UHI Islands Strategy Survey: online!

Scotland’s island residents and organisations and invited to share their views with UHI in a “two-way conversation”. Please share this link widely!

The University of the Highlands and Islands has launched an online survey to gather the views of community members, public bodies, businesses and the voluntary sector of the islands of Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides in relation to the university’s Islands Strategy published in 2020.   

Describing the aims of the research project Iain Caimbeul, Research Fellow in Sociolinguistics at UHI said:

“We are keen to gather as wide a range of opinions as possible. Everyone’s views and insights are important to us, and this is very much a two-way conversation. We hope the research findings will help us to identify ways in which island communities will benefit from closer access to the university’s resources. The results will help to ensure UHI’s strategic approach aligns with the various challenges faced by island communities.”

For full information see here.

You can access and complete the online survey here: UHI Islands Strategy Survey (onlinesurveys.ac.uk

UHI Survey Research contacts: Iain Caimbeul at iain.caimbeul@uhi.ac.uk and Andrew Jennings at Andrew.Jennings@uhi.ac.uk

Dr Beth Mouat, the UHI Islands’ Strategy Director said, “This project presents an excellent opportunity for meaningful engagement, the results of which will be invaluable in supporting the implementation of the Islands Strategy, and in informing future research that can have real impact in the islands”.



By swifant – Flickr: Lerwick, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27578628

TIDES: Rosie Alexander offers insight from a careers research perspective on Young people and Scottish Island Migrations.

Dr Rosie Alexander reflects on issues of youth migration in the Scottish Islands and what can be learned by taking a longitudinal perspective on young people’s pathways.

Ferry, and view to Hoy, Orkney Credit: R Alexander

“Young people and Scottish Island Migrations: A career perspective”

by Rosie Alexander

Population sustainability is a longstanding concern in island communities in Scotland and across the world. Indeed, population sustainability appears as one of the key objectives in the recently published Scottish Islands Plan.

Thinking about island populations the main concern is typically youth depopulation, as the Scottish Island Plan points out:

“The key demographic issue for sparsely populated areas is not an excess of older people, but the relatively small number of children and young people, which in the years to come will translate into a shrinking working-age population.” (Scottish Government, 2019, p. 18).

Seeking to retain and attract young people in island communities is therefore often seen as the key means of addressing population sustainability.

The focus on young people, and concern with how to encourage young people to stay, return or move, to island and remote communities has been the focus of a string of recent reports in the Highlands and Islands (Highlands and Islands Enterprise, 2009, 2015, 2018), and the Islands Revival project. Wider literature reviews on the drivers of youth outmigration (Jamieson & Groves, 2008) and on the factors influencing migration decisions in rural Scotland (Crow, 2010) have also been published, alongside two reports on population change in the islands of Orkney and the Outer Hebrides (Hall Aitken, 2007, 2009). Very broadly speaking, these reports typically identify that work and study are key drivers of out migration, with lifestyle and family factors being a key driver of in- and return migration. As a result, increasing opportunities for work and study in island communities, as well as addressing housing costs and shortages, are identified as key priorities for reducing youth depopulation. Similar findings and policy recommendations have also been found in the literature relating to other rural and island communities across the globe.

This is where I have an interest. I have been a career adviser working in Orkney and with people based across the Highlands and Islands for almost fifteen years. I have also recently completed a PhD looking at the career and migration routes of young higher education students from the islands of

Orkney and Shetland. A big question for me is: is it that simple? Why do some young people stay in their islands while others leave? Why do some return and others remain away? Understanding how decisions are made in practice, I think, helps us to contextualise some of the research which has focused on push and pull factors to island communities. Further, I think understanding decision making and lived experience is critical if we are to really identify effective policy solutions to address population sustainability in islands.

With this in mind, and drawing on my PhD work, I recently published a chapter on young people and migration in the Highlands and Islands in the book Scotland and Islandness edited by Burnett, Burnett and Danson. My starting point in this chapter is to really interrogate the statistical evidence as we have it surrounding youth migration and Scotland’s islands. This demonstrates a number of important points:

Island experiences vary:

· Although the overall island population in Scotland appears to be stabilising, this masks variations between islands.

