BONK FOR SCOTLAND; Plea as our birthrate keeps falling.
SCOTS have been urged to "go forth and multiply" to combat the twin problems of a falling birth rate and an ageing population.
Figures released yesterday by the Registrar General showed just 51,270 births last year - the lowest figure ever recorded.
And while First Minister Jack McConnell has launched a plan to encourage more people to move to Scotland, experts insist the only real solution is to boost fertility.
The Scottish birth rate is now below the European average and is the lowest in the United Kingdom. The population has fallen to 5,054,800 - the lowest since the first half of the 20th century.
If the trend continues, the population will fall below the five million mark by 2010.
Over 6000 more Scots die each year than there are births.
Writing in the Registrar's report, academics Dr Elspeth Graham and Professor Paul Boyle, of St Andrews University, warned: "However welcome a policy of encouraging immigration may be from an economic, social and cultural point of view, its likely success as a solution to population ageing is debatable."
Professor Boyle added: "Fertility rates are really the only way we can think seriously about addressing that in the long term."
Registrar General John Randall, who retires this week, warned there were "far reaching implications" for Scotland's economy.
And he suggested that Scotland may have to follow the Swedish example, where the government took action during the 1980s to boost population, including introducing generous child care facilities.
He said : "I'm not saying the Swedish experience has all the answers, but we certainly need more public debate about the complex issues leading to our falling birth rates."
A major factor in the falling birth rate is that women are now waiting longer before having their first child. For the first time ever, more women in the 30-34 age group gave birth than those in the 25-29 age group.
Scotland's cities are suffering the most. Glasgow's population dropped by eight per cent in the last 12 years and Dundee's by seven per cent, though Edinburgh's went up by 2.7 per cent.
Half the population is now over 39 - four per cent higher than in 1991.
And the number of Scots over 60 will increase by a third over the next 25 years.