Isles MP Angus MacNeil has voiced his concern that the latest Census figures show the population of the Western Isles dropped by 5.5% in the past decade, the largest decline in Scotland.
Scotland has grown less than the UK average but the population is at its highest at almost five and a half million. However, it is forecast that by 2050, Scotland’s population will fall while neighbouring independent countries will rise.
Commenting on the worrying demographic news from the National Records of Scotland , Angus MacNeil said: “Quite obviously, it is beyond time that we started to look at what other island groups who are successful in growing their population have done.
“I note that Shetland’s population is down too, but Orkney’s population has increased.
“In short, island populations that are in charge of their own futures tend to do better, most notably the Faroe Islands.”
The Isles MP repeated his call to seriously consider inter-island tunnels to link communities and improve transportation connections. And he again urged for airline Public Service Obligations, Benbecula being one example of poor weekend service.
Another jigsaw piece in combatting demographic decline was obstacles to obtaining plots of land to build houses, even on community-owned estates.
“We have an ironic situation of people wanting to live and build here but can’t. The recent change in crofting grants brought in by the Scottish Government also has to change back to be less intrusive and to be more friendly towards house building by removing some of the restrictions that have been brought in,” Mr MacNeil pointed out.
The Isles MP also turned his sights on the unresponsive Home Office, saying they were another reason Scotland needed control. It was clear a one-size-fits-all policy was not the answer, as had been demonstrated by the Swiss cantons.
Hit out Mr MacNeil: “The number of times that we have tried to get people to come to live in the islands that have been blocked by the Home Office is mind-boggling. They simply do not care. I have met with the Home Office many times; they have a policy for the UK, and quite clearly, one size does not fit all.”
Contrasting with the situation in the Faroe Islands, he stated that there had been population growth after they had ensured comprehensive physical and digital communications with their islands.
But it was not entirely a gloomy population picture, Mr MacNeil adding: “Finally, population trends are not destiny and not a function of our geography as the Faroe Islands or indeed the Isle of Man show, but a function of our lack of control in Scotland and the islands over our own futures.”