Ask anyone in any rural community across Scotland what the most worrying long-term issue affecting their area is and they will give you the same answer: depopulation.
Depopulation presents issues in a number of different ways, but the number one issue is it means local businesses do not have access to the skilled workers they need to continue operating.
This leads to a cyclical effect: organisations suffering labour shortages are forced to scale down or close altogether, meaning those who try to set up their lives in our highlands and islands are forced to move to seek employment.
There is an obvious solution to this issue, and it is a solution that is clear as day to everyone except those with the power to actually enforce it. Scotland needs more inward migration, and rural Scotland desperately needs it.
As we all know though, the powers needed to increase immigration are held at Westminster. Whether the prime minister be Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer – they would rather ramp up anti-immigration rhetoric to appease Brexit Britain rather than take real action to solve Scotland’s greatest long-term issue.
That is why independence is so vital – it will allow Scotland to take action. Take action to tackle depopulation, take action to fix rural labour shortages, take action to build a sustainable long-term economy that works for every part of Scotland.
Being part of the European Union had served as a lifeline to businesses in rural Scotland, giving them access to workers from 27 different nations and allowing many of our industries to grow.
This access was especially important to seasonal businesses, for example in the food and drink sector, who provide so much to our economy.
In my Perthshire South and Kinross-shire constituency fruit and vegetable suppliers are absolutely vital to both the local economy and national supply chains – and it is those suppliers who have been most hammered since Brexit.
Last year alone over a million pounds worth of broccoli and cauliflower heads went unpicked as at farms across the UK £60 million worth of food went to waste in just six months.
The sight of unused polytunnels and mulching berry bushes because there are no staff to pick these fruits should make the Brexit Westminster parties feel ashamed.
It’s not just our food producers who have been hammered. Scotland’s rural areas play host to countless world class hotels, restaurants, and other tourism related businesses.
One of the most disrespectful elements of the whole Brexit saga was the labelling of the vital workers who make these facilities so fantastic as “low skilled”.
It takes years of training, hard work, and experience for every member of staff to reach the high levels that are required to work in Scotland’s hospitality and tourism sector.
The UK government’s complete lack of understanding of this fact has been devastating. Classing these vital workers as “low skilled” has meant they have wrongly been excluded from any UK government visa schemes, putting at risk some of our most important rural institutions.
Ripping Scotland out of the EU against our will was doubly damaging to rural businesses – losing access to both trade networks and a substantial source of labour. This will never be rectified while we remain part of the UK.
An independent Scotland would have the powers to tackle this issue head on. Firstly, by re-joining the EU but secondly by allowing us to have a migration system that is tailored to meet our needs.
The proposals set out in the Scottish Government’s immigration independence paper would ensure that visas are issued with a placed-based element – making sure our rural economy is supported and depopulation is reversed.
Tackling rural depopulation and labour shortages is an issue we cannot bury our heads in the sand over and hope it magically gets better – it is something we have to act on now.
Neither Labour nor the Tories have any interest in putting forward solutions to long term depopulation, so it yet again rests on the SNP to stand up for Scotland’s future. My colleagues and I will not stop working to build a long term and sustainable rural economy.
It has never been clearer that Westminster is not working for Scotland’s rural communities. Scotland urgently needs independence to ensure we have the powers to tackle long term issues that the UK government are turning a blind eye to.
Produced by the SNP’s Research and Rebuttal Unit.
How Scotland can create a fairer and more welcoming immigration system with the full powers of Independence
Scotland urgently needs independence to ensure we have the powers to tackle long term issues that the UK government are turning a blind eye to.