Young people’s experiences also vary:

· Some young people stay in their islands.

· Leaving is strongly associated with entry to Higher Education, the evidence around leaving for employment is much less clear

· There is net in-migration of young people in the older age groups (e.g. over 20), this corresponds with the ages at which young people would typically leave higher education.

Therefore, I argue in this chapter that it is important to avoid generalisations about island communities and about young people, and instead suggest that a much more nuanced and context-specific approach is important.

To explore the experiences of young people in more depth, in my PhD I interviewed 23 young higher education students from the island communities of Orkney and Shetland, exploring some of their decisions around mobility, employment and education. From this work, a number of important findings can be identified which help to contextualise pathways and decisions.

The first key point to highlight is that in line with the statistical evidence although many young people do leave their island communities, this is not necessarily a permanent leaving. Leaving is associated particularly with entry to Higher Education, but after graduation many students return, or wish to return at a later date. The significance of potential returns has also been noted in other island communities. Indeed some island scholars have argued that rather than thinking about “brain drain” of young people from island communities, alternative models such as “brain rotation” may be a more effective way of conceptualising island movements and potentials (Baldacchino, 2006; Crescenzi et al., 2017)

In my work one of the things I have been particularly aware of is the significance of career routes in migration patterns over the life-course. To give an example, young people who were interviewed could typically see a range of potential career opportunities in their island communities. These included careers in different building trades, childcare, healthcare, education, retail, hospitality, renewable engineering, oil and gas, and other industries. However, they also recognised that to enter some of these careers they would need specific qualifications: to be a vet requires a degree in veterinary medicine; a nurse, a degree in nursing; a career adviser, a postgraduate qualification in career guidance and so on…. And many of these qualifications were not available or were very difficult to access on the islands. Whether mobility was necessary to undertake training depended both on the career sector of interest, and their island location – so for example, even though some education is provided in the islands, this provision is still typically based in the larger islands rather than the smaller islands of the region.

Thinking about development over time, another important feature of many young people’s trajectories in my research was that they associated leaving the islands for higher education with other forms of personal development – building confidence, meeting new people, gathering new experiences. Leaving while they were young was seen as the “normal” thing to do, and this was especially the case for young people in social groups where most of their friends were going to university. Interestingly for those who engaged with local higher education provision, the desire to potentially experience living in other communities or to move away at some point was also apparent. However, for many students, leaving was seen as part of a life stage and they either expressed a desire to return at a later point in life (typically to settle down and have children) or foresaw that they may need to return in the future.

The proportion of graduates who returned to or stayed in their islands immediately after graduation was notable in my research (approximately a third). It is notable that these movements were generally prompted by returning to settle down with a partner based in the islands, or returning to live with parents (in order to save money). Some, but not all, of the returning graduates found work that suited them in the islands. Some felt quite settled, and others felt frustrated with the lack of opportunities to build on their skills and interests. Thinking about the future, many graduates could visualise returning to or staying in the islands, and significantly they typically did not reflect on the need for an ideal job in the islands, but something that was “good enough” – enabling them to earn enough money to afford a reasonable standard of living, and that had opportunities for professional development and learning.

So, what does my work offer to the debate about population sustainability and youth migration? Well, the short answer is, it’s complicated. My main argument is that rather than thinking about migration decisions in terms of “opportunities” (work or educational) at one point in time, the concept of “career” gives us a lens through which to understand the role of education and employment as they are lived over time. A career lens also helps us to recognise the importance of specific employment and training routes – some careers can be developed in the islands, others require mobility, and this varies by career and by island. Further, I would argue (although it could be debated) that thinking about “career” offers a more holistic way of thinking about employment, recognising that people have different motivations and aspirations for their working life, and not all are motivated simply by higher status or higher salaried jobs. Thinking from this perspective potentially offers slightly different policy implications, some of which are noted below.

Firstly, notions of career highlight the importance of specific training and career routes in migration trajectories and futures – this helps us to ask questions like, if we expand educational opportunities in islands, is it ever possible for islands to provide access to all forms of education and training necessary for the roles in the labour market (given the very small labour markets in some islands)? Do we need to accept perhaps that some forms of rotational mobility are necessary to enable people to get the qualifications they need to work in island jobs?

