Analysis: Scotland now seen as a place people want to migrate to – especially from England

Picture: Donald MacLeod
Picture: Donald MacLeod
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OVER the past ten years there has been a historic turnaround in net migration to Scotland, and that represents the biggest change in these population figures.

As long as anyone can remember, Scotland has been losing people on average, but the trend in the past decade has seen a positive influx of migration to Scotland.

There have been lots of people from European countries, but there has also been a big movement from England to Scotland.

For the first time, Scotland is seen as a place people want to migrate to – and it’s a historic turnaround for the country.

By the standards of Scotland’s past over migration, it’s a remarkable position.

Fertility is going up, as we see from the figures, but on its own that would not be enough to create the population increase that we’ve seen. It’s a contributory factor to the increase in population, but it’s not the main reason for the growth rate.

The big driver is definitely migration to Scotland, both internationally and within the UK. It’s the most extraordinary change in the past ten years.

Scotland is clearly now an attractive enough place to attract migrants and, apart from London and the South-east, is slightly richer than England.

There’s no sign of this migration stopping either, and this will, of course, continue to impact on the population figures.

A big reason for this is that Britain opened its doors in 2004 to new European Union members, with only Ireland and Sweden doing the same thing. Other EU countries put a five-year lag on it.

Once there’s migration, it can create a trend and there can be a level where it keeps on going.

If we look back to the 1960s, for example, there was a huge immigration from England to Scotland, largely because of industrial decline.

Deindustrialisation has now largely run its course and there’s a change in how the idea of living in Scotland is viewed.

The ageing population figures represent what we largely already know, with people living for much longer and life expectancy going up year-on-year.

There’s no avoiding the fact that we have an ageing population, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be huge changes in the physical health of people.

Nowadays, someone who is 60 can be as healthy as say someone who was 50 a generation ago.

There are also older people now living longer because of improvements to infant health when they were children.

It’s trend that will continue to affect Scotland’s population, as we’re continuing to see life expectancy increase.

• Dr Chris Wilson, a reader in demographics at the University of St Andrews.