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Election / Proposed island bond a ‘bribe’ or a much needed ‘fresh idea’?

The remote Fair Isle will have a direct air link to Orkney in September and October.
Fair isle: a proposed island bond would offer young families up to £50,000 to stay in or move to island communities threatened by depopulation. Photo: Shetland News

A PROPOSAL by the SNP to establish a so-called island bond, which would offer young families up to £50,000 to stay in or move to island communities threatened by depopulation, has been dismissed as a bribe by Lib Dem candidate Beatrice Wishart.

In its manifesto launched on Thursday, the SNP also promises to consider fixed links as part of an islands connectivity plan, set up a rural entrepreneur fund, invest in better mobile phone coverage and deliver more employment opportunities for young people in island communities.

Labour said bigger plans were required to stem depopulation, while the Conservatives found the policy proposal “poorly thought out”.

Unsurprisingly, the move to tackle depopulation was welcomed by SNP candidate Tom Wills who said fresh ideas were needed to grow Shetland’s population.

“The proposed bond could help folk in our smaller isles set up businesses or build homes and is just one of a whole range of measures,” Wills said.

“Over the decades, Shetland communities has benefitted from all sorts of different grants and – particularly at a time when it is more difficult for European citizens to move here – measures to tackle rural depopulation are to be welcomed.”

But Wishart said the proposal demonstrated how the SNP had done nothing to tackle depopulation during the last 14 years they have been in government.

She said: “Trying to bribe folk to come and live in our island communities is neither sustainable nor effective in isolation.

“To seriously tackle depopulation then we need to focus on jobs and boosting investment in our infrastructure. That means more affordable housing and supporting people who want to build their own homes.

“We need to replace our ageing ferry infrastructure urgently and see progress on tunnels. These are just some of the things which will create a more sustainable Shetland.”

Island authorities such as Shetland Islands Council appear not have been consulted on the proposal, though senior councillors said it would be inappropriate to comment on the proposal due to pre-election rules, which bars local authorities from commenting on party politics.

Labour’s Martin Kerr said: “Labour’s view on this is that it is too little, too late. The scheme is only going to support 100 couples moving to islands. It leaves out more than it puts in.

“Realistically, Shetland might see ten couples moving here at the most as part of their ‘share’. All well and good, but they will need to find jobs, schools, childcare, housing – which are already under demand pressure.”

Conservative candidate Nick Tulloch said he welcomed that the SNP had recognised the need to address demographic pressure, but said the proposed policy was “poorly thought out”.

“Rather than offering a small number of people a cash incentive, surely it would be better to invest the budget right across the islands improving transport links, broadband connectivity, schools, healthcare – key issues that not only matter to all residents but, if improved, will attract and retain people moving from elsewhere,” he said.

“Selective payments to just a few people is divisive and fails to address the challenge at source.”

Independent candidate Peter Tait said it was his understanding that Shetland’s population was growing and the isles would subsequently not benefit from the proposed initiative.

In any case, the money should be given directly to the council, he said. “Why not give the money to the local authority which could use it to encourage teachers or doctors or other professionals that we specifically need.”

The Scottish Parliament elections take place on 6 May. There are six candidates contesting the Shetland seat. They are in alphabetical order: Martin Kerr (Labour), Brian Nugent (Restore Scotland); Peter Tait (Independent), Nick Tulloch (Conservatives), Tom Wills (SNP) and Beatrice Wishart (Liberal Democrats).

To find out more about all of the candidates standing in the election, including those on the regional Highlands and Islands list, visit our Scottish Parliament election 2021 page below.