Secondly, given the evidence that many young people do not leave islands (particularly those who do not progress to higher education) and that some return with degrees but without clear employment routes, the focus on “career” also raises questions about how these young people could be supported. Although employment opportunities are important, other forms of career support may also be valuable, for example providing support with training or development, providing opportunities for volunteering or community engagement, providing access to career development coaching, or professional mentoring. These opportunities may provide the resources for individuals to feel that they have “good enough” options in the islands.

To summarise then, in this blog I have argued that adopting a “career” lens on youth depopulation and population sustainability offers significant potential for understanding youth migration: recognising the diversity of individual choices and ongoing trajectories, and highlighting the ways that specificity of career pathways have specific spatial and longer term migration potentials. Such a perspective also offers different ways of imagining potential policy interventions that could support island young people and population sustainably more widely.


Alexander, R. (2020). Young people, out-migration and Scottish Islands – surveying the landscape. In K. A. Burnett, R. Burnett, & M. Danson, Scotland and Islandness (pp. 143–168). Peter Lang.

Alexander, R. (2021). The Impact of Island Location on Students’ Higher Education Choices and Subsequent Career Narratives: A Case Study of the Orkney and Shetland Islands. [PhD thesis] University of Derby

Baldacchino, G. (2006). The brain rotation and brain diffusion strategies of small islanders: Considering ‘movement’ in lieu of ‘place’. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 4(1), 143–154. https://doi.org/10.1080/14767720600555202

Crescenzi, R., Holman, N., & Orru’, E. (2017). Why do they return? Beyond the economic drivers of graduate return migration. The Annals of Regional Science, 59(3), 603–627. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00168-016-0762-9

Crow, H. (2010). Factors influencing rural migration decisions in Scotland: An analysis of the evidence. Scottish Government Social Research. https://www.gov.scot/publications/factors-influencing-rural-migration-decisions-scotland-analysis-evidence/#:~:text=Factors%20Influencing%20Rural%20Migration%20Decisions%20The%20%27push%27%2C%20%27pull%27%2C,others%20to%20move%20into%20or%20return%20to%20them.

Hall Aitken. (2007). Outer Hebrides migration study: Final report. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, in partnership with Western Isles Enterprise and Communities Scotland. https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/media/5597/ohmsstudy.pdf

Hall Aitken. (2009). Orkney population change study: Final report. Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise. (2009). Young people in the Highlands and Islands: Understanding and influencing the migration choices of young people to and from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Highlands and Islands Enterprise. http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/economic-reports-and-research/archive/youth-migration.html

Highlands and Islands Enterprise. (2015). Our next generation: Young people and the Highlands and Islands: Attitudes and aspirations. Research report—June 2015. Highlands and Islands Enterprise. http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/economic-reports-and-research/archive/young-people-and-the-highlands-and-islands–attitudes-and-aspirations-research.html

Highlands and Islands Enterprise. (2018). Enabling our next generation: Young people and the Highlands and Islands: Maximising opportunities. https://www.hie.co.uk/media/3007/youngpluspeopleplusandplustheplushighlandsplusandplusislandsplus-plusmaximisingplusopportunitiesplus-plusreport.pdf

Jamieson, L., & Groves, L. (2008). Drivers of Youth Out-Migration from Rural Scotland: Key issues and annotated bibliography. Scottish Government Social Research.

Scottish Government. (2019). The national islands plan / plana nàiseanta nan eilean. The Scottish Government. https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-plan-scotlands-islands

Dr Rosie Alexander is a lecturer in Career Guidance and Development at the University of the West of Scotland. Her doctoral research focused on career development and migration pathways of young people from the island communities of Orkney and Shetland. Prior to her academic career she worked as a career adviser with young people in schools, community settings and universities for over 15 years. www.rosiealexander.co.uk

TIDES: Iain Caimbeul “Community agency, participation and local Gaelic development: research insights from two island Gaelic communities”.

