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Scottish minister launches first national islands strategy

Words: Roger Milne
Orkney / iStock

A first-ever National Islands Plan setting out the priorities for helping Scotland’s islands has been published for consideration by the Scottish Parliament.

Ministers accepted that the blueprint is largely aspirational.

Tackling depopulation, boosting housing and the need for improvements to transport and health services are listed among the objectives of the plan.

Speaking at Holyrood, islands minister Paul Whitehouse agreed with MSPs that depopulation was a critical issue.

“In some of the archipelagos, such as Orkney and Shetland, outer islands are being depopulated, while the mainland is experiencing population growth. Tackling depopulation is a key priority across the islands, particularly in the Western Isles,” he said.

The minister insisted: “The programme for government includes a number of commitments that will support the plan’s ambition to increase population levels, which include work on talent attraction, labour market policies and housing and planning.

“We recognise the specific challenges that island communities – and, indeed, some very remote rural communities – face, and there is a specific commitment to develop an action plan to support repopulation of our island communities and to work with partners to test approaches using small-scale pilots.

“We will also work with the young islanders network to identify actions to encourage young people to stay on or return to the islands.”

The 70-page document noted that over the past 10 years almost twice as many islands have lost population as have gained. “Future population projections suggest that islands are at further risk of depopulation with Orkney and Shetland each projected to lose 2.2 per cent of their population by 2041 and Eilean Siar (the Western Isles) 14 per cent.”

Image credit | iStock