SRUC Islands Webinar: Mike and Kathryn present on islands enterprise research

Enterprising Islanders. The promotion of localism, foundational economies and community wealth building.

Danson, M. and Burnett, K.A. SRUC Islands Webinar Series Invited Talk. June 2021

Big thanks to SRUC @RuralPolicySRUC, Dr Jane Atterton and colleagues for the Islands Webinar series invitation and really great to have all questions, examples, observations, and ‘where and what next ‘comments and feedback from webinar participants.

The wealth of island community knowledge, activity and energy is crucial in any wider policy and evaluation process; so too is the opportunity to connect, bridge and share old and new history and experiences. Thank you: loads “to think with” and “to do with” together!

Please see the recent book, a collection of island studies essays for further linkages discussed in part in our talk Scotland and Islandness (2021).

See also our invitation to submit an idea or suggestion for our Tides essay series. This series in the 2020-2021 Year of Coasts and Water is just launched this month. Do look at the information on how to get in touch and offer a note of interest to contribute a short essay or commentary to our Tides focus online:

The first Tides essay was by Mike on this very theme of Enterprising Islanders. The promotion of localism, foundational economies and community wealth building. June 1st 2021.

TIDES: Mike Danson – Enterprising islanders? A comment on the promotion of localism, foundational economies and community wealth building.

The concentration of retailing to supermarket chains is in contrast to the promotion of localism, foundational economies and community wealth building. The challenges to assert alternatives to this concentration have been accelerated during these times of Covid lockdowns, climate emergencies and Brexit consequences. Appreciating the diversity of challenges and potential responses across the country, Mike Danson offers a comment most especially in regard of island and rural enterprise opportunities and ambitions.

Enterprising islanders?

by Mike Danson

On a particularly wet and windy day in the Hebrides, someone brought homemade scones in for the meeting, a welcome accompaniment to the coffee. However, there were no sandwiches for lunch as ferries were stormbound and so no deliveries possible for a couple of days. Why could colleagues who baked their own scones not make bread and fill with their own ingredients? Deconstructing this brief tale exposes the vulnerabilities of being at the wrong end of extensive supply chains, dependent on distant providers, and yet unable to produce locally sustainably.

After all, crofters and farmers, as with the rest of the community on islands, must be enterprising, innovative and capable of multitasking with self-sufficiency and incomes from several sources the norm. What is limiting the establishment of new businesses to fill the gaps in supplies, substituting local production for imports from the mainland, is one of the main themes in our chapter Margins of Resilience, Sustainability and Success: Island Enterprise and Entrepreneurship[i] and there we have aimed to explain this conundrum. Underpinning the lack of bakers, dairies, butchers, and all the other traditional high street shops in remote villages and townships are the same economic forces which have emptied neighbourhood shopping centres in towns and cities across Scotland: the buying and selling powers of the oligopoly supermarkets. The privileges gained by these mega companies are based on monopoly powers in supply chains, logistics and in retailing with consequences of lower prices for consumers but narrower choices, and fearsome barriers for entry or sustainability for small and medium shops and other local suppliers. Simply, island shops and suppliers cannot compete with these multinational goliaths. Even here in the hills above Inverness, with a mixed community of fairly affluent commuters and families resident long term, the local shop is not the natural place for their daily newspapers, milk and bread: 5 miles away are Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Aldi, Coop all driving down margins and destroying livelihoods.

All this concentration of retailing into these supermarket chains is in contrast to the promotion of localism, foundational economies and community wealth building, which have been accelerated during these times of Covid lockdowns, climate emergencies and Brexit consequences. Appreciating the diversity of challenges and potential responses across the country, our final report A National Mission for a Fairer, Greener Scotland[ii] of the Just Transition Commission in April 2021 made a number of recommendations specific to these remote geographies. Supporting local economies and 20-minute neighbourhoods means encouraging quite different development paths and opportunities in urban and in island locations. Understanding these differences and similarities, and recognising and assessing the (unintended) consequences of how theories, strategies and policies apply in each was the focus of the book Peter de Souza and I edited in 2014: Regional Development in Northern Europe Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues[iii] and specifically about Scottish islands more recently[iv]. Drawing from evidence and experiences from many locations on the northern margins of Europe, we argued that communities could learn from each other across this periphery rather than from the core[v]. Ownership, use and management of local resources, and of land especially, comes out of that research quite naturally and provides a contrast and direction of travel for addressing the long-standing development of the underdevelopment[vi] of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands

