Population Taskforce minutes: January 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Population Taskforce, held on 13 January 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Fiona Hyslop (FH), Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Chair)
  • Jamie Hepburn (JH), Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills
  • Ben Macpherson (BM), Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment
  • Richard Lochhead (RL), Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Ivan McKee (IM), Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
  • Mairi Gougeon (MG), Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing
  • Paul Wheelhouse (PW), Minister for Energy, Connectivity, and the Islands
  • Jenny Gilruth, Minister for Europe, International Development, and Migration
  • Katy Bowman (KB), Special Adviser
  • Scott Wightman (SW), Director of External Affairs
  • Rachel Sunderland (RS), Deputy Director, Population and Migration
  • Liam Kearney (LK), Population Team Leader (secretariat)
  • Ben Jones (BJ), Deputy Population Programme Manager (secretariat)
  • Cristina Thomson (CT), Population Policy Officer (secretariat)
  • Tom Holm (TH), Population Policy Officer (secretariat)
  • Elaine Campbell (EC), Senior Policy Advisor (observer)
  • David Wilson (DW)y, Programme Director, Scotland National Investment Bank (observer) 
  • Desmond Tinney (DT), Team Leader, Rural and Islands Communities (observer)
  • Lorraine Lowrie (LL), Repopulation and Communities Policy Manger (observer)
  • Cameron Anson (CA), Repopulation and Communities Policy Manger (observer)


  • Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
  • Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
  • Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing, and Planning

Items and actions

Welcome and introductory remarks

FH welcomed everyone to the meeting. FH recognised recent changes in several ministerial portfolios, and welcomed Ms Gilruth as a new member of the Task Force, with portfolio interest on migration issues. 

FH provided a brief overview of the background of the Population Programme and the Task Force’s aims, then set out the key themes to be discussed during the meeting:

  • the detail of the draft population plan scheduled to be published in spring 2021

Minutes of the previous meeting and actions MPTF21(01)02 and MPTF21(01)03 

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed. LK provided an update on the action log, noting that all actions from the previous meeting in September 2020 had been completed.

Summary of population plan draft

FH opened the discussion by explaining the context and purpose of the draft plan, along with its position in adding to existing publications on population needs produced by the Population and Migration Division. 

FH then invited officials to provide a summary to the group of the drafting process of the plan up to this stage. 

LK provided a brief overview of the draft population plan in its latest state. After a short recap of long-term demographic change trends in Scotland, LK set out the four ‘building block’ themes that had been created to provide a structure for the plan: a family friendly nation, healthy ageing, migration, and population balance. 

Feedback and next steps - MPTF21(01)05 

FH then invited the group to provide feedback on the draft plan, with particular focus on discussing the ‘Next Steps’ section. 

Comments from the group on the overall substance of the paper focused on: 

Contextualising Scotland’s long-term demographic history

The group agreed with the plan’s focus on setting out a long-term term view of Scotland’s changing population. The importance of contextualising the long arc of Scotland’s population which had drifted and changed over centuries was noted – both as a proportion of the British population and in of itself. Long-term international comparisons with other nations, such a Norway, were also suggested as useful devices to help describe both Scotland’s demographic position and its population projections. 


  • population officials to review ‘Scotland’s Population Story’ section in the draft plan, particularly with a view to strengthening the section’s long-term context with historical and international evidence

Proactive approach

The group discussed the need for the plan to emphasise a proactive approach to demographic issues – particularly in relation to infrastructure and investment, rather than an approach which responds to changes.

Framing ‘family friendly’

It was suggested that the language around ‘a family friendly nation’ be carefully considered to ensure that the messaging was inclusive towards all different kinds of family life. It was agreed that there would be a sense-checking of the language used. 


  • population officials to review the language around ‘a family friendly nation’ in the plan to ensure messaging is inclusive

Reserved and devolved powers

Due to the interdependent, cross-cutting nature of Scotland’s demographic challenge, the group felt it was important that the plan provided sufficient context about which powers were reserved and devolved respectively. The group agreed a balance needed to be struck to sharpen focus on demographic drivers in devolved policy areas, whilst also objectively stating which reserved powers at the UK level were also important drivers of demographic change too. Comparisons were made with the climate change agenda which is looking achieve similar ambitious objectives.


  • population officials to seek best practice from climate change officials in regards to setting out devolved and reserved powers that relate to demographic drivers

Previous population work

It was noted that it was important to ensure previous population publications (Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper, and Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy: Discussion) were accurately reflected in the document in terms of recent thinking in relation to migration and reserved powers.


  • population officials to review earlier publications to ensure that plan reflects previous thinking on migration and population needs

On the ‘next steps’ set out in the plan, the group commented that the section had a strong process focus. In response, there was discussion about the ways to apply a more precise policy discussion on critical issues, encouraging existing policy areas to consider issues from the demographic angle, and exploring what future interventions will address key demographic issues. 

R-UK migration

The group discussed the importance of building momentum on existing work to attract and retain working-age people from the rest of the UK, as part of the demographic challenge. Points were made about ways in which Scotland could better advertise itself as an affordable, safe, place to live with a high quality of life in a changing world. Various targeted approaches to encourage people to Scotland were discussed. These included attracting young, mobile professionals based in particularly the London and South East area, along with retaining existing students at Scottish universities. There was also discussion about adopting data-driven approaches, measuring the impact of attraction measures, and identifying best practice. 

International engagement

Group members noted opportunities for future engagement with other countries who are facing similar demographic issues as Scotland. International collaboration on demography was thought to represent a chance to develop relationships, share knowledge, and identify interventions which have produced successful demographic outcomes elsewhere. 


It was felt there was a lack focus on health inequalities in the next steps and that this would be explored within further drafting. 


  • population officials to collate any remaining comments from Task Force
  • population officials to perform an overall review of the next steps section and will create a more specific, targeted actions list in the ‘next steps’ section


LK gave details to the group about the scheduled timeline for publication in Spring 2021 (in line with Programme for Government commitment). LK also provided details about the Cabinet approval process for the draft plan and asked for comments to be received so they could be incorporated into this process.

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