Sgrùdadh air riaghladh com-pàirteachail agus fèin-stiùireadh coimhearsnachd a tha bunaiteach ri bhith a’ toirt taic do choimhearsnachdan dùthchasach Gàidhlig 

Access Iain’s full preliminary report as a pdf here:

This research study builds on the legacy of the Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community research (GCVC)[1] through exploring community agency and participation factors relevant to how Gaelic development interventions engage with the Gaelic vernacular community.

This small research project sought to gain an initial understanding of the extent to which community agency and participation are observable at the community level in relation to policies aimed at local Gaelic development priorities.  Sustaining the position of Gaelic as a viable community language will require that development agencies and communities work together to strengthen the  socioeconomic and sociolinguistic conditions which will enable a better future for the language. A key recommendation from the research is that a LEADER-type programme be adopted to put Gaelic development on a sustainable pathway for change.

Sgrùdadh air riaghladh com-pàirteachail agus fèin-stiùireadh coimhearsnachd a tha bunaiteach ri bhith a’ toirt taic do choimhearsnachdan dùthchasach Gàidhlig 

Tha an sgrùdadh rannsachaidh seo a’ togail air dìleab an leabhar-rannsachaidh ‘Staing na Gàidhlig anns a’ Choimhearsnachd Dhùthchasaich2 tro bhith a’ sgrùdadh factaran riaghladh com-pàirteachail agus fèin-stiùireadh coimhearsnachd a tha a’ buntainn ri leasachadh na Gàidhlig anns na coimhearsnachdan dùthchasach Gàidhlig. Tha an sgrùdadh seo mar a’ chiad cheum ann a bhith a’ togail tuigse air dè na ceanglaichean com-pàirteachais a tha follaiseach aig ìre na coimhearsnachd a thaobh poileasaidhean a tha ag amas air leasachadh na Gàidhlig ann an sgìrean ionadail. Tha toraidhean an rannsachaidh stèidhichte air co-chomhairleachaidh agus sgrùdadh ann an dà sgìre dhùthchasach Ghàidhlig, aon ann an taobh an iar Leòdhais agus an sgìre eile ann an taobh tuath an Eilein Sgitheanaich. Chaidh an rannsachadh seo a dhèanamh aig àm cuingealachaidh COVID-19, agus mar sin, bha an rannsachadh a’ sireadh sealladh ionadail a thaobh a bhith a’ gabhail ri dùbhlain mar sin agus sgrùdadh a dhèanamh air dòighean anns am faod coimhearsnachdan tighinn a-mach às na suidheachaidhean sin.   

Tha na ciad toraidhean bhon rannsachadh seo a’ sealltainn gu bheil na feartan a tha bunaiteach do riaghladh com-pàirteachail agus fèin-stiùireadh coimhearsnachd caran briste mar a tha iad sin a’ buntainn ri poileasaidh Gàidhlig agus cùisean dealbhaidh ceangailte ri gnìomhan sòiseo-chànanachas an luib choimhearsnachdan fa leth. Tha ceanglaichean gu ìre lag eadar poileasaidhean cànain agus na coimhearsnachdan dùthchasach Gàidhlig a-rèir freagairtean bho na coimhearsnachdan a ghabh pàirt anns an rannsachadh seo. Tha e cudromach gum bi suidheachadh na Gàidhlig mar chànan coimhearsnachd stèidhte air bunait sheasmhach agus airson sin tachairt feumaidh co-obrachadh agus conaltradh nas fheàrr a bhith ann eadar na buidhnean-leasachaidh oifigeil airson gum bi com-pàirteachas ann a tha comasach le bhith a’ dèiligeadh leis na duilgheadasan bunaiteach sòiseo-eaconamach agus sòiseo-chànanach a tha nan cnapan-starra do bhith a’ togail agus a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig an luib choimhearsnachdan. 