The monopoly powers of landowners almost always tend to work against the interests of tenants, crofters, entrepreneurs and small populations occupying large estates as we analysed in a paper for Community Land Scotland Scoping the Classic Effects of Monopolies within Patterns of Rural Land Ownership[vii]. There and elsewhere we argued for land reform on economic grounds, releasing the enterprise and energy of the community to address market failures and to benefit locals and the nation as a whole (see our complementary study on the advantages of revealing the promises of the commons[viii]). However, simplistic cries for more community ownership and asset transfers are grossly insufficient in themselves to address lack of resilience and incapacity to confront the ongoing and increasing threats to island and remote rural lives. Just a change in ownership cannot help overcome the powerful forces of supermarkets, externally owned and managed tourism and service companies. Communities coming out from the long shadows of monopoly ownership of their land will also, and like any community but more so, suffer from internal conflicts and stresses and our analysis of the real issues around such challenges in Sutherland for example are examined here[ix]. Rather, and as we set out in a paper to Highlands and Islands Enterprise, communities which have seen their local cultures, societies and economies degraded and truncated for the last two centuries need helped, supported and encouraged to regenerate and revitalise[x].   

Where distance from distribution depots and low concentrations of demand offer insufficient margins to supermarkets even with their economies of scale and scope, then local shops and suppliers are faced with appreciably higher costs to be passed onto their customers. Over the last 50 years, greater expectations and increased opportunities on the mainland have led to changing habits amongst populations everywhere. This has had repercussions in young people’s career choices, their hopes and aspirations in terms of education, jobs, culture, health, entertainment, consumption and so on. Of the 32 local authority areas in Scotland, all but 6 lose their younger people (18-30) to the big cities especially through leaving for university, with only the commuter zones around these cities eventually recovering through older age groups (30 plus) moving out from the centres. Without ‘graduate jobs’ to return to their home communities suffer ageing, loss vitality and a downward spiral. Many decades of clearances, monopoly ownership, truncated job ladders, environmental and ecological degradation are exacerbated by these changing external forces which then impact directly on the home island. In turn this increases dependency on these same outside resources and drivers from the distant core of the economy. Concomitantly, the ever more integrated national economy diminishes local capacities to intervene or to stem these global tides leading to further decline and in turn compromising capacities to resist or mark out a better future.

Simplistic and distant calls for more community ownership and for asset transfers without addressing not only the power imbalances but also critically the need to support and rebuild resilience of remote rural and island communities actually threatens to continue and indeed exacerbate long term trends of their peripheralization and marginalisation.

Against this depressing tableau of heartache and degeneration, undoubtedly some islands and islanders have undoubtedly carved out a more prosperous situation, establishing successful businesses, networks and new niches while retaining their own identities. Islands such as Arran and the Orkney archipelago and the Sleat peninsula present interesting case studies while a number of entrepreneurs and enterprising communities have created viable and sustainable export-oriented ventures The unique selling points core to the latter companies are critically based around their ability to sell premium products into luxury markets: food and drink, experiential tourism, expensive health and cosmetic product and services. Notably, none of the examples we cite in recent publications[xi] is aiming to sell to local islanders but rather to confirm their involvement and integration into the world of high value customers wherever they may be.

In the accompanying video talk on the impacts of Brexit, the external forces acting on the islands are exaggerating all the negativities apparent in the dysfunctional and incomplete economies and communities of Scotland’s islands. It cannot be underestimated how disruption to accessing the essential markets of the agriculture, shellfish and seafish producers of the northern and western isles threatens the very existence of many businesses, crofts, farms, families and communities, and therefore the cultures and societies of our most peripheral and marginal places and peoples. Yet, returning to those comparisons with our Nordic neighbours, often confronting even more extremes of climate, topography, soils and access, there are glimpses of what could be achieved and how the visions of better, greener and fairer futures might be delivered by and with these island communities (see footnote 3).

