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European incomers prop up Scotland's falling population

The influx of job hunters from Eastern Europe saw nearly double the number of immigrants arrive in Scotland last year compared with 2005, new figures showed yesterday.

The arrival of workers from EU accession countries such as Poland and Lithuania has changed the face of cities and towns and is also credited with keeping Scotland's dwindling population above the crucial five million mark. The population increased for the fourth year in a row, rising to 5,116,900 in 2006, official figures show. That was up 22,100 on the previous year and 52,700 more than in mid-2001, according to statistics issued by the General Register Office for Scotland.

Yet despite the increases, the figures showed that the long-term trends for Scotland are stark: people are having fewer children, living longer and even although more migrants are coming to live in Scotland, they are not doing so in large enough numbers to arrest the population's long-term decline. In his last review of the future for Scotland's population, Duncan Macniven, the registrar-general, warned the revival he has recorded over five years may only be temporary. Sketchy forecasts for as far ahead as 2074 suggest the Scottish population will have fallen as low as 4.28 million.

Under Jack McConnell, the Scottish Executive introduced the Fresh Talent initiative to attract skilled migrants to Scotland, but last night Dr John Bone, of Aberdeen University, said political policies were failing to address the real causes of population decline. He said: "Immigration is a good thing for our country as it creates an open society where people are not parochial any more, but what government is not working towards is establishing the kind of infrastructure it takes to help these people and others establish stable lives. "Unless immigrants arrive and stay in Scotland, their numbers are only a short-term fix to Scotland's falling population."

Dr Bone, a sociology lecturer at Aberdeen University, said that falling birth rates were due in a large part to soaring house prices. "People are postponing relationships and then postponing children because it is taking them ever longer to get on the housing ladder and when they do both have to work just to service their large mortgage." The statistics showed that in 2006, Scotland had a net migration gain of 21,200 people. That was made up of 8,900 people from the rest of the UK and 12,700 from overseas, including asylum seekers - in 2005 there was a net gain of 7,300 from abroad.

About 53,300 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and 44,400 left Scotland to go in the opposite direction. Over the year 42,200 people came to Scotland from overseas and 29,500 left Scotland to either return home or settle abroad. Of council areas, Aberdeenshire had the largest percentage population increase in 2005-6 at 1.4%. The City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Moray, Stirling and West Lothian also had increases of 1% or more.

Scotland's average population density was 66 people per square kilometer and ranged from eight people per square kilometer in Highland Council area to 3,309 persons per square kilometer in Glasgow City Council area. More people died than were born in Scotland in 2006 - meaning in future there will be fewer Scots in the labour market paying tax to keep their dependents. The latest figures show that there were 300 more deaths than births.

However, that is an improvement on 2005, when deaths outnumbered births by 2,300. Overall in Scotland in 2006, births were up by 1.3%, while deaths were down by 2.3%. Immigration has also made Scotland's population younger, as statistically people aged between 16 and 34 are most likely to seek work in another country. Nearly 70% of all immigrants in Scotland were in this age group in 2006. (