October 11, 2004


Scotland: the incredible shrinking nation (GILLIAN BOWDITCH, 10/11/04, The Scotsman)

Geography is people, argued William McIlvanney in his book Memoirs of a Modern Scotland. But Scotland’s people are declining in number and have been for a generation. In the last 30 years, a quarter of a million Scots have disappeared. They have moved away, died out and not been replaced.

We have watched this slow ebb of the nation’s lifeblood, meticulously recorded each year in the annual report of the Registrar General, but never really worried about it. Now we are facing a painful reality; ours is a dying nation.

Scotland’s population is not only falling, it is falling at a faster rate than anywhere else in Europe. Demographic change is, according to Jack McConnell, the First Minister, "the greatest threat to Scotland’s future prosperity".

His priority is to prevent the population falling below five million, a scenario predicted to take place in barely a decade if measures are not adopted to stop it. Announcing his Fresh Talent initiative, designed to encourage an additional 8,000 migrants a year to Scotland between now and 2009, Mr McConnell painted a bleak picture of what will happen if his measures fail: "Tax revenues will fall. Falling school rolls mean local schools will close. Other local services will become less sustainable and communities will become weaker. The labour market will contract and there will be fewer consumers to underpin a domestic market. Our economy will be less dynamic and likely to contract."

It’s an apocalyptic vision but according to the country’s leading demographers and population geographers, the measures the Executive has so far put in place to deal with it are doomed to fail.

While most welcome the Fresh Talent initiative, there is a consensus that the numbers involved are too few to make a difference to population decline.

Philip Rees, Professor of Population Geography at the University of Leeds, says: "I’m in favour of attracting new people to our country but according to our projections, 8,000 a year is nowhere near enough to make a difference to Scotland’s population decline. Even if you multiply by five or six, you still have a problem. We’ve run scenarios with very much higher levels of migration and they didn’t turn round the eventual decline. The severity of the consequences of the current demographic trajectory on which Scotland is travelling does not seem to be fully appreciated."

Don't worry, secuilarists assure us Darwinian dynamics will kick in any second now and population will rise back up to the level the environment can sustain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2004 9:03 AM

Maybe not being able to ask for "coffee, black" is partly to blame for moving out?

Posted by: Rick T. at October 11, 2004 9:32 AM

Yes, your editorial is entirely correct, in time fertility levels will increase.
Note, however, that the population of Scotland isn't shrinking due primarily to a low birthrate, but because the Scots are moving elsewhere.
I suppose that one can squeeze migration into a Darwinian explanation; people will stay in Scotland when conditions cease to be more favorable elsewhere.
Until then, the Scottish people occupy an evolutionary "niche", that of people who like to be cold and lonely.

Check back in sixty years to see how it worked out.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 11, 2004 9:44 AM


Just keep telling yourself that. Maybe they'll grow fur too.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 9:56 AM

Scotland is shrinking in population because it has been a Labor-dominated sinkhole for decades. Anyone with any get up and go, just plain left whether for London or the US. Even Canada looks like a land of opportunity and freedom for someone stuck in the dreary landscape of Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Posted by: Bart at October 11, 2004 10:08 AM

Edinburgh and Glasgow are doing OK. Rest of the country-not so good.

Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at October 11, 2004 10:19 AM

Scotlands population is not only falling, it is falling at a faster rate than anywhere else in Europe.

Wow, that is really saying something.

Posted by: pchuck at October 11, 2004 10:50 AM


What, it's a lack of religion that's causing the Scots to move away ?

Try forgetting that it's Darwinism and apply some basic logic.

There are three classes of people, when it comes to reproduction:
Those who never have any children
Those who have but one child
Those who have more than one child

Given that the offspring of said people have tended to follow their parents' example, but at a lower rate, the rate of population growth has been slowing. If everybody fell into category B, then populations might eventually dwindle to nothing.

What happens when all of the people in category A and most of those in B are dead, and the world is full of category C people ?

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 11, 2004 11:08 AM


OJ has made a very simple logical error--a category mistake. He has confused territory for population.

Nowhere does that article say how many Scottish people there are, only how many of the group happen to live in Scotland.

Remember the long term emigration of the Irish? That there fewer left in Ireland over the years didn't have anything to do with the fertility of the Irish everywhere else.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 11, 2004 11:59 AM

Again, Orrin's blind anti-Evolution causes him to miss the point.

"Darwinian dynamics" have to do with reproductive success, regardless of the reasons for that success (which by the way are still being argued; so much for Darwin = Dogma).

If Group A has less offspring than Group B, Group A will decrease and Group B will increase until eventually there are no Group A left, only Group B. And these days, Europeans are Group A and Arabs are Group B.

Posted by: Ken at October 11, 2004 12:28 PM

Yeah, you can barely throw a rock in Scotland without hitting an Arab.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 1:14 PM

I see the Scots currently enduring a trying period where they jettison their own genetic deadweight. It is a process of human renewal where those who are fit and possess healthy values are having children. Those who aren't up to snuff, do not.

In the end a stronger, healthier Scottish nation will emerge. Political correctness will die in Scotland when this happens. In the future our present age will be remembered by what the Russians call "a time of troubles". Also, Arab immigration will be regarded as "the trouble with tribbles".

Don't be so pessimistic. At some point most nations, event the Scots, awaken from their slumber. These are the people, after all, who gave us our Jacksonians. There must be some fight left in those Scots.

Posted by: Leonidas at October 11, 2004 2:01 PM


Yes. They've created an undesirable culture, so it's dying.

Posted by: at October 11, 2004 2:07 PM


We skimmed the wheat, all that's left is chaff.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 2:08 PM

Uh, has anybody noticed that the Scots have been leaving Scotland for centuries, some willingly, some chased out by the opportunity society?

The Western Isles emptied out by around 1900.

Since Scotland is perhaps the most heavily churched society in Europe west of the Elbe (and maybe east, too), this seems a 'turribl' condemnation of Christianity to me.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 11, 2004 3:33 PM

You guys need to work on being a little harder to bait. This has little to do with Darwin and I suspect that OJ knows that. On the other hand, it does prove that Malthus was an idiot and anyone pretending to worry about overpopulation is just a Hitler in waiting.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 11, 2004 3:58 PM


Shhhhhhh!!!!! The kids are home today and I need amusement.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 4:07 PM


The churches are empty, the state won. Scotland lost.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 7:46 PM

"Uh, has anybody noticed that the Scots have been leaving Scotland for centuries, some willingly, some chased out by the opportunity society?"

The Scots will die out about the same time the last Americans with Scots and Scots-Irish blood die out.

Posted by: Brooks at October 11, 2004 9:58 PM


Find a pure-blooded Scot in America.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 10:41 PM

Mr. Judd;

Aren't your kids a lot more amusing than us?

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 12, 2004 12:36 AM

Only for the first 6 hours...

Posted by: oj at October 12, 2004 7:27 AM

My father-in-law and mother-in-law are both full-blooded Scots, and sixth-generation Americans. Everybody in Bear, Ark., was, until about 1980. That makes my wife a seventh-generation American and pure Scottish.

So my children are a wee bit more than 11/16ths Scottish ancestry.

And the Kirk is not as dead as you think.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 12, 2004 1:01 PM


So they told you, but there was plenty of darkie and injun mixed in already.

Posted by: oj at October 12, 2004 1:35 PM