Controversial proposals to offer a £50,000 welcome grant to encourage more young people and families to remain on or move to Scottish islands have been scrapped after a consultation found that islanders themselves did not believe the scheme was the right way to tackle depopulation.
The Scottish government announced that the proposed islands bond, which was dismissed as a gimmick by critics and attracted initial inquiries from as far afield as Ecuador, would not go ahead after an analysis of consultation responses found that those in favour of it were largely non-islanders.
The islands bond was announced last August and was due to be launched later this year, with 100 bonds offered at a cost of £5m.
Liam McArthur, the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney, said: “The islands bond was always an election gimmick. Rather than tackling the root causes of depopulation, it risked opening up divisions within our island communities.
“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. Indeed, I have previously proposed using some of the island bond funding to support the introduction of a third aircraft on Orkney’s internal routes, which would benefit a number of different islands.
Uisdean Robertson, the chair of the Western Isles council’s transportation and infrastructure committee, reported that his feedback from the local community had been “very negative”.
“They have inquiries from as far away as Ecuador tempted by the £50,000 bond. You are always going to get people like that but we have nearly 100 inhabited islands in Scotland and we would be lucky to get one family a year,” he said.
“We want young people with families who have some connection with the islands – not people just tempted by the cash on offer. Lack of housing is a huge problem – we are attracting early retirees and second-home owners. You can’t blame people for selling for the highest prices, but it’s not helping in pricing young people out of the market.”
The Scottish government’s rural affairs and islands secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said: “It is directly because of the feedback from islanders that we are changing our approach. The islands bond was never intended to be a silver bullet to address our island population challenges”. She said the government would continue to address the issue of island depopulation, with an action plan due in 2023.
Scotland has more than 90 inhabited islands, where communities face challenges of population ageing and decline, as well as housing pressures. A report published last year by the Western Isles council found that between 2009 and 2019 in the Outer Hebrides, there was a decrease of 700 persons (-2.6%), while the largest age group increase was among the over-90s.