Scottish government is paying people £50k to live on remote islands

Isle go! Scottish government is handing out £50,000 ‘golden hellos’ to anyone moving to one of its remote islands to boost their population – and they’ve already had interest from family in ECUADOR

  • Scottish Government is moving forward with plans to offer people up to £50,000 to move to remote islands
  • The scheme is set to be launched this summer with sources suggesting the first bond will be offered in weeks 
  • Critics have branded the scheme a ‘gimmick’ which will not solve long term issues causing the depopulation

The Scottish Government is moving ahead with plans to pay young people and families £50,000 to move to some of its remotest islands with interest expressed from applicants as far away as Ecuador.

The first golden welcomes will be offered by the Government within weeks in a bid to tackle depopulation of the Scottish islands where populations range from one person to around 20,000.

Ministers hope the initiative will address concerns that a lack of jobs and opportunities on the country’s 93 inhabited islands is forcing younger locals to move to the mainland.

The Government said the bonds would allow people to buy, build or renovate homes as well as start businesses in a bid to help them live sustainable lives on the islands.

Applications have already been made for the scheme which includes interest expressed by a family from Ecuador in South America. 

But the government’s scheme been branded a ‘gimmick’ by critics as they say it will not address long-term issues behind the problem of depopulation.

Iona is a tiny island, measuring  1.5 miles wide and only 3 miles long. Pictured: Houses by the beach, Iona in the Inner Hebrides

Under the scheme to tackle depopulation on Scotland’s remotest islands, cash could be given to young people and families to help them move to or stay on islands with dying populations. Pictured: The population of some of Scotland’s remote islands

One such issue is island house prices which have rocketed since the scheme was first mooted.

Both the Western Isles and Orkney had the highest national rises of more than 20 per cent according to recent Registers of Scotland data – making the value of the bonds potentially even less attractive.

But the government says it plans to start issuing the first cash handouts ‘in the summer’.

Uisdean Robertson, chair of the Western Isles Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said initial queries came from Ecuador, some 9,600 kilometres away.

Mr. Robertson said he learned of the application during a monthly meeting with an islands’ team from Transport Scotland. 

However, he said, a willingness to relocate isn’t the only requirement.

‘We want young people with families who have some connection with the islands – not people just tempted by the cash on offer,’ Mr. Robertson said. ‘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.’

A consultation was launched last summer for the scheme to get the views of existing islanders but the results of the study have yet to be published. 

Concerns have been reiterated by Orkney’s MSP over the proposed Islands Bond, which he warned will fail to make island communities more resilient.

Liam McArthur instead called on the government to consider using this funding to support measures that would benefit whole island communities.

‘The proposed Islands Bond is set to benefit only a small minority. It also has the potential to open up divisions, rather tackle the root causes of depopulation in island communities,’ he said.

‘Poor transport connections, non-existent broadband and unaffordable housing are just some of the factors holding back the economic prosperity of so many of our islands.

Critics have said the scheme is a gimmick by the Scottish Government and that the money would be better spent on long-term projects like improving infrastructure for island communities. Pictured: Vatersay offers stunning beaches and sunsets

‘Rather than offering bribes to individuals, Scottish Ministers should instead commit to investing in projects that benefit island communities as a whole.

‘That is what islanders themselves are saying. It remains to be seen if Ministers are prepared to listen and act.’

But rural affairs and islands minister, Mairi Gougeon has maintained that the bonds are ‘a really positive step that we’d committed to in our manifesto as one tool to try and tackle depopulation and to try to protect our fragile communities. It’s not a bribe; its not a gimmick.’

When the plan was first announced last year it even attracted inquiries from as far away as Ecuador!

Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: ‘Depopulation is one of the biggest threats to our island communities.

‘Anything we can do to reverse depopulation trends and encourage more people to live and work in the islands should be encouraged.

‘These bonds will support people to buy homes, start businesses and otherwise make their lives here for the long-term.

‘I believe that, if targeted appropriately, the scheme could make a real difference in helping the viability of certain communities.’

What is life like on some of Scotland’s remote islands? 

With populations ranging from 20,000 to just one and little in the way of the comforts offered by mainland living, would the gorgeous stone houses and peace and quiet on some of Scotland’s most remote islands be enough to tempt you away? 

Great Cumbrae, Firth of Clyde 

Population: 1,376

What it’s like: Great Cumbrae, also just known as Cumbrae, is the larger of two islands known as the Cumbraes in the Firth of Clyde.

Great Cumbrae has been inhabited since the last ice age and is steeped in history with a Gothic cathedral It also boosts ‘The Wedge’, a residence the width of a front door which is narrowest house in the world. 

The island is popular with tourists thanks to its scenic 18-hole golf course and stunning cycle routes and loved by bird watchers. The population swells by several thousand in the summer as holidaymakers flock to the island to enjoy the great outdoors. 

Largest settlement: Millport 

Schools: One primary school

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Two ferries run to the island every half hour

Number of pubs/restaurants: 10 including the popular Dancing Midget Cafe which offers traditional British dishes and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a handful of pubs and bars in Millport that are open late.

The isle of Great Cumbrae is popular for tourists. Pictured: Millport harbour, Great Cumbrae, Firth of Clyde, Scotland

Iona, Mull

Population: 177

What it’s like: Iona is a small island within the Inner Hebrides of the west coast of Scotland measures just 1.5 miles wide and 3 miles long. 

While the official census of 2011 recorded the population as 177, this is now estimated to be down to 120 with farming being the most common profession on the island along with tourism-related sectors. 

The extremely peaceful island has a long and illustrious history and is well known for being the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland and home to Iona Abbey.

