There is no quick fix for the challenges that lead to depopulation. We must work with regional, local and community partners to ensure that we collectively deliver a sustainable solution to the challenges facing our rural and island populations.
Many such challenges have been exacerbated by Brexit. Increased barriers to the migration that has helped to offset an ageing population and keep services running will leave a particularly damaging gap in our rural communities. The Scottish Government continues to call upon the United Kingdom Government to make vital reforms to the immigration system to meet Scotland’s needs.
Scotland’s rural communities often face social and economic challenges for a range of reasons. However, as the cabinet secretary has highlighted, they all have one thing in common: they have all been impacted by an ideologically motivated Tory Brexit. There can be little doubt that many of those often fragile communities have had their populations impacted in some way by that act of social and economic vandalism.
What is the cabinet secretary’s latest assessment of the impact of Brexit on the population of rural Scotland? How is the Scottish Government seeking to repair the damage that that has caused?
The detrimental impact of Brexit on our rural and island communities has been profound, especially where reliance on tourism, accommodation and hospitality-related employment is acute. Such jobs help to sustain rural and island economies. However, we know that those sectors are particularly vulnerable to Brexit impacts including labour shortages, with which 57 per cent of island businesses reported difficulties in 2021.
The Scottish Government is clear that we need practical, deliverable and evidence-based migration solutions that meet Scotland’s needs. One example of our work in that space is the development of a proposal on a rural visa pilot that is to be submitted to the UK Government.
Beatrice Wishart is absolutely right to ask such questions. Great lessons can be learned from other island groups in northern Europe—for example, the Faroe Islands, where the various island communities have been successfully integrated.
I am open to suggestions on the issue, and to hearing about best practice. We need to understand what can be done to ensure that our island communities—in Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles—have the best infrastructure that is available. I would be happy to discuss the issue further with the member.