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EMMA RODDICK: Tackling Scotland’s population challenges


By Emma Roddick



The Highlands.
The Highlands.

I got into politics as a really frustrated, aggrieved, but optimistic, teenager. Off the back of being bullied in school and experiencing homelessness after heading out into the world of work, I was angry that people could be left out in the cold – literally – so easily. I wanted to change it.

I’ve always said that housing is my number one priority. Unusually in my line of work, that’s not because I own multiple homes: I want young people in the Highlands to be able to afford to live somewhere suitable and stay local if they want to, or move back here after university, to start a family, or just because they’ve decided that the grass is not that greener and the air is not cleaner in the central belt.

Housing is a fundamental need. When you’re homeless, depressed, and really struggling to see a future where you are safe, comfortable, and happy, people explain this to you over and over. Maslov’s hierarchy of needs was shoved under my nose endlessly as folk explained that, of course I didn’t feel like doing anything other than eating and sleeping when I finished work: I wasn’t safe.

So, when parts of the Highlands are facing depopulation along with an ageing demographic, and those areas also have house prices rising at a level much greater than the average in Scotland, with properties being bought up by those who have no intention of living – or, often, looking – at them, you have to connect those dots.

It’s been a genuine privilege to get to work on the new Addressing Depopulation Action Plan. My biggest fear when being asked to take up a position in the government was that it would take away time in the region, so, to be able to work on what I consider the biggest issues facing the Highlands was a real salve. From looking at how we can better empower local people to lead, to getting agreement that government will no longer refer to rural and island areas as “remote”, it’s been right up my street.

Speaking to people in areas suffering depopulation, it’s been clear that a lot of the reasons for people leaving or not being able to move to these areas are simple things that have escalated over the years. The loss of one childminder, bus route, or more family-sized house to the holiday market, can change whether there are enough kids to keep the school open, enough healthcare workers locally, or enough council tax payments coming in to keep the place nice.

Alongside pulling together work across government, the plan comes with a £180,000 fund for pilot projects. Councils were asked to bid to tackle an issue that they know is contributing to local depopulation – it could be for a community transport service, marketing skilled jobs to potential employees, childcare – whatever they knew best was needed. We can then use that learning to inform future work – because there’s no silver bullet. This plan is simply the next step.


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