Thathas a’ moladh modhan-leasachaidh na Gàidhlig a chur air slighe ùr agus radaigeach, stèidhte air prògram coltach ri LEADER. Bhiodh goireasan agus dealbhadh leasachaidh sòiseo-chànanachais aig ìre ionadail fo smachd dhìreach urrasan coimhearsnachd ionadail agus / no co-chomainn. Thathas cuideachd a’ moladh gum bu chòir prìomhachasan leasachaidh na Gàidhlig aig ìre ionadail a bhith stèidhichte air fòram riochdachail coimhearsnachd a tha ag obair fo sgèith urrasan coimhearsnachd / co-chomainn. Ann a bhith a’ stèidheachadh fòram riochdachaidh airson a’ choimhearsnachd dhùthchasaich Ghàidhlig, coltach ri ‘Seanadh Saoranach Coimhearsnachd’, tha seo air fhaicinn mar eileamaid chudromach ann a bhith a’ dèiligeadh ris an neo-chothromachadh deamocratach anns an dòigh anns a bheil poileasaidhean a tha buntainn leis a’ Ghàidhlig air an dealbhachadh agus air an cur an gnìomh anns na sgìrean dùthchasach Gàidhlig. 

Iain Caimbeul

Iain Campbell specialises in small-language policy and planning with extensive experience and knowledge of Gaelic language development processes. Career experience has included project management; strategy development; socio-economic and economic impact analysis; change management and policy reviews; benchmarking; and evaluations of public sector programme initiatives.

Iain Campbell is currently a Research Fellow with the Language Sciences Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands.   Recent employment positions have included: Director of Hecla Consulting and Senior Manager of the Soillse Gaelic Research Project. Iain Campbell has held public sector appointments as a Board Member, Cathraiche (Chair) and CEO of Bòrd na Gàidhlig; a Board Member of MG ALBA and a Member of the BBC Trust Audience Council for Scotland.  https://pure.uhi.ac.uk/en/persons/iain-caimbeul

An exploration of agency and participation factors relevant to supporting Gaelic vernacular communities. 

This research study builds on the legacy of the Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community research (GCVC)1 through exploring community agency and participation factors relevant to how Gaelic development interventions engage with the Gaelic vernacular community. The study is a first step in developing an understanding of the extent to which community agency and participation are observable at the community level in relation to policies aimed at local Gaelic development priorities. Research outputs are based on consultations and surveys in two rural Gaelic vernacular districts, one in west Lewis and one in the north area of Skye. This research was conducted during the period of COVID-19 restrictions, and thus sought to ascertain local perspectives on adapting to such challenges and to explore mechanisms by which the communities can emerge from these circumstances.  

Preliminary research outputs signal that the critical factors of community agency and participation are fragmented as these relate to Gaelic policy and socio-linguistic planning matters amongst individual communities.  Linkages between language policy and the vernacular Gaelic group are weak according to the members of the two communities who participated in the research. It is critical that Gaelic as a community language is set on a sustainable footing. This will require cooperation and communication linkages to be strengthened between official development bodies and relevant communities in order to address current socioeconomic and sociolinguistic problems which act as barriers to normalising Gaelic as the language of the community.     

It is recommended that a new and a radical approach based on a LEADER-type programme be adopted to put Gaelic development on a pathway for change. The suggested new approach would put resources and local sociolinguistic planning under the direct control of local community trusts and/or cooperatives. The research also suggests that a community forum be established under the auspices of local community trusts/cooperatives. The establishment of a representative forum for the Gaelic vernacular community, analogous to a citizens’ assembly, will be an important element in addressing the democratic imbalance which community members attach to the current approach to language policy and planning as this relates to Gaelic development actions within the vernacular community.  

Access Iain’s full preliminary report as a pdf here:

See also: Ó Giollagáin, C., Camshron, G., Moireach, P., Ó Curnáin, B., Caimbeul, I., MacDonald, B. and Péterváry, T. (2020) Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community: A comprehensive sociolinguistic survey of Scottish Gaelic (GCVC). Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.

See also: Agency and Participation Factors: the Gaelic Vernacular Community.

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: scotcis.wordpress.com/tides-short-essays-and-commentaries-on-and-of-interest-to-scottish-island-studies/.

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.

Island Youth, Education and COP 26 Climate Project Opportunity -Apply to SCELG!

Island Youth, Education and COP 26 Climate Project Opportunity -Apply to SCELG!

