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Does Scotland attract only four per cent of the UK’s immigrants?

The first leaders debate between Scottish party leaders was a fiery affair, with testy exchanges over independence, the NHS and the ‘rape clause’.

One major point of contention was immigration. Nicola Sturgeon criticised Conservative policy on cutting net immigration to below 100,000 and argued that a radical reduction in EU migrants would lead to “economic catastrophe”.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

In response, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson accused the SNP of failing to attract people into the country, and cited statistics which she said showed Scotland was taking in a disproportionately low number of immigrants.


Ferret Fact Service has taken a look at this claim and found it to be false.


Statistics on immigration to the UK are provided in a number of ways.

The four per cent that Ruth Davidson referred to during the BBC debate on May 21 and on Good Morning Scotland on May 26 is, according to the Scottish Conservatives, based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is the recognised statistical institute in the UK.

It publishes yearly and quarterly statistics on migration to and from the UK, which is broken down by region.

However, the statistics provided by the Conservatives, which cover up to 2015, do not show Scotland’s immigration at four per cent either on inflow (the number of people coming into Scotland) or net (the number of people coming in compared to those who leave) indicators.

The 2015 data shows Scotland was the destination of approximately 37,000 people coming to settle in the UK in 2015, while the UK as a whole took in 631,000. This puts Scotland’s proportion of incoming migrants at 5.86 per cent, which is slightly higher than Ruth Davidson’s claim of four per cent but still well below Scotland’s proportion of population.

It is possible the statistic of four per cent comes from 2014, where the net proportion was 3.8 per cent, but that data is now more than two years out of date.

The most recent statistical evidence on Scottish migrants is found in the National Records of Scotland (NRS) mid-year population estimates.

Nicola Sturgeon referred to this data in response to the Tory leader’s claim during the debate, saying that in fact that while Scotland does make up eight per cent of the population of the UK, it takes in seven per cent of the country’s immigrants.

She is pointing to the net statistics, which show that 40,400 people came into Scotland from overseas in 2015-16, and 17,500 left the country. This equates to a net immigration figure of 22,900.

The comparable ONS statistics for the UK as a whole show a net figure of 335,000 people. Taken as a percentage of this overall figure, Scotland had a net immigration level of 6.8 per cent. This has been rounded up by the First Minister to seven per cent.

Part of the confusion is that Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson are quoting different statistical bodies, with data presented in slightly different ways. However the sources for the data are the same, based on surveys of passengers, the labour force and information provided by the Home Office.

The Scottish Conservative leader is on much stronger ground with regard to Scotland’s population and land size. The 2016 estimate of Scotland’s population provided by NRS was 5,404,700. However, population figures for the UK as a whole have only been released up until 2015 which would give Scotland’s then-population as 5,373,000 and accounting for around eight per cent (8.3%) of the UK’s population.

The UK’s landmass is 242,509sq km, while Scotland’s is 77,933, which is approximately one third of the size.

So we can confidently say that Ruth Davidson is correct in her figures relating to Scotland’s population and size when compared to the UK.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

Ruth Davidson does not seem to be quoting up to date figures. The latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland show that nearly seven per cent of the UK’s immigrants ended up in Scotland. While this is still a disproportionately low percentage relative to Scotland’s population, it is not as low as the four per cent quoted by the Scottish Tory leader.

This claim is false

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at or join our community forum.

In response to an evidence request from FFS, the Scottish Conservatives provided ONS statistical table showing migration data up until 2015.

Image thanks to David Cameron photographerCC BY-SA 2.0

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