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Community / Crofters support visa idea but call for more action on rural depopulation

Scottish Crofting Federation chief executive Patrick Krause. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE SCOTTISH Crofting Federation says the government should be doing more to tackle the deeper issues of rural depopulation after it proposed a visa scheme to encourage inward migration.

Chief executive Patrick Krause questioned whether “enough is being done to address the things that force our young people to leave – issues that people coming in will face too”.

He cited housing as one example and said crofts are often being bought by people “wishing to exploit them as holiday venues”.

It comes after the Scottish Government announced a series of “potential solutions” to tackling population challenges in rural communities.

One was a Scottish visa scheme which would build on existing proposals but be aimed at designated areas.

Instead of entrants being identified by employers, it would involve a points-based system, which could prioritise “targeted characteristics”.

Another option is to relax conditions for the skilled worker route in the new UK immigration system, while an employment-based partnership scheme bringing together organisations like councils and public services has also been mooted.

Cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands Mairi Gougeon said: “The Scottish Government is already taking steps to address rural depopulation, through our population programme, the development of the islands bonds and our economic transformation strategy.

“We need to deal with a legacy of outward migration and depopulation, much of which pre-dates the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

“This legacy and specifically its demographic impact means that we cannot just rely on retention of the existing population but we need to attract new people, families and those of working age who can help to grow and sustain our communities.”

But Krause said that while the federation supports the visa scheme idea, the government has to make a “much more significant effort” to address long-standing problems.

“Housing is in short supply and the cost of houses is prohibitive,” Krause said.

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“Only those who have substantial capital behind them can compete on the market, so inevitably young folk are excluded. Houses are being bought as holiday or retirement homes; is this the vision for the ‘Highland and Islands, ‘the playground of Scotland’?

“Crofting is the backbone of most remote rural communities.

“This unique regulated system is being destroyed by an open market, compounded by a lack of regulation. Crofts are being bought by individuals, and even remotely-based companies, wishing to exploit them as holiday venues.

“Young people who want to stay and croft cannot, so leave. Added to this, island crofting is being forced out by wild geese, populations of which are exploding under the government policy to not control them.”

Krause also called for more help for small businesses, claiming that the “enterprise network was disabled and start-up grants withdrawn”.

“The infrastructure businesses depend on – transport and internet – are a disgrace to a ‘developed’ country,” he added.

“Employment opportunities are restricted for those trying to stay, let alone for in-coming folk.

“Yes, welcome to families and skilled people who want to come and contribute to our rural communities, but government has to make a much more significant effort to address the long-standing problems first to make it practicable.”

The Scottish Government said it will press ahead with exploring the three proposed models for a rural migration pilot scheme.

In a letter to the UK migration minister Kevin Foster, Gougeon said the Scottish Government will work with local government and business partners to develop proposals.

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