To quote Holyrood magazine which has proved itself pretty adept at putting its finger on the pulse of the moment:
“Scotland’s population has reached its highest ever level. Official census figures published at the end of last year revealed that the number of people living in the country has climbed to 5,295,000 – up nearly 5 per cent since the previous census in 2001.”
This is revolutionary stuff. I grew up in a Scotland that had almost as many people but it also had 250 operating coal mines employing 80,000 people, 38 shipyards giving work to another 100,000. The great majority of all of them went on holiday to Largs or Dunoon or Arran or Arbroath or North Berwick or—if you were really adventurous and/or on the cutting edge—to Butlin’s camp at Ayr.
As my grannie used to say: “Ah’ve seen the day—but noo it’s nicht!”
In the intervening fifty years, we’ve seen major social upheavals and some pretty rough times. Some of them were caused by arthritic attitudes in once-major Scottish companies: the North British Locomotive Company built superb steam locomotives right up into the sixties when there was no more market; Clydeside yards built ships with rivets long after welding became better and cheaper. Others were caused by UK governments also with their heads equally stuck in the past. They gave us Linwood and Ravenscraig and Monktonhall—all doomed dinosaur efforts to pretend we were still a major player in heavy engineering stakes.
But in the past decade (present recession excluded) things have gone much better to the point that we’ve seen 250,000 more Scots and found whisky, finance, oil, tourism and renewables to be businesses bringing steady wealth with a good future. In fact, those buoyant industries, while not shielding us from the recession, have made us—perhaps for the first time in a century—appear to be doing better than our English cousins. The result has been barely a pause in the number of immigrants.
Not all developments are good news. For the first time, the number of Scots over 65 exceeds those under 15. In 20 years, there will be 2 1/2 times as many people over 85 and the jury is out whether they will be healthier or need even more medical care than the present generation. But with smoking and alcohol binges declining in most of the population (even if it isn’t among the young), there is hope to be cheerful.
So, what sort of country can we expect Scotland to be in 20 years? Not one that my grandparents would recognise because there is every chance that the pains of de-industrialisation that we suffered in the latter half of the twentieth century may have prepared us for a better future. Let’s consider the General Register Office for Scotland’s population projections. Broken down by council area, these point to a major population shift to the East and North at the expense of the West. This can be seen in the chart ranked by population change 2012-2032.
While the Scottish population is expected to increase to 5.54m (from present 5.25m) the old Strathclyde area will stagnate at best and lose as much as 17.5% in Inverclyde. The only city expected to beat the average is Edinburgh. Growth will dominate in the rural eastern areas, with East Lothian leading at 33%—equivalent to one new resident for every three already there.
Examining the other above-average growth areas and they are largely rural, with pleasant towns and high quality of life. Those areas on this list that contain major urban areas like Fife will see more growth in the East Neuk than in Kirkcaldy or Dunfermline, with any growth in those towns being dormitory outliers of Edinburgh. Aside from the 70-80,000 growth in the Northeast and Highland, the bulk of Scotland’s growth will be over 200.000 new residents of the Edinburgh City Region. While some will be from elsewhere in Scotland, most will be immigrants.
This is a massive opportunity for Scotland. Whereas its earlier growth periods, whether it was the tobacco barons of the late 18th century or the ship magnates of the late 19th, people were shoehorned into the great Glasgow conurbation with little or no planning. This resulted in severe social deprivation for many and an understandable growth of union and socialist movements to combat it. And when our heavy industry disappeared, a lot of the pride and purpose went with it.
But we know, ahead of time, we need houses and jobs for a quarter of a million people and they need to be provided in the Edinburgh City Region Plan. Given that most jobs will be office or creative as finance recovers, advertising and design flourish and service in restaurants and hotels will boom on the back of tourism and our second-to-none food and drink offerings, there is no reason not to scatter many of those jobs outside already-busy Edinburgh. The Linlithgows and Kelsos, the Dunbars and Dollars, the Peebles and Pittenweems that already attract commuters would benefit from office space and telecommuters that would revitalise their high streets and give them the buzz that tourists like to visit.
If someone in the Scottish Government that has shown such vision with much else would kindly ignite a large rocket up Scottish Enterprise’ somnambulant bum as to the potential here, we’d be on the right road. While they’re at it, they might also firmly bang together the heads of Planning in those councils on the right side of the chart above and we could have ourselves quite a boom. That would put Scotland not just on the map but into the Arc of Prosperity on a basis our Scandinavian neighbours would welcome onto the Nordic Council.
We don’t need another steel plant or Hyundai haven or any other third-world short-term manufacturing soak up of inward investment grants. We should be growing our own businesses building wind, tide and wave turbines, specialising in the canny banking for which we were famous before Canary Wharf’s canary braces Lords of the Universe got their grubby hands on RBS & BoS, exporting salmon, world-class seafood, venison, etc, marketing single malt variants the way the French do wine.
Being independent would surely help. Not only would we not have to depend on hooray henries haw-hawing their way around global trade fairs pretending to represent us but we’d have the money to pay off our share of Broon’s Billions and get back to investing in our own future, trading with our old friends across the North Sea. Having proper Scottish forces based at Leuchars, Rosyth, Glencorse, Redford, Lossie, Fort George and Faslane would be a bonus for local economies. Might even power us past the 300,000 growth projected.
Then, with a model that has been shown to work boosting Edinburgh City Region into the Milan/Munich class of world-leading areas in lifestyle, we reformulate it to work on the Dundee and Glasgow City Regions to restore them to the dynamic they both once shared. Stand on Dundee Law or Lyle Park above Greenock and look at the view. Are you telling me either should be losing population? ALL of Scotland has a future—we just need to get off our caterwauling knees and build it.