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Scottish Crofters back rural migration scheme but warn that causes must be addressed

By Niall Harkiss

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The Scottish Crofters Federation warn that the causes of rural depopulation must be addressed.
The Scottish Crofters Federation warn that the causes of rural depopulation must be addressed.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has voiced its support for the Scottish Government letter to the UK government on a proposed visa scheme to encourage in-migration. But the group has warned that addressing the causes of rural depopulation must come first – and they believe it is in the power of the Scottish Government to do so.

The statement follows a letter from the cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands, Mairi Gougeon, to the minister for safe and legal migration, Kevin Foster, urging the UK government to identify ‘bespoke’ and ‘practical, deliverable, and evidence-based’ solutions. The letter proposed a three option pilot scheme to tackle rural migration based on the findings of a report carried out by the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population.

“We support the idea of the proposed visa scheme,” said Patrick Krause, chief executive of the crofters’ federation, “and welcome anything that encourages working people to come to live in Scotland’s rural areas. But we question whether enough is being done to address the things that force our young people to leave, issues that people coming in will face too.

”The list is long, unfortunately, but let’s look at a few examples. Housing is in short supply and the cost of houses is prohibitive. Only those who have substantial capital behind them can compete in 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”, continued Mr Krause. “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.”

Mr Krause added: “We need help for small businesses, as these are what drive local economies. Yet the enterprise network was dismantled, start-up grants withdrawn, and the infrastructure businesses depend on – transport and internet – are a disgrace to a ‘developed’ country. 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 the government has to make a more significant effort to address the long-standing problems first to make it practicable.”

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