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Who Lives in Scotland?

Starts 9pm Tuesday 25 October on BBC1 Scotland

Population affects all of us, from the size and location of schools and hospitals to the nation’s culture. Martin Geissler explores the impact of Scotland’s changing population.




In the first part, Martin explores the profound impact on Scotland of the movement of people, both within the nation and its new arrivals.


Shifts in population have profound effects on the country. Places like Inverclyde, where shipbuilding once sustained a thriving community, now face a challenge of attracting people to the area to reverse decades of population decline. Elsewhere, such as Edinburgh and the Lothians, huge housing developments are being built to meet the demands of a capital city whose population is on the up.


But the fact that Scotland’s population stands at a record 5.46m isn’t due to an increasing birth rate or falling death rate. It’s being sustained by inward migration. 


The vast majority of people living in Scotland but not born in Scotland come from England – almost 10% of the population. A significant number are older and head to the highlands and islands, where they help sustain critical community services. 


The next highest number are people born in Poland. But with the ending of free movement following Brexit, Scotland may need to look further afield for the workforce needed to support health and social care services for an increasingly older population.


The high international ranking of some of Scotland’s universities has attracted overseas students. 1 in 4 students at the University of Glasgow are Chinese; parts of the city’s west end have seen enormous changes in food and shops that cater specifically for that population. But while it helps the universities’ coffers, if the students don’t settle in Scotland after their studies, it won’t help meet the challenges to come.


Recognising the vital importance of a large population of working age, the Scottish Government has funded a glossy advertising campaign to attract overseas workers to the country. But migration isn’t a long term solution; housing and job opportunities are needed for new settlers, and they get old and need healthcare too. And analysts at the National Records of Scotland reveal that migration alone will not make up for the gap between births and deaths – which means Scotland’s population could start to decline in the next decade.





In the second part of his documentary, Martin Geissler explores the consequences of a falling birth rate and an increasing older population, and the impact on the health and prosperity of Scotland. 


In the cycle of life, birth and years of good health are followed often by poor health and death. It’s the job of the National Records of Scotland to track this information so that plans can be made to support the population’s needs, both now and in the future.


Scotland is facing several challenges in that regard. Fewer babies are being born and people are living longer. By 2045 it’s estimated that Scotland will have twice as many pensioners as children. 


When the working age population shrinks, there are fewer people paying tax and less money for services. Attracting workers from the rest of the UK and overseas becomes important in the short term. But making sure that as many people as possible can access employment possibilities is also vital. 


An ageing population can put pressure on services as their healthcare requirements become more complex. But there’s enormous disparity in different areas of Scotland when it comes to how many years people can expect to be in good health during their lifetime.


In areas where social deprivation is high, healthy life expectancy is low. Men in Inverclyde and North Ayrshire can expect their health to deteriorate in their early sixties. But in Orkney – where there is low levels of deprivation – they can expect to be well into their seventies. 


All this matters, because it has an impact on what services are needed and where. It matters because more services require more taxation, which requires more healthy people of working age. Understanding who lives in Scotland matters to all of us.

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