I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention. I am sorry for missing out the Isle of Wight. The Waverley is a wonderful asset to the nation and is the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer, supported by a charity and the nation.
Though uninhabited, Ailsa Craig is an island that sits off my constituency in the Firth of Clyde and plays host as a bird sanctuary to gulls, guillemots and puffins. Most importantly, it provides the granite for the best curling stones in the world, hand-crafted by Kays of Mauchline in Ayrshire. When we see curling on television, the curling stone almost certainly originated from the island of Ailsa Craig.
It is important to note in this debate that island communities in Scotland and across the United Kingdom are diverse. No two islands are the same, and although they often face a similar set of economic challenges, they each have their own unique circumstances: for example, population. Scotland has four islands with populations above the 10,000 mark, and those islands’ economies have different needs from the many Scottish islands with populations below 100. In the case of many of those smaller communities, probably the most pressing economic issue requires acting to prevent depopulation and working to secure the long-term future of those communities. Retaining young people on the islands to give them continued vibrancy is important.
The population of Scotland’s islands increased by about 4% between 2001 and 2011. That is a welcome development that I hope will continue and even accelerate over the coming decades. In many cases it is very challenging to sustain island populations. Although Scotland’s four largest islands recorded an increase in that period, it is sad to note that communities of fewer than 50 inhabitants still experience, in general terms, the risk of a drop-off in population numbers. When we talk about the economies of the islands, therefore, we must be sure to include all the islands and not just the larger and identifiable ones such as the Isle of Wight.
Scotland’s small island communities are some of the most unique and beautiful places in the entire United Kingdom, and it is important that their future is secured as well as possible. Scottish islands of all sizes have great economic potential, and both the Scottish and UK Governments need to work together to ensure that that potential is fulfilled. The right level of investment and support, as mentioned earlier, is needed across the islands, but particularly in areas such as transport, fuel costs and maintaining the vital links that give islanders access to the basic services that people on the mainland simply take for granted.
Connectivity is vital for Scotland’s remote islands. For island communities as well as other rural and remote areas, broadband is necessary to ensure that the communities’ economies do not get left behind. I hope that the UK Government’s welcome intervention in the broadband roll-out in Scotland will deliver results sooner rather than later.
As was mentioned before, 4G and 5G connectivity are vital to local economies across the United Kingdom, and island communities are no different. If our islands keep pace in terms of mobile connectivity, they have a better chance of keeping pace economically, which is essential for a vibrant future for the islands. The Islands (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the Scottish Parliament, will be judged on the outcomes it produces, and I hope that islanders will not be disappointed. Our islands, of all sizes, can and should have a bright future ahead of them.
Finally, if anyone is minded to secure a tranquil, peaceful holiday, they would do well to visit a Scottish island.