Population: Where We Live

1.  Key points

The 2011 Census enumerated the population of Argyll and Bute at 88,166.  The National Records of Scotland (NRS) more recent mid-year estimates calculated Argyll and Bute’s population to be 85,570 (NRS’ 2019-based Mid Year Estimates).

  • Argyll and Bute covers a land area of 690,946 hectares and is the second largest local authority by area in Scotland, after Highland (Census 2011).
  • Argyll and Bute covers almost 9% of the total Scottish land area (Census 2011). 
  • Argyll and Bute has the fourth sparsest population of the 32 Scottish local authorities, with an average population density of 0.12 persons per hectare.  This compares to a Scottish average of 0.70 persons per hectare (NRS’ 2019-based Mid Year Estimates).
  • The largest settlement in Argyll and Bute is Helensburgh, with a population of 15,610 (NRS's 2016-based Settlement Estimates). This figure is for the Helensburgh locality. 
  • Argyll and Bute has 41,789 number of households. (NRS's Estimates of household and dwellings in Scotland, 2019).
  • 47.2% of Argyll and Bute’s population live in areas classified by the Scottish Government as ‘rural’ (Scottish Government 6-fold Urban-Rural Classification 2016).
  • 43% of Argyll and Bute’s population live in areas classified as ‘remote rural’; 4.2% live in areas classified as ‘accessible rural’.
  • Almost 80% of Argyll and Bute’s population live within 1 km of the coast.  Approximately 97% of Argyll and Bute’s population live between 0 and 10km of the coast (Scottish Coastal Forum 2002).
  • According to the 2011 Census, approximately 17.1% of Argyll and Bute’s population (15,105 people) live on islands.

2. Introduction

There are a number of ways in which we can think about the geography of our area.  This page looks at a number of these, and how they relate to population patterns across and within the Council area.

3.  Administrative areas

 The Council area is divided up into four Administrative Areas, which are frequently used for service planning within the area.  These are

  • Bute and Cowal
  • Helensburgh and Lomond
  • Mid-Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands
  • Oban, Lorn and the Isles

  Map 1: Argyll and Bute: Administrative Areas

 Map 1: Argyll and Bute Administrative Areas 

 Table 1: Population by Administrative Area 

AreaPopulation (NRS 2019 SAPE )
Bute and Cowal20,244
Helensburgh and Lomond25,821
Mid-Argyll, Kintyre and the Islands19,911
Oban, Lorn and the Isles19,894

(Source: NRS Mid-2019 Small Area Population Estimates for 2011 Datazones)

4.  Islands

There are 23 inhabited islands in Argyll and Bute (Census 2011).  These are: Bute; Coll; Colonsay; Danna; Easdale; Eilean da Mheinn; Erraid; Gigha; Gometra; Inchtavannach; Innischonan; Iona; Islay; Jura; Kerrera; Lismore; Luing; Mull; Oronsay; Seil; Shuna; Tiree; Ulva. (See table 2.)

Argyll and Bute’s inhabited islands had, at the time of the 2011 Census, a total population of 15,105.  This equated to 17.1% of the total population for Argyll and Bute.

Table 2: Population and households by island (2011 figures)

Eiean da Mheinn11
Lunga (Luing)--
Shuna (Luing)31
(Source: Census 2011)  

 5.  Urban and rural populations

The Scottish Government’s 6-Fold Urban Rural Classification (2016) classifies the whole of Scotland into the following categories:

1. Large Urban Areas: settlements of over 125,000 people
2. Other urban areas: settlements of 10,000 to 125,000 people
3. Accessible small towns: settlements of between 3,000 and 10,000 people and within 30 minutes drive time of a settlement of 10,000 or more
4. Remote small towns: settlements of between 3,000 and 10,000 people and with a drive time of over 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more
5. Accessible rural: settlements of less than 3,000 people (or areas with no settlements) and within 30 minutes drive of a settlement of 10,000 or more
6. Remote rural: settlements of less than 3,000 people (or areas with no settlements) and with a drive time of over 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more.

Table 4 shows how the population of Argyll and Bute is distributed between the categories used in the Urban-Rural classification.  Over half Argyll and Bute’s population lives in areas identified as being ‘rural’.  In turn, ‘rural’ areas account for over 99% of Argyll and Bute’s total land area.

Table 3: Population living in the six categories of the Scottish Government's 6-Fold Urban Rural Classification 

6-Fold Urban-Rural ClassificationPercentage total population
1. Large urban areas0.0
2. Other urban areas17.9
3. Accessible small towns4.2
4. Remote small towns30.6
5. Accessible rural4.2
6. Remote rural43.0

 (Source: Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 2016.)

6  Settlements

Different organisations define settlements in different ways.  The NRS defines a settlement  as a ‘contiguous group of high density postcodes with a population of 500 or more’ .  According to this definition, Argyll and Bute has 20 settlements (see table 4).

Table 4: Settlement populations

SettlementPopulation (2016-based Settlement Estimates)
Dunoon, Settlement of9,140
Helensburgh, Settlement of15,610
Port Bannatyne1,140
Port Ellen810
(Source: NRS Mid 2016 Population Estimates for Settlements) 

 By comparison, Argyll and Bute Council’s Development Plan suggests that six dwellings is the minimum number of units that comprise a ‘minor settlement’.  On the basis of this definition, there are some 215 to 220 settlements within the local authority area.  Approximately 83% of the area’s population live in, and 17% live outwith, these settlements.  Almost a quarter of the area’s population live in settlements of less than 1,000 people or outwith a settlement entirely.

Data verified: September 2020