Evidencing population change on Scotland’s islands

Andrew Copus, Jonathan Hopkins & Ruth Wilson, The James Hutton Institute

Population trends in remote and sparsely populated areas of Scotland have recently been attracting attention: on the one hand, the potential impact of post-Brexit immigration policy is giving rise to concerns regarding the availability of working age residents; on the other hand, the creation of the National Islands Plan offers opportunities for reinvigoration and revival.

A new SEFARI case study, published today, examines trends in the Scottish islands to try to understand the nature of recent change and its implications for local and national policy. The study notes the shortcomings of official data sources: population projections assume the continuation of existing patterns and do not consider sudden changes in the conditions that attract or drive away local residents; and the risk of inaccuracy of intercensal estimates increases over time. Alternative indicators, such as school roll records and GP patient lists, offer localised and up-to-date data but can be difficult to interpret in a meaningful way.

One source of data that is often overlooked by policy analysts is that of the observations of local residents. Members of the local community are usually sensitive to changes in the way migration is affecting the population, and often have a sophisticated understanding of the complex factors at play in population change.

The Islands Revival project is exploring the potential of this local knowledge, by collecting observations of “green shoots” of population turnaround from across the Scottish islands and showcasing them through this blog. This comes at an important time for the Scottish islands, with consultations on the National Islands Plan currently under way, and offers a chance for island communities to inform local action and national policy.

We are currently inviting contributions that highlight aspects of positive population change from across the Scottish islands and beyond. If you have an observation or evidence that you would like to share, see here for further details or get in touch with any questions. Keep an eye on Twitter (@IslandsRevival and #islandsrevival) for updates.

Islands Revival is funded by the Scottish Government-funded SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Initiative. It is a knowledge exchange project between The James Hutton InstituteCoDeLSRUC and Community Land Scotland.

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