Wilson says. “Scotland missed out in the big UK immigration of the 1960s and 1970s which tended to be concentrated in England. For example, about 10 per cent of the people from Poland who come to the UK come to Scotland, which is about our fair share, proportionate to the rest of the UK.”

The report concentrates on the period between 2010 and 2035 and bases its projections on trends over the previous decade, although some experts warn it is difficult to say with any certainty that these trends will be sustained in the decades ahead.

The projections have increased significantly on previous estimates which were based on 2008 figures. The projected total for Edinburgh by 2035 is up from 551,000 to 603,000, while Glasgow is up by more than 60,000 to 656,000.

The number of elderly people is expected to increase dramatically, with the number of those over 75 projected to almost double. Those aged between 65 and 74 is set to jump by almost half from 474,000 today to almost 693,000. Overall, the population of pensionable age is projected to increase in all areas.

The largest increases projected are in West Lothian (52 per cent) and Aberdeenshire (50 per cent), with the smallest increase in Dundee City (4 per cent).

But healthy life expectancy in Scotland, while increasing, tends to be one of the lowest in Western Europe and lags behind the UK as a whole.

A spokesman for Age Scotland said yesterday: “There are also opportunities to both meet older people’s needs and make savings to the public purse.

“It costs around four times as much for a residential care home place as a Free Personal Care package, for example, so reshaping services to better enable older people to stay healthy, well and independent in their own home is vitally important.”

• Every council area is projected to have more elderly people than today, though the scale of the increase will vary; the number of children under 15 is projected to increase in half of the 32 council areas, with the largest percentage increases in East Lothian (+41 per cent) and Perth & Kinross (+32 per cent). The largest decreases are projected in Eilean Siar (-34 per cent) and Inverclyde (-27 per cent)

The population of working age is projected to increase in 17 council areas and decrease in 15 – increasing the most in Perth & Kinross (+33 per cent) and decreasing the most in Inverclyde (-24 per cent)

The biggest population falls are in Inverclyde (-17 per cent), Eilean Siar (-11 per cent) and East Dunbartonshire (-9.8 per cent)

The population of pensionable age is projected to increase in all council areas, the largest increases projected in West Lothian (+52 per cent) and Aberdeenshire (+50 per cent), with the smallest increase in Dundee (+4 per cent)

Across Scotland there will be a 10.2% population increase, but this is split between an 8.9 per cent increase in migration and 1.3 per cent in natural change

The council areas with the greatest projected increase in population are East Lothian (+33 per cent), Perth & Kinross (+32 per cent), Edinburgh (+25.8 per cent) and Aberdeen (+25.1 per cent)