Population Taskforce minutes: October 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Population Taskforce, held on 6 October 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Angus Robertson (AR), Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Chair)
  • Humza Yousaf (HY), Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care
  • Mairi Gougeon (MG), Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
  • Jenny Gilruth (JG), Minister for Culture, Europe, and International Development
  • Tom Arthur (TA), Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth
  • Clare Haughey (CH), Minister for Children and Young People
  • Patrick Harvie (PH), Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights
  • Richard Lochhead (RL), Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Scott Wightman (SW), Director of External Affairs
  • Liam Kearney (LK), Population Team Leader (secretariat)
  • Ben Jones (BJ), Deputy Population Programme Manager (secretariat)
  • Ewan Crawford (EC), Special Advisor
  • Esther Roughsedge (ER), Statistician, National Records of Scotland


  • Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government
  • Graeme Day, Minister for Transport
  • Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People
  • Marie Todd, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health, and Sport
  • Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training
  • Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation

Items and actions

Welcome and introductory remarks

AR welcomed taskforce members to the meeting and offered a special welcome to new taskforce members who had joined the group.

AR provided an overview of the cross-cutting population programme approach, commenting on the scale of the demographic challenge and how it touches upon many areas of government. AR set out that the taskforce is due to meet quarterly, and will be supported by a number of official groups, including the population programme board, as it progresses its work.

National Records of Scotland presentation

ER provided an overview of demographic change in Scotland and its implications. ER highlighted trends of falling birth rates, an increasingly ageing population, migration and the ending of freedom of movement. ER also demonstrated that each local area of Scotland experiences a different population challenge, from population growth in Central and Eastern Scotland, to depopulation in areas on the West, and in some rural communities. LK followed these slides with a summary of the Population Strategy and the actions published in March 2021.

Taskforce members discussed a range of points relating to the presentation. Among the key points included, the drivers of falling and record low birth rates in Scotland, the factors shaping acute depopulation and how Scottish Government can address these issues, labour market shortages and the links to long-term population levels, the unique position of Scotland’s demographic challenges when compared to the rest of the United Kingdom’s population profile, and the need to go further to arrest unacceptable trends of stalling life expectancy improvement and health inequality.

Terms of reference (MPTF21(02)02)

LK set out the draft terms of reference (MPTF21(02)02). These outlined the role of taskforce in supporting the Scottish Government’s cross-cutting response to demographic change. Taskforce members agreed they were broadly content with the terms of reference included.

PH proposed a minor alteration to the wording around the taskforce’s long-term vision for the Programme. It was agreed that special advisers should find suitable wording to address the concern.


  • minor wording alteration to the Population Programme vision was subsequently agreed, the overarching vision now reads - 'to make communities across Scotland attractive places to live, work, bring up families and to move to, so that Scotland’s population profile provides a platform for economic success, prosperity and wellbeing' 

Population programme priorities (MPTF21(02)03)

SW provided context on the programme priorities paper (MPTF21(02)03) circulated in advance on the meeting. He set out three priorities for the programme over the next 12 months, delivering on the initial 36 actions identified in the Population Strategy, embedding demographic considerations into new Programme for Government commitments where appropriate, and identifying gaps and areas for new activity.

Taskforce members discussed the priorities paper. It was agreed that the population programme should incorporate the identified areas of work into a detailed work plan. Taskforce members also raised a number of additional areas to be considered in future work considerations and the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda, considering how constitutional factors affected Scotland’s ability to address its demographic challenge, continuing to understand the impact of the ending of freedom of movement, and making most effective use of the powers at the Scottish Government’s disposal. AR indicated that time should be given at the next meeting of the taskforce to explore some of these points in greater depth.

Taskforce members also highlighted the importance of developing a communications approach to raise public awareness of the long-term significance of Scotland’s demographic challenge. LK invited taskforce members to note that the Population Programme, in collaboration with communications colleagues, had held a workshop to inform the design of a strategic communications approach on population.


  • following agreement on areas for future activity identified in the population programme priorities paper (MPTF21(02)03), population officials to report back to the taskforce (through population programmed board) with a detailed work plan in February 2022
  • a proposed communications approach on Scotland’s demographic challenges, recognising the points made during the meeting by taskforce members, to be presented as a substantive agenda item for consideration at the next taskforce meeting in February 2022


No other business was raised.

AR adjourned the meeting.

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