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Islands Bond not a ‘bribe’ or ‘gimmick’ according to isles minister

The Scottish Government said the Island Bonds scheme will support people to buy homes, start businesses and help build a sustainable future for islands threatened by depopulation. (Tom O’Brien).

The Scottish Government’s radical proposal of offering of up to £50,000 to folk wishing to relocate to the isles has been branded a “gimmick” this week by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Contained in the SNP’s 2021 election manifesto, the proposed financial support would come in the form of an Islands Bond scheme — offering 100 bonds of up to £50,000 for young people and families to remain in or move to island groups including Orkney. According to the Government, the bonds will support people to buy homes, start businesses and help build a sustainable future for islands threatened by depopulation.
Mr McArthur’s suggestion that the Government should be investing in making island communities more resilient rather than “bribing individuals” to relocate struck a nerve with cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands, Mairi Gougeon, at Holyrood on Thursday.

After Mr McArthur called for the Scottish Government to instead “ring-fence” funding allocated to the Islands Bond “gimmick” to be invested in broadband or transport connectivity, Ms Gougeon challenged the language he was using to describe the proposals.
She said: “I really have to refute the language that’s being used by Liam McArthur in relation to this because this is 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.”

Ms Gougeon added: “This is one initiative that we hope will help tackle some of the problems that we see and we are determined and absolutely committed to listen to communities as we develop our proposals.”

Following the exchange, Mr McArthur said: “The Islands Bond promised by the government bears all the hallmarks of an election stunt. On a practical level, it also risks opening up divisions within island communities.

“Investing to make those communities more resilient, through improved digital and transport connections, would be a far more effective way of attracting and retaining people in our islands.
“Rather than using up valuable resources on this gimmick, Ministers should instead commit to ring-fencing this money for investments that benefit island communities as a whole, such as improved broadband or new ferries.
“These are the things that support all those living, working and studying in our islands and represent a better use of public funds.”