NINETY-ONE per cent of Scotland’s population lives on only 2.3 per cent of the nation’s land area, new statistics from the National Records of Scotland have revealed.

Published this week, the report Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland, mid-2020 details population levels in built-up areas of 500 people or more across Scotland.

Its findings account for 514 such settlements in Scotland in mid-2020 – five fewer than in 2016, due to some merging or falling below the 500-person threshold – which collectively represent the homes of 4,974,670 people. By contrast, the population living outside of these settlements is a mere 491,330.

The report found Greater Glasgow to be Scotland’s largest settlement, with a population of 1,028,220 – representing nearly one in five people in Scotland.

These figures – which will feed into the Scottish Government’s Urban Rural Classification, allowing for the definition of urban and rural areas across the country – have prompted concerns over the implications of Scotland’s population being so heavily concentrated, as well as proposals for what could be done to change the situation.

Speaking to The National, the Scottish Greensland reform spokesperson Ariane Burgess MSP commented: “The shift of population into concentrated areas is about more than land reform. Since I was elected to represent the Highlands and Islands I have been struck by the stories of a lack of adequate and affordable housing and public transport infrastructure, as well as a sense that we have far too many emptied places, empty homes in our rural communities.

The National: Ariane Burgess is Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee.

“We clearly need communities to have a greater say in local services, for example having bus services run by the communities they are supposed to serve instead of firms that will always put their shareholders first. Electing more Scottish Greens councillors in May will help that.

“That said, the questions of who owns our land and how it is used are key to unlocking the persistent challenges that leave rural communities hollowed out. Current schemes to allow communities to buy and control local assets are not getting the job done, and power over land still resides with a tiny minority. That’s why further land reform is included in the Bute House Agreement and I am looking forward to exploring what we can do with that.”

Community Land Scotland policy director Dr Calum MacLeod also to The National: "The report starkly illustrates the depopulation and demographic crisis faced by many of Scotland's rural areas.

“We urgently need to repopulate these areas and also resettle previously inhabited rural places where it's practicable to do so. That requires tangible action in the form of affordable housing, good quality jobs, better infrastructure and digital connectivity to fulfill the Scottish Government's commitment to increasing the population of rural areas of Scotland contained in National Planning Framework 4, the forthcoming national spatial strategy.

“Community land ownership is a proven way to deliver rural repopulation, so it's vital that more rural communities are given the opportunity to own and benefit from the land where they live as a basis for building a sustainable future for themselves.”

At present, the Scottish Government has committed to developing a strategic plan to address depopulation across Scotland, including its rural, island and urban areas, although the exact structure of the plan has yet to be agreed.

The plan’s development is expected to be developed over the next 12 months, in the hopes of producing a draft in winter 2023.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our vision for a net-zero Scotland is of a rural Scotland with more people living and working sustainably on the land – which our existing and proposed land reform measures are already helping to achieve.

“At the Convention of the Highlands and Islands on March 21, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon announced that we will be progressing with our commitment to developing an Action Plan to address the challenge of depopulation, with a view to a draft publication in winter 2023.

"This will build on the strategic pillar for a more balanced population framed within our first National Population Strategy, and provide a focus on supporting the repopulation of our rural and island communities, as set out in our National Islands Plan.

“We are also developing a Remote, Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan to ensure we meet the housing needs and retain and attract people to those communities.

"This is part of our commitment to deliver 110,000 affordable homes across Scotland by 2032, with at least 70% of these available for social rent and 10% in our remote, rural and island communities.”