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Politics / Islands bond idea dismissed as ‘gimmick’

Islanders say they need ‘tangible actions’ and ‘long-term investments’

An aerial view of Whalsay. Photo: Ivan Reid

A SCOTTISH Government initiative that could pay people willing to move to island communities threatened by depopulation up to £50,000 has been described as “paltry”.

North Isles councillor Duncan Anderson. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland councillor Duncan Anderson, who lives in Whalsay, said island communities needed investment rather than hand outs.

The councillor, who was elected in 2017 to represent Shetland’s North Isles (Unst, Yell, Fetlar, Out Skerries and Whalsay), said the bond scheme looked as if it had been “dreamt up by someone who has likely never set a foot on any of our islands at risk of depopulation”.

On Monday, cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the islands Mairi Gougeon launched a 12-week consultation into establishing a £5 million scheme that would help people either stay or move to islands.

Payments of up to £50,000 could help people renovate homes, start a business or otherwise make a long-term commitment towards living on an island.

Gougeon said the idea was part of the government’s National Islands Plan and would address some of the key barriers for people who want to live in an island community.

But Anderson said: “We do not want hand outs. We want proper investment in our communities’ transport links, digital connectivity and educational facilities.

“We want tangible action on addressing fuel poverty and our higher costs of living, for everyone not just a select view through grant funding.”

The island councillor said depopulation was not the problem but a symptom of lack of investment stretching back decades, a point of view that was shared by fellow islander and lecturer in sociology at Queen Margaret University, Karl Johnson.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Johnson said there were a number of obvious long-term actions that could and should have been taken years ago such as taxes on second home ownership, reliable internet ownership, long-term investment in affordable housing, small business incentives, decentralising and devolving decision making.

“Ask why the best and brightest of your isles left in the first place. (…) Stop perpetuating the myth of the rural idyll, it’s harmful,” he said, adding that scraps and gimmicks wouldn’t help.

Anderson added: “If the Scottish Government is serious about helping our islands they must consult directly with each island and each council to identify specific challenges facing that particular island, then take action to address them.

“A paltry and misspent £5 million across all of Scotland’s islands will do almost nothing to arrest their decline.

“I encourage islanders to respond to the consultation and have your say about what you think would help your island

The Scottish Government consultation runs until 25 October and can be found here.