The Scottish National Party has pledged to tackle the issue of depopulation across island communities by offering a bond of up to £50,000 to young people or families as an incentive for them to stay or move to less inhabited rural areas.
In its Scottish Parliament election manifesto the SNP said the bonds will support people to buy homes, start businesses and otherwise make their lives for the long-term in these communities.
The party have also pledged to give local authorities powers to manage the numbers of second homes in their area and work with Community Land Scotland to find land for more housing.
More than 2,400 youngsters from across the Highlands and Islands have signed an open letter seeking drastic action from local and national politicians amid an “existential crisis” caused by rising house prices, a dearth of sustainable work and an increase in holiday let properties.
The SNP’s election manifesto states: “To help stem depopulation, we will establish an Islands Bond – offering 100 bonds of up to £50,000 to young people and families to stay or move to islands currently threatened by depopulation.
“The bonds will support people to buy homes, start businesses and otherwise make their lives for the long-term in these communities.
“It goes on to add: ‘To stop depopulation and support our communities, we will give local authorities the powers to manage the numbers of second homes in their area and we will work with Community Land Scotland so we can find the right land to deliver more housing in our rural areas.”
Information on population estimates for 2019 published by the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar highlighted a decrease of 0.4 per cent from mid 2018 to mid 2019 giving the Outer Hebrides an estimated population of 26,720.
The median age in the islands was estimated to be 49.5 years in June 2019 – which is more than seven years older than the average for Scotland as whole (42 years).
Meanwhile, predictions from the National Records of Scotland suggest that the total population of the Outer Hebrides will fall to 22,709 by 2043 – which represents a projected decline of 16 per cent or 4,021 people within that period.
The equivalent figure for Scotland is projected to increase by 2.5 per cent.
Moreover, in the period from 2018 to 2028 the Outer Hebrides it expected to see a 6.1 per cent decline in population, while the working age population – 16 years and over – is projected to decline by six percent.
By contrast, it is projected to have a 25 per cent increase in those aged 75 and over by 2028.
While the chronic lack of affordable and available housing in many communities across the west Highlands and Islands has been a long-standing issue it has recently been placed front and centre of the political agenda ahead of Scottish Parliament Elections on 6th May.
Indeed, across the last few weeks, the Free Press has reported on how young people are being acutely effected.
The new movement Iomairt an Eilein has been spearheaded by nine campaigners originally from Skye, some of are currently based outwith the island having felt that they have been priced out of moving back home to work and live.
Additionally, the Free Press has heard first-hand this week of the obstacles facing a young award-winning graduate seeking to move home to Lewis from Glasgow with his partner to live and develop his business.
In terms of the outlook for the Highlands, the National Records of Scotland project the region’s population to increase by 0.5 per cent over the 10-year period between 2018 and 2028 from 235,540 to 236,664. However, the 16-24 age group is expected to drop by 3.3 per cent, while the 25-44 will experience an increase of 2.2 per cent.
The corresponding figures for the decade between 1998 and 2018 highlight a drastic decline of 10.3 per cent in the 25 to 44 age group in the Highlands, while the 75 and over age group increased by 62.5 per cent.
ARTICLE BY ADAM GORDON