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Election 2021: In part two of our series asking candidates about the issues facing the Highlands, Scottish Labour's Marion Donaldson looks at what she would do to address housing shortages and depopulation in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross

By Scott Maclennan

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Scottish Labour candidate Marion Donaldson.
Scottish Labour candidate Marion Donaldson.

Yesterday, Harry Christian of the Scottish Libertarian Party gave us his views on how to tackle the question of housing shortages and depopulation. Now Marion Donaldson of Scottish Labour says local decisions making is the place to start.

Stark official numbers show that the constituency will over the next 10 years see its population depleted drastically unless action is taken.

The issue of housing and keeping Highlanders in the region is now bordering on a crisis as the area haemorrhages its young people.

National Records of Scotland say Caithness is forecast to lose more than nine per cent of its population this decade, Sutherland could see its population decline by more than seven per cent while Easter Ross is expected to lose 4.4 per cent.

Ms Donaldson was asked what she sees as the solution to the housing shortage that is driving many Highlanders away from their home towns and villages.

She said: “The first thing I would say about this is communities thrive when they can make decisions locally, instead of having decisions made for them. Scottish Labour has committed to greater devolution for the people of Scotland.

“We need to devolve power to spend locally, regionally and nationally. Enabling this kind of decision-making will address the challenges of housing supply in the Highlands and Islands for generations to come.

“We all know housing supply in the Highlands is complex. We have areas like Inverness, Dingwall and Aviemore, where there is great pressure on housing.

“Councils, social housing providers and private developers are trying hard to meet the housing need. We have other areas where the council says there is low demand but young families can see no prospect of movement on the housing list and first-time buyers are priced out of the market.

“On Skye, rising house prices make it almost impossible for young people to stay in the villages they grew up in.

“Nearly 16,000 people are on the housing waiting lists in the Highlands and Islands, so it is clearly a barrier to staying in the area, and it impacts on everything including low school rolls because people simply move away to work.

“A key Scottish Labour priority will be an ambitious zero-carbon building programme over ten years.

“We have an urgent need to improve our housing stock to make it more energy-efficient so that we can tackle fuel poverty and give tenants more choice over their energy supply – and hit head on the problem of depopulation.

“Scottish Labour wants to make it easier to make social housing available, especially in rural areas. Second home ownership has been highlighted as a contributing factor to a lack of local housing supply and Scottish Labour has made a commitment to address this. The issue is complex and requires local engagement.”

Tomorrow check back in to hear how Conservative candidate Struan Mackie would deal with the problem and you can click here for yesterday's contribution by Mr Christian.

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