03 December 2013

S4M-08461 Scotland’s Census

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-08461, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on Scotland’s census.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The Labour amendment states that

“the census demonstrates that Scotland’s population is ageing faster than that of the rest of the UK”.

Numbers are funny things. Table 4 in the registrar general’s report shows that in 2012 we had 59 people per 100 in dependency, that in 2017 the number will drop to 58 and that in 2022 it will drop to 57. Rod Campbell was right to point to the difficulties with the way in which we calculate the figure, because the way in which it is calculated means that I am considered to be in dependency, as is my good friend Gil Paterson. It is done simply by age, not by whether we are still working and in employment. That is equally true for the rest of the UK—I am not saying that Scotland is any different—and it shows that we need to be careful about the numbers.

Two members have claimed that there have been 23 censuses in Scotland, but I think that there have been 21, because there have been 22 periods of 10 years since 1801 and there was no census in 1941. That is, unless we count the Dál Riata census of approximately 670 AD, which was conducted in part of Scotland by the Irish. In England, of course, the first census was the Domesday book of 1086. However, in modern times, there have probably been 21 censuses in Scotland.

I felt so uncomfortable with what Patricia Ferguson said about cars that I popped out to get the up-to-date numbers. I can tell the chamber that the number of cars per household is substantially lower in London than in Glasgow. The reason for that is not economic; it is that London has a first-class public transport system. Someone who lives in London would probably not want to own a car, and I suspect that I would not, either. The figure for Beijing is higher than that for any city in Scotland, and it is higher than the figure for London. We need to be careful with numbers.

The interesting thing for me is that the figures in table 6 in the registrar general’s report show that I am in a cohort of 137,000 people. In 10 years’ time, should I be spared, I will be in a cohort of 104,000, and five years later I will be in a cohort of 82,000.

As part of my preparation for the debate, I went on to the ScotlandsPeople website and ended up very puzzled. According to the website, in 2012 there were 133,322 registrations, which is so far adrift from the numbers in the report that I had to find out why. To my immense bafflement—I have not yet worked out why this should be the case—a number of births appear multiple times in the registrations. I even found someone in the city of Edinburgh—because they are still living, I will not make specific reference to them—who has been registered three times with three different names. There are quite a lot of examples of that, so we need to be careful. One of my wife’s relatives appears twice in the census because they were counted both at home and while they were away somewhere else.

In my constituency, at least 19 languages are used in the local school in Peterhead. My nephews and nieces are in eight countries around the world. Presiding Officer, migration is an essential part of the modern world and censuses help to measure what is going on.


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