A great place to live – just not as great as some claim

Today, Joan McAlpine MSP and the SNP put out a media release claiming that since the SNP came to power in 2007, over 820,000 people from elsewhere in the UK had chosen to live in Scotland.  The release also stated that “migration statistics show there are 100,000 more people in Scotland as a result”.

This, according to the South of Scotland MSP, is because “More people are choosing to make Scotland their home than ever before because of our positive vision for the future of a better, wealthier, greener and safer country. And as an independent nation we will continue to welcome those who want to live in Scotland and play their part in our society.  That is why more people are choosing to live here than moving the other way, with 100,000 more settling in Scotland.”

The claim caused some consternation on Twitterland, so ever the intrepid data wonk, the burd decided to visit the General Registers of Scotland’s website to find out.  Not very helpfully, there is no link on the SNP website to its data source for the 820,000 and 100,000 figures.  UPDATE:  A link to the data used was helpfully provided via Twitter by Paul Togneri.  The SNP has used quarterly figures published by GROS – which Paul rightly pointed out to me was merged with National Archives to form National Records of Scotland (NRS) from April 2011.

Looking at migration from and to the rest of the UK from 2007 to 2010 (the last available year on GROS website), these are the figures provided for each year:

In flow Out flow Net flow
2007 51,500 42,700 8,800
2008 53,300 41,800 11,500
2009 45,400 41,300 4,100
2010 47,000 43,500 3,500
197,200 169,300 27,900

By no stretch of the imagination do the figures come close to those claimed by the SNP MSP.   What might account for the discrepancy?  I also looked at migration to and from overseas for the same period:

inflow outflow net flow
2007 37,800 21,000 16,800
2008 38,500 30,800 7,700
2009 42,700 25,200 17,500
2010 46,100 24,600 21,500
165,100 101,600 63,500

Even supposing a mistake was made distinguishing between migration in and out of Scotland from the rest of the UK and that from overseas, adding the two inflows together still does not account for the 820,000 claimed.  According to the country’s official statutory organisation for recording demographic information, the total from both sources is still only 362,300.  But adding the totals for net flow together does account for the 100,000 more people choosing to settle in Scotland under the SNP Government:  it’s actually under 100,00 at 91,400 but close enough to allow the benefit of the doubt.  100,000 does after all have a nice ring to it.

So the figures from the SNP are hokum.  Which is a shame, for this controversy detracts from what is essentially a good news story.

UPDATE:  the figures are not quite hokum – they do exist as quarterly in and outflows.  It’s the methodology that’s hokum.  You don’t add together quarterly figures to arrive at annual or multiple annual totals.  If you did, that’s what GROS/NRS would have done.  But it doesn’t. 

In the 2007 demographic trends annual review: “In the year to 30 June 2007, around 51,500 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and around 42,700 people left Scotland to go in the opposite direction.”

In the 2008 demographic trends annual review: “In the year to 30 June 2008, around 53,300 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and around 41,800 people left Scotland for the rest of the UK. The net gain of around 11,500 is higher than the previous year’s net gain of 8,800.”

In the 2009 demographic trends annual review: “In the year to 30 June 2009, around 45,400 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and around 41,300 people left Scotland for the rest of the UK. The net gain of around 4,100 is lower than the previous year’s net gain of 11,500, mainly because of a drop in the number of people coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK.

In the 2010 demographic trends annual review: “In the year to 30 June 2010, around 47,000 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and around 43,500 people left Scotland for the rest of the UK. The net gain of around 3,500 is lower than the net gains of 12,000 in 2008 and 4,200 in 2009, mainly because of a drop in the number of people coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK.”

There are not over 100,000 more people from elsewhere in the UK living in Scotland:  the net population gain is just under 28,000.

In this respect, the release is correct – under the SNP, more people from both within the UK and elsewhere, have chosen to live and work in Scotland.  And essentially, fewer people have chosen to leave these shores to start new lives in foreign climes.  Indeed, there has even been less of a brain drain down south.

But the trends are not quite as positive as the SNP’s release suggests.   The net flow between Scotland and the rest of the UK has slowed to a trickle, with fewer choosing to settle here, but crucially, more choosing to leave to move down south (or indeed to Wales or Northern Ireland).   This has little to do with the quality of government and everything to do with the recession.  The same movements would most likely have been recorded under an administration of a different political hue.

