Scotland’s population continued to increase between 2015 and 2016 – but the increase is uneven and the population of the Western Isles is falling faster than anywhere else in the country.
This is because of natural population decline – an excess of deaths over births – combined with a fall in the number of people moving into the Islands. This reverses the positive trend seen between 2001 and 2011.
The population of Na h-Eileanan Siar was down 0.63 per cent between 2015 and 2016 according to statistics published this week by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).
This is in line with earlier NRS projections, which said the population of Na h-Eileanan Siar will plummet over the next 25 years, falling almost 4,000 by 2039.
The new figures show that the estimated population of Scotland was 5,404,700 at 30 June 2016, which is the highest level recorded. The figures show a rise of 31,700 (0.6%) people over the year since 30 June 2015.
But Na h-Eileanan Siar shows a decline to 26,900 – a reduction 0.4 per cent through natural change and 0.23 per cent through less migration to the Islands. In the years 2014-15 the largest percentage decrease occurred in Argyll and Bute (-0.9 per cent), followed by Na h-Eileanan Siar (-0.7 per cent) and Inverclyde (0.5 per cent). So the rate of decline has slowed slightly in the Islands - but is now faster than anywhere else.
Net migration from overseas to Na h-Eileanan Siar has been very low or negative throughout the last 12 years. Most recently, there was an estimated net gain of 20 people from overseas in 2015/16.
At the same time, the number of people from the European Economic Area (EEA) living in the Islands shows how critical the outcome to the Brexit talks could be to the future of the Islands.
In the 2011 Census, 1.2% (330) of Na h-Eileanan Siar’s population was shown as born in a country in the EEA. The EEA unites the EU Member States and Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway into an Internal Market governed by the same basic rules.
In 2011, a higher proportion of the EEA-born population in Na h-Eileanan Siar was of working age (16 - 64 years) (78 %; 260 people), compared to 62 % of its overall population – and also there are proportionately more in work than local people and they are more highly qualified.
In 2011, a higher proportion of EEA-born residents in Na h-Eileanan Siar aged 16 and over were in employment (70%; 210 people) compared with the total population aged 16 and over of the council area (58 %).
The proportion of EEA-born residents of Na h-Eileanan Siar aged 16-74 with a degree level qualification in 2011 was 48 % (140 people). The proportion of all people aged 16-74 in the council area with a degree-level qualification was lower at 27%.
Na h-Eileanan Siar is projected to have an ageing population over the next 25 years, with a projected increase of 32 % for those aged 65 or over. In contrast, the working age population (aged 16 - 64 years) is projected to fall by 27% between 2014 and 2039.
So if EEA citizens were to return to their home countries as a result of the end of freedom of movement under Brexit, there would be a serious additional loss to the Islands workforce.
Overall, according to the NRS, the increase in Scotland’s population over 2015-2016 was driven by migration. Migration to Scotland exceeded migration from Scotland by 31,700 people. This included a net increase of 22,900 people from overseas and 8,800 from the rest of the UK.
The number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 800, while other changes (such as in the prison population, and changes in the number of armed forces stationed in Scotland) resulted in an increase of 800 people.
The most recent increase in Scotland’s population of 31,700 (0.6%) compares with an increase of 25,400 (0.5%) in the previous year to 30 June 2015.
The main reason for the higher population increase is that net migration to Scotland increased from 28,000 in 2014-15 to 31,700 in 2015-16.
Natural change (births minus deaths) resulted in a loss of 800 people in the year to 30 June 2016, compared with a loss of 2,000 in the previous year. The year-on-year change was driven by 1,800 fewer deaths, partially offset by 600 fewer births.
The full publication of mid-2016 population estimates Scotland is available on this website. (https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/news/2017/scotlands-population-is-increasing)