Positive change in internal migration

Flow from rest of UK to Scotland on the rise.

People moving from the rest of the UK have boosted the population in Scotland by 137,000 over the past two decades, according to a new report.

The Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on Migration and Population study found the historical trend of Scotland being a nation of net population outflow has been reversed.

Out-migration rates, especially for those in their late 20s and early 30s, have significantly declined over the past decades, indicating an increased likelihood of students from Scotland and the rest of the UK staying in Scotland after their studies.

While most big cities (except Edinburgh) experienced negative net migration with the rest of the UK in the beginning of this century, those patterns have changed: all cities (except Aberdeen and surrounding areas) now receive more migrants from the rest of the UK than they lose to the rest of the UK.

The report also highlights that increased collaboration between local authorities and national government is key to ensuring policy initiatives to tackle population challenges, such as local schemes to encourage inward migration, are effective.

Migration Minister Ben Macpherson welcomed the report’s findings but warned that Scotland faces population challenges against a backdrop of a record low in the birth rate.

Mr Macpherson said:

“This independent report highlights that more people are moving to Scotland from the rest of the UK than are going in the other direction. That is welcome news, but we still face significant population challenges set against a backdrop of a record fall in the birth rate. People born abroad form a significant portion, one-fifth, of migrants between Scotland and the UK; and they move in both directions. As this Expert Advisory Group report highlights, analysis does not support any assertions that international migrants mostly move from Scotland to England – instead, people mostly stay and settle in Scotland.

“All of Scotland’s population growth over the next 25 years is projected to come from migration. If EU migration in Scotland falls to half current levels then our working age population would decline by 1% and the proportion of children by 4.5%. As well as continuing to use our devolved powers to attract more people from the rest of the UK and beyond, increasingly we require new powers and initiatives to enable the Scottish Government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to deliver tailor-made policies and solutions, to meet Scotland’s needs and address our demographic challenges.

“We are working with Councils across the country on policy issues relating to population and migration, collaborating with COSLA and representatives from local authorities to drive this work forward.”

Christina Boswell, Chair of the EAG on Population and Migration, said:

"Internal migration within Scotland, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK, has received far less attention than migration from overseas. But these flows are an important part of overall migration, with significant impacts for places of origin and destination. As migrants tend to be younger and more qualified than those who stay, they bring economic benefits and dynamism to the (mainly urban) areas they move to.

“The counterpart is that places of origin often experience population decline and ageing, and labour shortages in key sectors. This makes it really important to understand the drivers of internal migration, so that Scottish and local government can work together to attract and retain migration to the areas that need it most.”


Read the EAG’s report ‘Internal Migration in Scotland and the UK: Trends and Policy Lessons’. 

The independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (hyperlink here) was established in October 2018. The purpose is to provide independent expert analysis and advice to Scottish Government ministers on migration and population.



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