Migration in Scotland

Guest blog by Carlos Vargas-Silva, Senior Researcher, University of Oxford

Today the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford launched the project Migration in Scotland.The aim of Migration in Scotland is to provide strictly independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in Scotland, to inform media, public and policy debates in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. Migration in Scotland builds and expands the work of the highly successful Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford

Immigration policy has often been unnoticed in debates on Scottish independence, but independence could have important effects on migration policy in Scotland. In the event of a “yes” vote on independence, immigration policy would be in the purview of an independent Scotland. But what might happen in an independent Scotland? To begin to answer this question, it is important to have a clear idea of the many ways in which Scotland differs from the rest of the UK, differences which already inform arguments for distinctive migration policies for Scotland. Some of the key differences between Scotland and the UK include its demographic situation, labour market structure, current migrant population and public attitudes towards immigration. The findings created by the Migration in Scotland project will cover these issues, and will also place issues related to migration in Scotland in the context of the independence debate. The discussion below summarizes the material that is currently published in the Migration in Scotland website and some of the findings that will be published in the near future.


One of the components of the Migration in Scotland project is a series of briefings that provide detailed information on the numbers, population shares and characteristics of migrants in Scotland. All briefings are accompanied by interactive charts, and provide basic data on migration accompanied by explanation of data sources and their limitations. The key points in our initial overview briefing are listed below:

Migrants in Scotland: An Overview

  • Between 2004 and 2012 the non-UK born population of Scotland increased from 204,000 to 375,000. During the same period the UK-born population of Scotland decreased from 4,810,000 to 4,804,000.
  • In 2012, Scotland’s population was estimated to be 7.2% non-UK born (up from 4.1% in 2004) and 5.5% non-British national (up from 2.5% in 2004).          
  • People born in Poland constitute the main non-UK born group in Scotland (56,000 in 2012). Polish migrants account for close to 15% of the non-UK born population of Scotland, compared to 8.4% of the non-UK born population of the UK as a whole.

Some of the other briefings currently available at the Migration in Scotland website include:

Future briefings will include a comparison of Scotland with other countries of the world in order to provide a perspective of where an independent Scotland will place relative to the rest of the world and a comprehensive overview of the key migration related variables in the soon the be released 2011 Scottish Census data.

Policy primers

The Migration in Scotland project includes a series of policy primers discussing fundamental questions and options in policy debates about migration in Scotland in light of the independence referendum. The aim is to encourage readers to “take a step back” from the every-day debate of specific policy questions and think more deeply about the fundamental issues underlying policy debates on migration and independence. Current policy primers include:

Future policy primers will include an analysis of asylum policy in the UK and its particular impact on Scotland.


The Migration in Scotland project will also include commentaries that will provide a space to address issues relating to migration as they arise in the news or in policy discussions. The first commentary (Bordering on confusion: International Migration and Implications for Scottish Independence) provides a broad look at migration in Scotland. Future commentaries will examine issues such as EU migration and its impact on overall migration trends in Scotland.

Report on public opinion towards immigration

One of the more comprehensive pieces of research that will be conducted by the Migration in Scotland project during the next few months is a report on public attitudes towards immigration and independence in Scotland. Earlier analysis – from the Migration Observatory’s survey of public attitudes in September 2011 – showed a majority support in Scotland for reducing the number of migrants coming to the UK, but this was a relatively narrow majority in Scotland and a wide majority in the rest of the UK. Other recent surveys suggest a statistically significant difference between Scotland and the UK, but not necessarily a large one. Our report on public opinion towards immigration will provide insights about the magnitude of this difference. It will also illustrate how voting intentions in the independence referendum relate to preferences regarding the optimal level of immigration.

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Carlos Vargas-Silva's picture
Guest post by Carlos Vargas-Silva
18th September 2013
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