But, despite all that, as a wee country precariously bolted onto Europe at its top end, we have struggled to attract inward investment. Tourists love it and they used to flock to Edinburgh and Loch Lomond to see the scenery and enjoy a pint of heavy.
Heck, even Donald Trump bought and built golf courses here. But, while all that has been effective in promoting Scotland abroad, it has taken two phenomena to rocket Scotland up the ‘must live there’ stakes: Covid-19 and Brexit.
But firstly let me evidence this. I was having a guid look at properties using the optics of the posh estate agents. You know the ones. The shooting and horse riding brigade that categorise rural, farming and shooting estates in ‘point one millions’… give or take. These estate agents have always been seen by me as the agents for toffs. They sell castles, equestrian dreams and cottages on rivers with fishing rights. And it was only a select few that wanted this or indeed could afford these sprawling manors. But, that has all changed as I looked online at what the country has to offer today.
My first big surprise as I perused these posh estate agents was the complete lack of properties for sale. That’s because they are selling country properties within weeks if not days. One reputable agent told me that stuff is flying off the shelf in Perthshire and Fife. Jeepers! He was right. Over the last two months, properties in these Scottish countryside locations are being listed and then going to closing dates as quick as one can say – jings-crivens-helpmaboab. I can’t imagine what offers are being submitted on a Friday at 12 noon by avid buyers competing with each other for a barn conversion in the likes of Dunning or Balmullo.
The next big surprise for me in my ‘buy in the country and join the toffs’ research was the type of property that is being listed. Sure, there are plenty of castles, hunting states and land for sale. But, the interesting point to note is that there are a great deal of regular or staple cottages and houses out there to be quite literally snapped up too. The toff can buy a small castle at 2.3 million quid and you can immediately become a toff overnight if you secure a three-bedroom cottage with a small paddock for 650 grand. You’re upper class over the weekend with Hunter wellies and a Northface winter jacket! And a hot tub!
So why such a rapid race to the country when the broadband is poor, there is a lack of pubs, the post offices and banks are closing and the air smells of cow dung?
First up is Covid-19. The cities have become less attractive places to live and bring up families. The civil order in cities feels a bit out of kilter as there is a denser population with some who want to wear masks and take precautions, while others rebel, protest and get angry at the perceived erosion of civil rights. The differences between the young and the old have been amplified in cities with the young feeling unstoppable and brave, while the old are vulnerable and scared. Throw in the failing buy-to-let businesses that relied on Airbnb and booking.com and it all feels a bit worn and shaky. Hence the exodus to the country.
Add to this new ways of working from home and people are making decisions to exit cities as they can now continue to make a living, but not have to go to the office every day. Conference calls and remote working means there is no need to join the commute while rushing to get the kids to school.
Secondly, and we probably did see this coming, there is Brexit. England is definitely wanting to go it alone. Rule Britannia and all that with new aircraft carriers and a resurgent Westminster. So, Scotland where we all speak English, albeit I still struggle with Taysiders, looks attractive as the move there is an easy one. We are a welcoming lot and have pretty decent systems of transport, education, policing and health. Why stay in England when potentially Brexit will mean Scotland will join the EU and be part of a bigger gang?
Hence why living in the country with the toffs is becoming more and more popular. Monitoring posh estate agents’ websites and having conversations with them highlights one thing – if yer no fast, yer last. The draw to the country is pushing prices up and creating real scarcity in properties around the 500k mark, the average price of a decent two-bed flat in EH3 in Edinburgh, one might suggest.
I honestly don’t think it will be long till swathes of Londoners and even Europeans head to the Scottish countryside in search of a safe haven as other locations and countries lose their appeal. Great to see Scotland as a destination. But, that will bring new issues as all change does. The country will become a place to live where only those with cash can live. Footballers and the new rich will move in – a bit like Cheshire. Who knows, we might get the “Real Housewives of Cupar” hitting our TV screens in the future. And cities may lose so much of their vibrancy as they haemorrhage citizens to the bucolic idyll, causing socio-economic stress.
One thing is for sure, it’s happening right now and an Independent Scotland could accelerate the influx.