This is one of my favourite graphs from the book. It’s one that I can stare for a while and even still sometimes I notice something interesting about Scotland’s history just by looking at how its population has changed.
The line shows Scotland’s population in each year and should be read against the left axis. As you can see, the population increased from about 3 million in 1855 to reach about 5 million by 1940, then plateaued for decades, followed by an uptick in the last decade that brought it to its present 5.4 million. For contrast, England’s population has grown more rapidly, from about 16 million to 55 million over this time with much of this growth, unlike Scotland, taking place during the 20th century.
The red bars show the annual growth rate. Through the late 1800s the growth rate varied between 0.5% to 1.0%. Although this annual growth rate may seem small, the change over several decades compounds to produce a significant 50% increase over the first 50 years of this graph.
Scotland’s population growth appears to come to an attend at the time of the First World War, but a close look at the data shows that the two negative bars indicating population decline are before the war in 1912 and 1913. Growth resumes at a muted rate from 1914. (I’m not sure what the explanation is for this oddity. If you know, please get in touch.)
After a brief spurt, the growth rate falters again in the mid to late 1920s but remains positive through much of the 1930s until the outbreak of the Second World War. From 1940 to 1944 there is the biggest historical exodus from Scotland as people leave to join the war effort, but this is reversed in the late forties as people return, at least the ones that were lucky enough to survive.
Hidden in that post-war spike in growth rates is an increase in birth rates. You can see a clue for this by looking at the population: it is higher after the war-time dip than before it. In other words, despite the deaths due to war, the net result was to increase Scotland’s population, by about 100,000 between 1939 and 1949.
The second half of the twentieth century was a period of decline with the growth rate often being negative as deaths outnumber births. Also, there was more emigration out of Scotland than immigration into it.
The next big change came in 2004 when the growth suddenly leapt to 0.3% having been zero or negative in preceding years. And the growth rate went higher still, reaching 0.7% in 2007 and 2011. Such sustained growth had not been seen in Scotland for over a century.
The explanation, of course, is that many new states joined the EU in 2004 and many people in eastern European countries such as Poland chose to exercise their new rights as EU citizens to come to Scotland to live and work. Of course, this wave of immigration was not just confined to Scotland but was present throughout the UK.
The next post will take a closer look at how and why the population has changed.