OSCAR Wilde said the US and UK were “divided by a common language” but the same could be said for Scotland. We’re a complicated place, and Hugh MacDiarmid’s “multiform, infinite Scotland” needs to be reflected in policy.
Scotland is a great melting pot of different dialects, quirks, economies and traditions. We need to make sure we’re identifying what each part of Scotland brings to the table – and, more importantly, what kind of investment is needed to make the area flourish.
It could be more support for social enterprises, or it could be looking at partnership opportunities from further afield. EU regional policy is, often behind the scenes, helping exactly this sort of development to happen. Take the REGINA Project, for instance, led by a Swedish research institute and partnered with, among others, the Environmental Research Institute at North Highland College, UHI.
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One of the major issues facing the Highlands and Islands is depopulation, as the young go south in search of jobs and opportunities. The closing down of Dounreay just outside of Thurso is going to have a huge effect on the local economy, with Dounreay itself estimating that one in five jobs in Caithness and north Sutherland is based at the plant. There’s no such thing as a “job for life” any more.
REGINA is an EU-funded project that aims to reduce the vulnerability of small communities in remote areas of the Nordic Arctic and Scotland which are facing the development or closing down of large, resource-based industries. The decommissioning of Dounreay appears to be running parallel to a swell in the renewables sector.
REGINA is running around three specific planning tools – a Demographic Foresight Model, a Social Impact Management Plan, and a Local Benefits Analysis Toolbox – which will operate alongside and adapt to the territorial assets of each community – environmental, economic, human, social, and so on.
Each of the five Nordic municipalities of the project group, plus the Scottish Pentland Firth and Orkney Waters area, will test and implement the tools, and the findings will then be used to create yet more support and guidance tools for other areas facing similar challenges. It sounds complex but it basically comes down to prioritising sustainable, resilient local community development when planning the development of large industrial projects in the North and Arctic. For example, wind farms: If a Norwegian company needs to build equipment in the area, the priority will go to the local workforce, with the aim of making their business sustainable and able to weather any potential changes in the economy.
Norway and our Arctic neighbours are looking at Caithness to see how it works and taking notes. There’s no reason why Caithness and the Arctic region can’t work closely together and forge dual-country businesses, bringing jobs to the area, revitalising the local economy, and working on common goals. We live in an interconnected world, and as much as the isolationists would like to throw up walls and hard borders, that’s not the way our economy works. Scotland needs to be looking outward as we forge our new future.
Take the recent campaign to dual the A75, formed by three students from Dumfries and Galloway. Lewis Irving, Danny Pool and Adam Little have been doing a sterling job in campaigning to upgrade the road to a dual carriageway, reasoning that the A75 is a main route to Ireland, and if we want Scotland to remain open to Europe, we need to ensure we keep these channels open. The A75 is part of the E18 Euro Route that stretches from Craigavon in Northern Ireland to Saint Petersburg – hardly a quiet country lane! Scotland would bring a lot to the table, but not if we’ve been dragged away from the global stage and forced to sit in the shadow of the UK Government’s confusing manoeuvres. We cannot let the recent developments from Westminster dishearten us. Two years ago, Brexit and a Trump presidency seemed unfathomable. Now they’re reality. So what’s to stop Thurso being the gateway to the Arctic, Stranraer one of Europe’s busiest ports, and Penicuik the centre of a global video game development industry?
This is the time to re-evaluate how we do business in Scotland, one town at a time, reaching out to our friends and sharing experience. The co-operative economy can reboot Scotland and international co-operation is the key to it.