READING the recent comment from WEF adviser Professor Sarah Harper CBE that the UK population collapse is ‘probably good for the planet’ came as no surprise, because a couple of weeks ago I was having a friendly chat with a neighbour when the dreaded subject of climate change managed to worm its way into the conversation. It basically went like this:
Neighbour: ‘Well, there are far too many people on the planet.’
Me: ‘Really?! Who told you that, and on what evidence was that opinion based?’
Her expression was one of complete shock, and I could almost hear her thoughts. Had I not heard? Was I not aware? Had I been living under a rock? I continued unabated with a few inconvenient facts such as Japan’s population now being in steep decline, and nearer to home, ‘Scotland’s Total Fertility Rate has fallen to a new low. At 1.28 it’s down from 1.30 in 2021’. And it is a well-known fact that the TFR of any country needs to be 2.1 for the population to replace itself.
Neighbour (pause): ‘Scary, but probably good for the planet.’
Me (now wearing her expression): ‘Depopulation doesn’t just mean fewer babies being born, or old people dying peacefully in their beds surrounded by family and friends: it means continuing excess deaths (currently across all age groups); miscarriages; abortions; stillbirths; neonatal deaths; suicides . . . The cold hard truth of the matter is that a decrease in population equates to human pain and suffering.’
Neighbour (defiant): ‘I don’t want any unnecessary deaths, but I do think the human population needs to decrease.’
Me (shaking my head in disbelief): ‘Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways . . . Perhaps we should start a register of volunteers specifically with your point of view who would happily sacrifice themselves. Scary, but probably good for the planet.’
I very much doubt that conversation will ever be repeated!
So, is the world’s population growing out of control? Not according to the World Bank, who report that the annual population growth by percentage has declined steadily from 2.1 per cent in 1963 to 0.8 per cent in 2022, with the populations of Western nations shrinking more than the others. If this trend continues, the current mass migration to the West will need to continue to fill employment gaps across all sectors.
Despite the prediction that Scotland’s population is expected to continue increasing until about mid-2033, peaking at 5.53million, between 2019 and 2022 there has been a deficit of 57,315 between births and deaths. In the first quarter of 2023 National Records Scotland reported an increase in deaths of 12.5 per cent higher than the first-quarter average, and birth registrations for the same period being 6.3 per cent lower. Where are the government investigations? Where are Scotland’s investigative journalists?
So, what is happening with Scotland’s birthrates? Births in Scotland saw a gradual decline between 1993 and 2002 before increasing again between 2003 and 2008, after which there has been another gradual decline, the exception being in 2021.
In terms of education, the declining numbers are already having an impact, with the number of primary school pupils decreasing from 400,312 in 2017 to 388,920 in 2022. Whether this will be compounded further by the recent initiative to allow parents to defer entry their child’s entry to primary school is not yet known, but history has a habit of repeating itself and teachers in Scotland have been here before. Owing to the gradual decrease in the birthrate between 1993 and 2002, the number of children in primary education dropped to 365,326 in 2010, with total teacher vacancies declining from 1,164 in 2005 to 354 in 2010. This was despite a pledge in the 2007 SNP manifesto which stated: ‘We will maintain teacher numbers in the face of falling school rolls to cut class sizes and place greater emphasis on teacher recruitment for the early years, languages and science.’
Now is the time for teachers and teaching unions to start asking questions about future job security, although I hope Jenny Gilruth MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, is well aware of these demographic changes and is working on not just a pledge on teacher numbers for the next SNP manifesto, but how she is going to mitigate the ramifications which will inevitably hit virtually every aspect of her remit. Perhaps the initial planning notes on her desk look something like this:
If the problem of depopulation is conveniently ignored, it will eventually leave Scotland heavily reliant on external resources – alongside diminishing communities and linguistic and cultural traditions. Hardly an ideal position to fight for Independence. In an interview with Mark Steyn, writer Louise Perry explains why immigration isn’t the answer to declining birthrates, commenting: ‘We’re not going to be able to just steal young people from other countries because they aren’t going to be enough to go around.’
With a general election on the horizon in 2024, the current SNP government might just be able to turn their backs and walk away having done no mitigation whatsoever, effectively handing the baton to the next political custodians. Time will tell, but ‘it wisnae me’ or ‘I dinnae ken’ from any political party simply won’t be acceptable to Scotland’s people.
This article appeared in Scottish Union for Education (SUE) substack newsletter No 33 and is republished by kind permission.