What would happen if we stopped managing decline and started tackling the structural obstacles to thriving rural communities?
There seems to be an unspoken but implicit belief amongst much of urban based officialdom, that rural areas are somehow doomed to dwindle, when in fact the very opposite could be happening.
Technology should let many more folk work remotely instead of in big centralised workplaces, but what cultural change is needed to make that happen? Smart local networks are ready to end the fuel poverty that’s blighted rural Scotland – though a constitutional change of control over energy policy might be necessary to realise the biggest benefits.
Switching perspective to see rural areas as ripe for investment has potential benefits way beyond these small communities. The back to the land movement will become turbo charged as society changes to cope with the climate crisis and the need for a vast reduction in food miles argues for greater self sufficiency and home food production. The rural economy will be at the heart of this.
So what needs to be done? Land must be made affordable and available in ways that don’t just subsidise second homes, housing must be easier for small groups to self-commission/build, and forests need to have diversified ownership and uses – including hut sites for nearby towns.
The big question is, can any of this be realised without truly local democracy to advocate for effective and appropriate action relevant to very local situations?
Lesley Riddoch is an award winning journalist, commentator and broadcaster who writes regularly for the Scotsman and the Guardian. Riddoch has long been a passionate advocate for and supporter of grassroots action which promotes community-led development, particularly in rural areas and was part of the team involved in the community buyout of Eigg in 1997.
Riddoch is the co-founder of the Nordic Hozions think tank and, in late 2018, completed work on her Phd covering hutting communities in Scotland and Norway and exploring why Scotland has 500 huts while Norway has 5000.
In 2013, Riddoch published Blossom: What Scotland Needs To Flourish, in which she relates stories of Scots who have struggled against the odds to improve their communities and makes comparisons with the Nordic nations to suggest ways forward for Scotland.