[i] Mike Danson and Kathryn A. Burnett (2021) Chapter 9 ‘Margins of resilience, sustainability and success: island enterprise and entrepreneurship’in Scotland and Islandness. Explorations in Community, Economy and Culture, eds. Kathryn A Burnett, Ray Burnett and Michael Danson, Oxford, New York: Peter Lang.

[ii] Just Transition Commission: A National Mission for a Fairer, Greener Scotland, Scottish Government,

[iii] Mike Danson and Peter de Souza (eds.) (2014) Regional Development in Northern Europe Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues, London: Routledge.

[iv] Mike Danson (2021) Chapter 6 Regional and Island Economies of Peripheries and Margins: ‘Nordic and Celtic’ Comparisons, in Scotland and Islandness. Explorations in Community, Economy and Culture, eds. Kathryn A Burnett, Ray Burnett and Michael Danson, Oxford, New York: Peter Lang.

[v] See Chapter 1: Introduction ‘Periphery and marginality: definitions, theories, methods and practice’ and Chapter 16: Conclusion ‘Concluding and looking at the border’ of Mike Danson and Peter de Souza (eds.) (2014) Regional Development in Northern Europe Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues.

[vi] Mike Danson (1991) The Scottish economy: the development of underdevelopment?, Planning Outlook, 34:2, 89-95, DOI: 10.1080/00320719108711898.

[vii] Mike Danson (2020) Scoping the Classic Effects of Monopolies within Patterns of Rural Land Ownership – A Discussion Paper

[viii] Mike Danson and Kathryn A. Burnett (2021) ‘Current Scottish land reform and reclaiming the commons: building community resilience’, Progress in Development Studies, 21:3, forthcoming.

[ix] Mike Danson, Janette Wyper and Geoff Whittam (2019) ‘Satellites to Sutherland-not quite coals to Newcastle!’, 17th Rural Entrepreneurship Conference – Inverness,

[x] Mike Danson (2015) Empowered Community-Led Inclusion – Community Resilience, Report to

Strengthening Communities Directorate, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Inverness.

[xi] Kathryn A Burnett and Mike Danson (2016) ‘Sustainability and small enterprises in Scotland’s remote rural ‘margins’.’ Local Economy 31:5, 539-553. doi:10.1177/0269094216655518; Mike Danson ‘Gàidhlig, Gaeilge, Cymraeg and føroyskt mál: minority languages as economic assets?’ in Language Revitalisation and Social Transformation, eds. Huw Lewis, Wilson McLeod and Elin Royles, London: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.

Scotland and Islandness – new edited collection

Scotland and Islandness: Explorations in Community, Economy and Culture (2021) Edited By Kathryn A. Burnett, Ray Burnett and Michael Danson

Peter Lang – Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. XIV, 262 pp., 2 fig. b/w.

Studies in the History and Culture of Scotland

Scotland’s islands are diverse, resourceful and singularly iconic in national and global imaginations of places ‘apart’ yet readily reached. This collection of essays offers a fascinating commentary on Scotland’s island communities that celebrates their histories, cultures and economies in general terms. Recognising a complex geography of distinct regions and island spaces, the collection speaks to broader themes of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, narratives of place and people, the ideas and policies of island and regional distinctiveness, as well as particular examinations of literature, language, migration, land reform, and industry. With a view to placing ideas and expressions of islandness within a lived reality of island life and scholarship, the collection provides a multidisciplinary perspective on the value of continued and expanding research commentaries on Scotland’s islands for both a Scottish and an international readership. 

This book should instantly appeal to scholars of Island Studies, Scottish Studies, and Regional Studies of northern and peripheral Europe. Readers with particular interests in the sociology and history of Scottish rural and northern Atlantic communities, the cultural histories and economies of remote and island places, and the pressing socioeconomic agenda of small island sustainability, community building and resilience should also find the collection offers current commentaries on these broad themes illustrated with local island examples and contingencies.