Knowledge Exchange Assistant (374456)

To apply please follow the instructions online and search for Knowledge Exchange Assistant (374456)

Climate Change: Message in a Bottle Island Youth and Education Project

The University of Strathclyde is currently recruiting a part time position (0.7 FTE – so three days a week more or less) to manage the project. This is a unique opportunity to be part of an exciting project on climate change, youth and islands before, during and after COP26. The project will work with island based children in Scotland and beyond to bring their message back to COP26 and will then return to the islands to share how that message was received by policymakers and climate stakeholders.

The Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) has been awarded a grant from Scottish Government to carry out the COP 26 related “Climate Change Message in a Bottle Project” –

“As a Knowledge Exchange Assistant, you will assist in the management and delivery of the project under the general supervision of senior colleagues.  Under their guidance, you will liaise directly with external partners to provide support with the terms of the project. You will also input as a team member to administrative activities. In particular, you will be asked to: 1) identify and liaise with schools (mainly primary schools) on Scottish islands and to work closely with project partners to identify potential schools on islands beyond Scotland; 2) work closely with project partners to manage the delivery of in person and virtual school workshops on climate change and COP26, both before and after the COP; 3) liaise with project partners to successfully plan and deliver one or more project related events in Glasgow during COP26. The successful candidate will be encouraged to bring her/his own passion and ideas to the project in order to make it as impactful as possible.”

It is anticipated that this role will start at the beginning of August 2021.

Enquiries about the post can be directed to Dr Francesco Sindico, (francesco.sindico@strath.ac.uk).


Click here for full details

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, https://www.gov.scot/publications/transition-commission-national-mission-fairer-greener-scotland/.

[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 https://www.communitylandscotland.org.uk/scoping-the-classic-effects-of-monopolies-within-patterns-of-rural-land-ownership-a-discussion-paper-2/

[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, https://inverness.impacthub.net/conference-programme.html.

[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.

Elisabeth Holm presents paper on ‘Language learning and migration: Voices from blue-collar workplaces in the Faroe Islands’

Elisabeth Holm, University of the Faroe Islands, presented to The Role of Universities in Addressing Societal Challenges and Fostering Democracy: Inclusion, Migration, and Education for
Conference , hosted online by the University of Akureyri, Iceland March 25th – 26th, 2021. Elisabeth’s paper was entitled” ‘Language learning and migration: Voices from blue-collar workplaces in the Faroe Islands’ and was developed from her doctoral research at Heriot Watt University, Scotland.

For a publication relating to this work see here: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10993-019-09513-4.pdf

“Mikladalur, Faroe Islands” by DavideGorla is licensed under CC BY 2.0

An image above of houses on a coast. The photograph image is from the Faroe Islands. The photographer is Davide Gorla.

Just Transition Commission, Professor Mike Danson on panel of experts advising Scottish Ministers on how to apply Just Transition principles to Scotland.

A National Mission for a fairer, greener Scotland: https://www.gov.scot/groups/just-transition-commission/

The purpose of the Just Transition Commission is to advise Scottish Ministers on how to apply Just Transition principles to Scotland. These principles can be summarised as:

o  plan, invest and implement a transition to environmentally and socially sustainable jobs, sectors and economies, building on Scotland’s economic and workforce strengths and potential

o  create opportunities to develop resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches, which help address inequality and poverty

o  design and deliver low carbon investment and infrastructure, and make all possible efforts to create decent, fair and high value work, in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy

SCIS Co-Director Professor Mike Danson is one of several experts advising on the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission.

Mike has varied research interests including regional economic development, regional development agencies, enterprise development, microbreweries, basic income, early-onset dementia, community ownership and management of land and other resources.

Since 1997, he has authored over 250 research papers, many published in international scientific journals and books. His research work is frequently presented at international conferences. Mike is Professor Emeritus in Enterprise Policy, Heriot-Watt University, Visiting Professor in the Centre for Energy Policy, Strathclyde University, Chair of Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland and Vice Chair of the Reid Foundation.

SGSAH and “COST New speakers of minority language” doctoral students enjoy Enterprising Culture research training event, Oban, 2017

Enterprising Culture: Entrepreneurship, Endorsement and Engagement of Minority Language in Europe’s Remote Rural and Small Island Communities.

