A new project is demonstrating that population decline in the islands is not inevitable.
The project is raising the profile of "green shoots" of demographic recovery on islands in Scotland, with an ‘Islands Revival’ blog gathering observations.
The project is inviting contributions to the Islands Revival blog at https://islandsrevival.org and is looking for evidence of population turnaround, or examples of local policy or action that is reversing population decline.
The project comes at an important time for the islands, with the development of the National Islands Plan, and provides an opportunity to share experiences with other island communities, policy-makers, including those developing the Islands Plan, and international experts.
Islands Revival is funded by the Scottish Government-funded SEFARI Responsive Opportunity Initiative and is being co-ordinated between organisations including the James Hutton Institute and Community Land Scotland.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the establishment of a Scottish Ministerial Task Force to consider Scotland’s future population changes.
The Task Group on Population will explore different dimensions to the challenge and develop new solutions to address demographic and population change. There will be a focus on the dispersal of population across Scotland and how the economic benefits of future population growth are spread across all communities.
Population projections from the National Records of Scotland show that the Western Isles are expected to lose 15% of their population by 2040 – the highest expected loss of population of any area in Scotland.
Commenting, Alasdair Allan MSP said:“Depopulation is something that has been affecting the Western Isles for a long time; you only need to take a glance at figures from a few generations ago to see our population is barely half what is used to be. However, the projections for the next 20 years are stark and – if realised – would threaten the very existence of many communities across the length of the islands.
“I hope the Task Group will explore ways in which we can retain families in rural and island areas while encouraging others to consider living here. Encouraging more house building and making it easier for young families to get on the housing ladder, bringing in more employment to the islands and improving connectivity should all be a given.
“However, we also need to challenge the lazy stereotypes that all too often emanate from our media. The Faroes successfully managed to reverse depopulation trends in one of their island groups by, in part, putting a positive focus on media stories about fragile communities there. I hope the Task Force will consider this often-overlooked point.
“The Western Isles has one of the lowest crime rates in Scotland and one of the highest rates of happiness and fulfilment. We are consistently identified as one of the best places in Britain to raise children. There is no reason why we cannot stop these projections from becoming a reality.”
(This report has been updated with details from Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan since first being published)