Moreover, while I – and many others – might see it as good news that more people are choosing to come and live in Scotland from overseas, there are many narrow-minded individuals and indeed, political parties and institutions that could interpret the increase in people migrating here as evidence of weak immigration rules.  Scotland is far from full-up, there is plenty of space and opportunity and we want and need more people to live here.  The increasing net flow of migrants from overseas simply emphasises how important long term infrastructure and demographic planning is to ensure that pressure on services and particularly, housing are met adequately.

There are also still more people leaving Scotland for new lives abroad than chose to do so when the SNP came to power.  Instinct suggests that some of this number might be accounted for by short term economic migrancy, but the figures are headline ones, without deeper analysis of the whys, whos and whatfors.  We all know that during the boom years, Scotland welcomed many Poles into our communities and from our own experience, we know that many of them have returned home, now that work opportunities have dried up.  But we cannot tell if the numbers leaving Scotland are accounted for by such individuals and families, or by Scots choosing to upsticks.

Generally, the picture is still a highly positive one, the overall trend is good.  More and more people think Scotland is a great place to live, to work in, to retire to and to raise a family in.  Joan McAlpine MSP is spot on in this regard.  It’s just not quite as great a place as she claims it is.


13 thoughts on “A great place to live – just not as great as some claim

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  3. Lets get a bit of perspective here.

    What are these figures going to be used for. People might think that a government would deliberately make up things to suit their own political agenda.

    They could make up statistics about the weapons of mass destruction a country has, or how long it would take to launch these weapons to attack somewhere, lets say somewhere like London.

    They could then use these dodgy statistics to maybe launch an illegal war or something like that.

    That could never happen could it? Oh hold on it has happened. I wonder which party would stoop so low as to use dodgy statistics to start a war.

    Get back to me when the first person is killed because of the immigration figures.

    • Yeah, because so long as a lie isn’t used to start a war it’s fine.

      • I think there is a need for perspective but essentially I’m with you Steve, all lies or sloppy work using data to create a misleading narrative is worrying.

    • what the figures are being used for is to create a narrative that builds a positive case for independence – that under the SNP more people in the UK want to live in Scotland and share in our bounty. To undermine that case with sloppy data analysis (as it seems to have been) than any deliberate attempt to mislead potentially undermines the whole shebang. holes in the dyke. In any event, the SNP is better than this, or should be.

      Perspective yes – not as serious as telling lies to go to war, but if this kind of activity leads people to vote no in a referendum then I know plenty Nats of decades of commitment who will be pretty unforgiving.

  4. You are spot on, the SNP basically quadrupled the true figure by being stupid. I can’t believe the abuse you got on twitter for being able to add up.

    Well done you!

  5. What a daft hostage to give to fortune. The SNP don’t need to descend to this level – they should leave the mud-wrestling to the Unionists.

  6. Shame indeed, and they may pay for this with at least some of their hard-won credibility. The usual suspects in the press could make much hay with such sloppiness. That the figures on their own are good enough makes it all the more sad. On the bright side, it doesn`t happen often, and shouldn`t be allowed to happen again.

    • ‘Usual Supects’ – Little bit unfair as they have done something wrong here.
      The ‘usual suspects’ am sure also jumped around about these figures when they thought they were true!

      It is just a stupid mistake, but still – the SNP’s main asset is they can be trusted, the smell of nationalism leading them to make things up will bring back Labour and their great ability to skew figures and just plain misrepresent them.

      But as Burd points out – their relatively good figures anyway – so the spin isn’t ‘spin’ just really lazy work – which again looks a bit bad.

      In the end its just a silly mistake and down right sloppiness as you say.

  7. When I saw the numbers quoted (820000), I thought jeez, a lot of people must`ve left then cos surely we`d notice a population increase of nearly a million in our day-to-day lives, so thanks for this analysis, Kate. Methinks one K.Farq will be grateful too – be interesting to see how this develops cos it is a bit of a howler…..
    Now get back to that steak pie !

    • Not for anyone’s benefit other than mine. Just don’t like sloppy methodology and spinning, when none was needed. The actual annual figs accumulated by GROS are a good enough news story in their own right. Shame they didn’t just use them.

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