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EMMA RODDICK: People need to know Inverness is not rural

By Emma Roddick

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Panoram of Inverness
Panoram of Inverness

I recently had the following conversation with a lobbyist:

“Emma, you live in a rural area, don’t you?”

“No, I live in Inverness.”

“How’s that not rural?”

Well, because “rural” does not mean “far away from Glasgow”.

Basic understandings like this may seem like silly wee parochial arguments, but they’re actually critical to being able to make sensible policy to support the challenges these areas face. If you’re making arguments about rural housing based on Inverness, you’ve failed from the beginning.

I’ve been really glad to be involved in two pieces of SNP government work recently that are important to, and have incorporated understanding of, the Highlands as a whole. The recently-launched Building a New Scotland prospectus paper on migration policy in an independent Scotland, and the forthcoming Addressing Depopulation Action Plan.

They are interconnected, but separate, pieces of work. The first sets out what we could do – and, in some cases, what we’ve asked the UK government to do – with full powers over migration policy. Proposals like allowing people who are living in Scotland the right to work, particularly when vacancies in so many sectors remain unsustainably high post-Brexit, should be a matter of consensus. They’re not.

Nor, unfortunately, is our proposal to implement a Rural Visa Pilot, encouraging people to fill roles and live in areas which really need more working-age inhabitants.

The Addressing Depopulation Action Plan, while considering migration, is more wide-ranging. We know that migration is not a silver bullet to solving the population inbalance we see in rural versus urban, east versus west, island versus mainland communities, and it’ll take work across different areas of government to get the numbers moving.

One key area that always comes up in conversation around depopulation is, of course, housing. I’m contacted regularly by very skilled workers who have been unable to take up exciting and vital roles in the Highlands because they cannot find a place to live. That’s a problem for necessary work at all levels, including entry-level jobs.

If the average house price is over £300,000, as it is in Ullapool and other places hit by unsustainable levels of tourism, key workers, and young people, will not be able to afford one. If you can’t find a place to live in a rural area, you’re not going to start out work as a health or social care employee or fill other necessary roles, meaning the folk living in the inflated-price houses can’t get healthcare locally. The whole community becomes unsustainable.

This is why the SNP government’s new Rural and Island Housing Action Plan commits to 10 per cent of our affordable house-building to be situated in rural or island communities. Further recognising that those communities know best what type of housing is most needed, it commits £960,000 to support capacity in the Community Housing Trust, supporting community-led housing. You don’t have to look far in the Highlands to see good examples of this already, from Inverness-shire to Kinlochbervie and Skye. The SNP will continue to support this work.

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