Martin Williams, The Herald (Glasgow), March 14, 2008
Scotland’s population is at its healthiest level for more than 20 years thanks to a mini baby-boom which saw 57,000 births registered last year—one-third of them by Eastern European parents.
Figures released yesterday by the Registrar General Office for Scotland show there were more children born in 2007 than any year since 1997.
The increase of 2000 births on the previous year is the fifth annual increase in a row and was welcomed by the Scottish Government as a sign that initiatives to get Europeans to settle in Scotland had worked.
It marks a dramatic turnaround from four years ago when the then First Minister Jack McConnell labelled the falling population a “demographic timebomb” and the “biggest single challenge facing Scotland”.
Almost half of last year’s babies were to mothers born in Scotland, said Registrar General Duncan Macniven. But one in three were to mothers born in the Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004.
At the same time the number of marriages fell, and is now nearing its lowest level since Victorian times. Some 49.1% of last year’s births were to unmarried parents.
The new provisional statistics show a total of 57,781 births which, despite its 20-year peak, is well below the levels of the 1970s and 1980s, when they were well over 60,000 in most years.
The figures show that Scotland’s population has steadily increased since 2003 when the population was 5.06 million. In 2006 it had risen to 5.12 million—the highest since 1985—and all the signs are that there will be a further increase in 2007.
Four years ago, it was judged that Scotland’s demographic decline was among the most chronic in Europe.
Based on trends, the Government Actuary expected numbers living in Scotland to dwindle, from 5,062,011 at the April 2001 census to below five million by 2009 and below four million in 2041. Its population had been falling for two decades and no region in the UK had a lower birth rate.
The fertility rate peaked at 3.1 births per woman at the height of the baby boom in 1964. By 1972, the rate had fallen below the key “replacement level” of 2.1. It slipped below 1.5 in 2001, making it the lowest of the four UK countries.
The total of 52,432 births recorded in 2003 was 712 more than in the preceding year, but half the number recorded in the early 1960s.
It drove Jack McConnell to unveil a website, scotlandistheplace.com, which was designed to sell the virtues of living and working in the country to potential migrants. It formed part of the Fresh Talent initiative, a drive launched in February, 2004 to encourage 8000 more skilled people annually to put down roots in Scotland.
A Scottish Government spokesman said there was a consensus that Fresh Talent worked and it was an initiative the SNP administration was keen on continuing.
Mr Macniven said: “The rise in the birth rate certainly paints a more positive picture for Scotland’s population and, since this is the fifth annual increase in a row, it is not a short-term change.
“The rise in the birth rate, coupled with increased immigration, means that Scotland’s population is projected to stay above the five million mark until the 2070s, instead of the 2030s as previously forecast.”