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Scotland and Islandness

Explorations in Community, Economy and Culture


Edited By Kathryn A. Burnett, Ray Burnett and Michael Danson

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.

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Chapter 7 Young People, Out-migration and Scottish Islands: Surveying the Landscape (Rosie Alexander)



7.Young People, Out-migration and Scottish Islands: Surveying the Landscape

Concern about youth out-migration from the Scottish islands is longstanding (Highlands and Islands Enterprise [HIE] 2009, 2018). Similar concerns are evident in island communities across the globe, with the need to retain or attract young people understood as key to ensuring population sustainability – both in terms of increasing population numbers and ensuring a strong enough supply of workers to sustain the rest of the ageing population (King and Connell 1999; King 2009; Connell 2018). The risks of not managing to attract or retain enough young people are significant, and in the Scottish imagination the spectre of islands such as St Kilda, Swona, Monachs and other islands that have experienced population collapse loom large.

Despite these concerns, recent evidence shows that island population levels are stabilising and even increasing in the Scottish islands. Whereas there was a 3% decrease in Scottish island population levels between 1991 and 2001, between 2001 to 2011 there was actually a population increase of 4% (National Records of Scotland 2015). There is also anecdotal evidence that young people are increasingly choosing to stay, return or move to island communities (CODEL 2018). This raises the question – how far should youth migration remain a concern in the Scottish islands?

This chapter explores the evidence surrounding youth migration from Scottish island communities, identifying that although Scottish island populations may be generally increasing, patterns of migration are uneven, and some of...

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