Available in Hardback, PDF and Ebook.

SCIS Research Meeting July 5th 2018

Invitation    –    All welcome.
SCIS Research Meeting
Thursday 5th July 2018    Time: 10:30 – 12:30
UWS Paisley Campus –    NB – note venue change
Room J251 Elles Building West.

There will be a meeting of the Scottish Centre for Island Studies on Thursday 5th July 2018 at UWS  Paisley Campus (Room J251). The meeting will include updates on current SCIS related projects. It will also provide an opportunity for discussion around new links and for proposed new activity.

*Apologies – we have moved the venue to Paisley UWS campus as CCA room is currently unavailable.

Please email: if you would like to attend or for more information.Canna 2011 034

Place apart: Scotland’s north as a cultural industry of margins

P67 image

A new book chapter “Place apart: Scotland’s north as a cultural industry of margins” by Kathryn A. Burnett is published in the latest Relate North (2017) collection of essays edited by Timo  Jokela and Glen Coutts:  Relate North: University of Lapland Press present a new collection of essays.

The chapter explores themes of culture, community and communication of island arts and cultural representation enterprise with examples drawn from across Scotland’s islands and highland ‘north’ communities.

“This discussion explores artistic imagining of Scotland’s highlands and islands as a place both ‘north’ and ‘on the margin’.  Cultural representation of Scotland’s highlands and islands and processes of communicating these representations are subject to ongoing interrogation and debate. What and how remote communities, cultures and places are represented through art is undoubtedly informed by debates on survival, sustainability and responses to marginal status. The account presented here examines some of these themes from a Scottish perspective, including how art informs cultural production and creative economies in and of Scotland’s remote communities.”

To access the chapter via UWS research portal link here:

“Harvesting knowledge: gleaning experience”

Eigg Craft Beer 2016KB Compress Eigg crafts poster 2016 KB compress.jpg

Sustainability, small island food and health enterprises

“At a time of major policy challenges around food, practical challenges faced by local initiatives and personal challenges faced by many individuals and families, it is reassuring that these are being addressed through the application of the collective knowledge and experience of local communities, practitioners, planners and academics across the country.”

See a short article in FareChoice 73 on our work on small island community, food and health related enterprise:

This commentary is provided as “An insight into the world of research provided by the members of the Scottish Colloquium on Food and Feeding … incorporated within the British Sociological Association’s food study group

Thanks to colleagues at both the Scottish Colloquium on Food and Feeding and at scoff  (BSA) for this inclusion.

For more information on Community Food and Health (Scotland) please visit their website at:

Community Food and Health (Scotland) was established, originally under the name Scottish Community Diet Project, as a result of recommendations contained in the 1996 ground breaking government strategy “Eating for Health: A Diet Action Plan for Scotland”. The task identified was the need to ‘promote and focus dietary initiatives in low-income communities and bring these within a strategic format’.

Our aim remains to ensure that everyone in Scotland has the opportunity, ability and confidence to access a healthy and acceptable diet for themselves, their families and their communities.

We pursue this aim by ensuring the experience, understanding, and learning from local communities informs policy development and delivery. Communities, planners and policy makers are encouraged and enabled to constructively engage with each other in addressing inequalities in food and health.

CFHS works with both geographical communities (eg. neighbourhoods, villages) and communities of common interest (eg. users of mental health services, travellers), the common feature being that the work is focused on those communities that suffer disadvantage and would benefit most.

CFHS runs programmes of work around information, engagement, practice development, capacity building, inclusion and impact, within an approach that has recently been referred to as an assets-based approach; in other words, where local communities are seen as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

CFHS is funded through the Scottish Government and in April 2013 became part of NHS Health Scotland, following 16 years as part of Consumer Focus Scotland, formerly the Scottish Consumer Council. NHS Health Scotland is a special Health Board with a national remit to tackle health inequalities.”