Enterprising Culture Community Stakeholder Engagement 2Earlier this year (a very cold and bracing Oban in February!)  the Scottish Centre for Island Studies ran a two day event in association with SGSAH and COST New speakers of minority lanaguge network.  The programme of the event can be seen below but it included a series of engaging talks and ‘walk abouts’ from both experienced and less experienced researchers interested in the relationships between remote and rural culture, minority language contexts and the research opportunities and complexities around enterprise and development in these terms for Scotland, and beyond.

Here is some of the feedback on the event

“Place, inter-disciplinarity , multi-linguistic, walking workshop.”

“Supportive atmosphere”

“Enthusiasm of event organisers”

“Capturing thoughts as we went along”

“Really helpful event with lots of inspiring ideas to explore for my PhD”

“Thank you for organising this- it’s been really great!”

“It was brilliant tae be in Oban, and tae haa the contact wi’ the place and talk aboot wir’ subject in context.”

“Underlined the veracity of cross-disciplinary research methodologies as a PhD approach.”

“The varied programme was really nice.”

“Having a speaker from the Isle of Man was great!”

“The location worked extremely well.”

The mix of papers was very interesting and provided different disciplinary context to the subject of minority language.”

“Visiting local agencies and hearing their perspective was very useful.”

“Thank you for putting together such a refreshing event!”

Only suggestions for improvement were that a few speakers were a bit “too quiet”, that the SAMS venue was a bit ‘far out’ from Oban but our car-share policy got everyone there and back fine J,  and we could (should) have delivered more of the actual event in Gaelic! All very helpful and we’ll certainly take these on board for future events.

Thanks to everyone for all their feedback and comments and most especially for such great participation and enthusiasm for the event.


Special thanks goes to James Harrison @Culture Vannin,  Isle of Man, to the team at the Furnan Gaelic Centre, Oban and to Norman Bissell, Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.


Scottish Island Studies research chapter in Community Media edited collection

Kathryn A. Burnett and Tony Grace (2009) ‘Community, Cultural Resource and Media: Reflecting on Research Practice’  in Gordon, Janey (ed.) (2009) Notions of Community:  A Collection of Community Media Debates and Dilemmas; Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2009. 310 pp., 5 ill.

ISBN 978-3-03911-374-3 pb.

This volume gets beyond simple descriptions of the values and processes involved in community media and is deliberately seeking argument and structured debate around the issues of this vibrant sector of the media. The contributors examine the dilemmas that have emerged within this sector and provide an incisive overview. The chapters use case studies and data research to illustrate the major debates facing community media, along with a sideways look at the dilemmas that community media practitioners and their audiences must engage with.
This collection provides an international perspective and covers the traditional formats as well as newer media technologies. It also gives some intriguing examples of community media, which get beyond simple good practices.


Contents: Janey Gordon: Introduction – Saba ElGhul-Bebawi: The Relationship between Mainstream and Alternative Media: A Blurring of the Edges? – Lawrie Hallett: The Space Between: Making Room for Community Radio – Janey Gordon: Community Radio, Funding and Ethics: The UK and Australian Models – Kathryn A. Burnett/Tony Grace: Community, Cultural Resource and Media: Reflecting on Research Practice – Katie Moylan: Towards Transnational Radio: Migrant Produced Programming in Dublin – Gavin Stewart: Selling Community: Corporate Media, Marketing and Blogging – Michael Meadows/Susan Forde/Jacqui Ewart/Kerrie Foxwell: A Catalyst for Change? Australian Community Broadcasting Audiences Fight Back – Kitty van Vuuren: The Value and Purpose of Community Broadcasting: The Australian Experience – Pollyanna Ruiz: Manufacturing Dissent: Visual Metaphors in Community Narratives – Janey Gordon: The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere: Mobile Phone Usage in Three Critical Situations – Jason Wilson/Barry Saunders/Axel Bruns: ‘Preditors’: Making Citizen Journalism Work – Dimitra L. Milioni: Neither ‘Community’ Nor ‘Media’? The Transformation of Community Media on the Internet.