Understanding the Scottish rural economy: research paper

This report outlines the Scottish Government's understanding of the Scottish rural economy and presents economic and social data.


The rural economy in Scotland has grown both in terms of employment numbers and GVA. Here, it is worth distinguishing between degrees of rurality. While for example 'Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry' is a relatively larger employer in Remote areas and the Islands - despite only accounting for 4% of the GVA - it is the smallest employer in Mainly Rural areas. However, there are likely to be land management benefits which support tourism and other sectors indirectly, which are not easy to establish here.

Going beyond the comparison within rural Scotland, the Rural economy (or economies) shows a number of key similarities and differences with the Scottish economy as a whole. In general, people living in rural Scotland are slightly less likely to work in the public sector than urban Scots. For those working in the private sector they are more likely to work for small businesses, especially in the most remote areas. By GVA output sector by sector urban and rural Scotland have similar patterns, with the bulk of GVA being contributed by Wholesale, Retail and Transport; the Public Sector; Manufacturing; Business Services; and Real Estate. For two sectors, Finance; and Information and Communications there are significant Scotland level GVA contributions, but they are concentrated in urban areas.

On growth, there has not been a consistent difference between urban and rural Scotland. However, it is clear that financial services have been a poorly performing sector both in jobs and GVA terms across all urban/rural geographies. Accessible rural and Remote Rural Scotland have had different patterns of job growth overall. Growth has been more varied in Mainly Rural Scotland, with financial services declining rapidly, but professional, scientific and technical services rising rapidly. By contrast after considering data issues Remote Rural has been less variable with employment in particular very similar in 2016 to 2010.

Unemployment and inactivity tend to be lower in rural Scotland, but much of this may be the effect of an outflow of working age people to urban Scotland in search of improved job opportunities. The demographic challenges have been covered in other work and are well known, but clearly Scotland's ageing population issues are most acute in some of the most remote areas. Continuing access to new labour and migration can help to mitigate this.

Wages and Earnings do show some differences between rural and urban Scotland, with the highest wages being in Accessible Rural Scotland, and lower wages in the remote and urban areas. The gender pay gap (when measured crudely by median incomes) also shows that Remote Rural women have the lowest median wage and the biggest gender pay gap in Scotland.

This paper does not recommend policy prescriptions, but merely seeks sets out the current position of the rural economy.


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