Largest settlement: Baile Mór 

Schools: One primary school 

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Two ferries run eight times a day from the Isle of Mull

Pubs/restaurants: There are four places to eat out on the island with the restaurant at the Argyll Hotel one of the most popular. The Iona Heritage Centre’s café offers afternoon tea and Martyr’s Bay restaurant has a bar and is open late.

The island of Iona has a long and illustrious history and is well know for being the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland

Jura, Islay

Population: 196

What it’s like: The isle of Jura is considered one of Scotland’s last wildernesses as the small population of 196 are outnumbered by more than 5,000 deer. It sits off the west coast of Scotland and is the eighth largest Scottish island.

It is perhaps most famous for once being the home of author George Orwell and it was on Jura where he completed his dystopian novel 1984. Because of this, his former farmhouse here has become a shrine to him for his readers.

Tourism is the most significant economic sector on the island and it is a popular spot for walkers who regularly flock to the Paps of Jura – three large peaks which dominate the island’s skyline.

Largest settlement: Craighouse

Schools: One primary school

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Four boats a day in the summer

Pubs/restaurants: The main place to eat and drink out on Jura is the Jura Pub in Craighouse. The Antlers Ice Cream Café is also a popular spot.

Tourism is the most significant economic sector on Jura and it is a popular spot for walkers who flock to its iconic Paps of Jura

Great Bernera, Lewis and Harris

Population: 252

What it’s like: Often just known as Bernera, the island sits in the Outer Hebrides and has an area of 8sq miles. It became more accessible in 1953 when a bridge linking it to neighbouring Lewis opened and 4,000 crossed over to explore what it had to offer.

As with many of the Scottish Isles, Bernera is steeped in history and popular spots include Bostadh Sands where, in 1992, a storm allowed the elements to expose the remains of a previously undiscovered Iron Age village.

Its population is mainly dependent on lobster fishing, crofting and tourism. In 2003 the island residents considered the feasibility of bringing the island into community ownership, a process that has been successfully completed by other islanders, but the laird was unwilling to sell.

Largest settlement: Breaclete 

Schools: No schools

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Two ferries a day

Pubs/restaurants: Tripadvisor lists eight restaurants and pubs on Bernera however some of these are on neighbouring islands. The most popular eatery that is situated on Bernera itself is the Bernera Community Café which is open for lunch.  

Often just known as Bernera, the island of Great Bernera (pictured) sits in the Outer Hebrides and has an area of 8sq miles

Eday, Orkney

Population: 160

What it’s like: The island of Eday is one of the islands of Orkney and is the ninth largest in the archipelago. Farming and crofting are the main industries for the island’s 160 residents.

The island is rich in archaeological history, has a diverse wildlife and is one of the lesser known islands to tourists. 

A strong and vibrant community lives on this eight-mile strip of land,  and residents can enjoy sandy beaches, spectacular cliffs, ancient history, wonderful wildlife attractions and the gentle pace of island life.

Largest settlement: Backaland 

Schools: One primary school

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Three ferries a day or can be reached by plane from Orkney mainland.

Number of pubs/restaurants: None

Eday offers plenty as residents and visitors can enjoy sandy beaches, ancient history and spectacular cliffs (pictured)

Unst, Shetland

Population: 632

What it’s like: Unst is the northernmost of the inhabited British islands and is the third largest island in the Shetlands after the mainland and Yell.

The island’s population in the 2011 census was recorded as 632 – a drop of over 12 per cent since 2001 when there were 720 usual residents.

The island is describes as one of the richest Viking heritage sites in Europe, with over 60 longhouses uncovered by archeologists at Underhoull, Belmont and Hamar.

Largest settlement: Baltasound 

Schools: One primary school and one secondary school

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: To get to Unst, you must take two ferries from Shetland mainland which run regularly each day

Number of pubs/restaurants: There are a small number of places to eat out on Unst including three cafes and two hotel restaurants. The Saxa Vord Resort’s restaurant and bar offers Sunday lunch while Victoria’s Vintage Tea Rooms offers afternoon tea.

An Atlantic puffin perches at the clifftop edge in the Hermaness National Nature Reserve on Unst, Shetland Islands

Rum, Small Isles

Population: 22

Description: Rum is the largest of the Small Isles and is located south of the Isle of Skye. All of its 20 or so residents live in the hamlet of Kinloch on the east coast of the island.

The island has been inhabited since the 8th millennium BC and has some of the earliest known evidence of human occupation in Scotland. 

The island has a transient population comprising employees of NatureScot, who own and manage the island, and their families, researchers, and a teacher.

Largest settlement: Kinloch 

Schools: One primary school

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Five ferries a week in the summer months

Number of pubs/restaurants: The Rumbling Tum Café is the most popular spot on the isle of Rum but is only open in the summer months.

Rum (pictured) has a transient population comprising employees of NatureScot and their families, researchers, and a teacher

Vatersay, Uists and Barra

Population: 60

What it’s like: The Isle of Vatersay is the southernmost and westernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides and the settlement of Caolas on the north coast of the island is the westernmost permanently inhabited place in Scotland.

The main village, also called Vatersay, is in the south of the island where the majority of its 60 residents live. The island of Vatersay is linked to the larger island of Barra to the north by a causeway about 200 metres long which was completed in 1991.

This is of huge benefit as the shipping of goods and passenger traffic no longer has to rely on a small passenger ferry boat. Access to school and for emergency services is much quicker and easier.

Largest settlement: Baile Bhatarsaigh 

Schools: One school on Barra

Post office: Yes 

Transport links: Ferries run to Barra where residents and visitors can cross the causeway to access Vatersay

Pubs/restaurants: Most of the best places to eat are located on the neighbouring Barra which is easily accessible but the Vatersay Community Café is a popular spot for quick bites and refreshments.

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