SNP ministers ditch plans to give people £50k to move to depopulated islands

Plans to offer young people and families up to £50,000 to stay in or to move to islands threatened by depopulation in Scotland have been ditched.

The Scottish Government said the proposed “Islands Bond”, which formed part of the SNP’s Holyrood election manifesto last year, would not go ahead following responses to a consultation.

It said respondents were fairly evenly split between those in favour and those opposed to the idea.

However, those in favour were largely non-islanders.

A rundown house on the Isle of Lewis. Picture: CC.

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Concerns were raised over whether the approach would actually help reverse population decline, with some respondents branding it a waste of taxpayers’ money, open to abuse and potentially divisive.

SNP rural affairs and islands secretary Mairi Gougeon said it was “never intended to be a silver bullet”.

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney, said the plan “was always an election gimmick”.

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He said: “Rather than tackling the root causes of depopulation, it risked opening up divisions within our island communities.

"This ill-conceived idea was not the brainchild of Mairi Gougeon, but thankfully the islands minister has had the good sense to listen to the overwhelming feedback from islanders and drop the proposals.

"I have repeatedly argued that there are far better ways to build the resilience of our island communities, through investing in transport links, broadband and affordable housing.”

Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton called the scheme “no more than an eye-catching gimmick”.

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She said: “The moment it was properly examined it became clear that it was a half-baked, ill-thought-out waste of taxpayers’ money unpopular with most islanders.

“As many pointed out, it would have been a short-term fix that would do little to reverse the SNP Government’s long-standing neglect and underfunding of local services, particularly in rural areas.

“If the SNP genuinely wanted to address islanders’ priorities, it would have sorted out the ferries fiasco it created, and focus funding on the urgent cost-of-living crisis, education, health and jobs, rather than distractions like this.”

Ms Gougeon said: "It is directly because of the feedback from islanders that we are changing our approach.

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“The Islands Bond was never intended to be a silver bullet to address our island population challenges.

"Rather, it was just one element of our wider work, across all Scottish Government, to support our island communities.

“We will continue to address the issue of depopulation on our islands with our National Islands Plan commitment to develop an action plan to address this issue, with a draft publication in 2023.

“The learnings and suggestions gathered through the Islands Bond consultation will be used to shape a range of practical policy tests to inform this action plan.

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“Additionally, we are investing £8.3 million this year to deliver the National Islands Plan and critical infrastructure projects based on local priorities.”

The Scottish Government previously said the Islands Bond would “encourage both population retention and growth in island communities, and stimulate local economies through supporting investment in our islands”.

It would have been backed by a £5m fund across this parliamentary term, with up to £50,000 available for each individual “award”.

The idea was to support people to buy, build or renovate homes, start businesses and otherwise “make their lives for the long-term in island communities”.

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