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Increased migration to Scotland from the rest of the UK

In the last 20 years, more people have been moving to Scotland from the rest of the UK, reversing the long-held trend of people leaving Scotland to live elsewhere.

Led by Centre for Population Change (CPC) Co-Director Professor Hill Kulu and Professor David Bell, the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Population and Migration has prepared a report on how migration between the rest of the UK and Scotland contributes to Scotland’s demography.

Before 2001, more people migrated out of Scotland than came to live here. But since then, people moving from the rest of the UK have increased Scotland’s population by 137,000.

CPC PhD candidate Nicholas Campisi also worked on the report, conducting data analysis and preparing a set of maps. The map (right) shows that all cities, except Aberdeen and its surrounding areas, receive more migrants from the rest of the UK than they lose. While most big cities (except Edinburgh) experienced negative net migration to the rest of the UK at the beginning of this century, those patterns have changed.

Professor Kulu comments: “Scotland has enjoyed positive net migration from outside of Scotland of around 20,000 annually over the past two decades. Around two-fifths of these flows represent migration between Scotland and the rest of the UK. This contrasts with the second half of the twentieth century when Scotland lost its population to the rest of the UK (and overseas). Our research finds that young people who leave England to study in Scotland are often deciding to stay in Scotland after their studies.

“At the same time, we found that overall movement between Scotland and the rest of the UK has declined. While the reasons behind this are complex, changes in the job market, improved telecommunication and increased ability to work from home are important.

“It will be interesting to see how this trend develops in the future, especially if working at home continues to remain high following the boost during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Christina Boswell, Chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Population and Migration, said: “Internal migration within Scotland, and between Scotland and the rest of the UK, has received far less attention than migration from overseas. But these flows are an important part of overall migration, with significant impacts for places of origin and destination. As migrants tend to be younger and more qualified than those who stay, they bring economic benefits and dynamism to the (mainly urban) areas they move to.

“The counterpart is that places of origin often experience population decline and ageing, and labour shortages in key sectors. This makes it really important to understand the drivers of internal migration, so that Scottish and local government can work together to attract and retain migration to the areas that need it most.”


Read the full report ‘Internal Migration in Scotland and the UK: Trends and Policy Lessons’.

Published online by the Centre for Population Changes on 3 September 2020 and reproduced with permission by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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