SCOTLAND has a problem of island depopulation but also loads of people who want to live on islands.

Go figure.

Those islands have the best renewable energy resources in northern Europe – but also the highest levels of fuel poverty.

Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides regularly appear in the top 10 places to live in the UK, but the Scottish Government wants to give 100 lucky people £50,000 apiece to go and live on there.

Something’s not right with this picture.

Of course, the going can get rough over long, dark winters. And not even the best ferry service can argue with a force nine gale. But nature isn’t the main obstacle facing wannabe islanders – it’s a cluster of faulty systems.

READ MORE: Islanders in line for £50k bonds to help tackle population decline

And faulty systems can be un-made by governments.

It’s why we elect them.

So why isn’t that happening?

There’s clearly demand to live on islands – there just isn’t a healthy supply of building plots or warm, affordable homes so enterprising locals can create jobs, develop green energy systems and give their distinctive cultures and languages a fighting chance of reaching the next generation.

Of course, Westminster not Holyrood is to blame for failing to connect the islands to the mainland by subsea connectors. So even as we approach the COP26 summit, the most energy-rich parts of the UK are not actually connected to the National Grid.

It’s a disgrace.

But most other problems fall to Holyrood to resolve.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon

Yet faced with unmistakable evidence of market failure, the Scottish Government has launched a public consultation on Island Bonds so that 100 lucky youngsters or families get £50,000 apiece to live on Scottish islands facing depopulation over the next five years. Now for sure, that will make a difference.

Islands deal in small numbers. So, the arrival of a young couple or a decision to stay by folk who can finally move out of caravans might mean the difference between an island school remaining open or being earmarked for closure.

And £50,000 could be the deposit on a house – but only if there is land to build on and houses that aren’t going for silly money or being converted into short-term lets for tourists.

Sadly, those basic requirements of a civilised society are still absent in rural Scotland, despite a Scottish Government for almost quarter of a century, led by the SNP for almost half of it.

What hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for – islanders, tenants, young folk and families with rural connections – is not a £50,000 grant, though of course many will apply.

It’s bold intervention in the housing market by the Scottish Government. It’s real land reform to cut prices and improve availability, planning reform so land is bought at agricultural not market value and a massive building programme shorn of the rigidity that pushes urban style clusters of rental semis in island “capitals” to islanders who want croft houses in the countryside, which they could partly build themselves. And they’d have to.

Given the shortage of island builders, since all available plots are being snaffled up by folk “fae sooth” – £50,000 may help buy a plot but it won’t get a house built any time soon.

Islanders are also waiting for someone to curb the massive growth of second homes and holiday lets.

The Scottish Government will doubtless claim its Short Term Lets legislation is coming to the rescue with a licensing scheme that lets councils create “control areas” from April 2022 where planning permission is needed to change properties into a short-term let.

But the scheme is optional not mandatory.

There’s widespread doubt Highland Council will bite the bullet and impose licensing schemes in any part of its vast territory, since half of Highland councillors are involved in tourism or short-term lets. And it’s not clear that the Comhairle in Stornoway, and councils in Argyll and Bute, Orkney or the Shetland Isles are any keener.

So, the Airbnb cavalry probably ain’t coming anytime soon.

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THE Island Bond could also stoke understandable resentment by the not-young or others rejected for the £50,000 award – and there will be far more losers than winners. Islands have relatively classless societies and depend on social cohesion. The Bond may inadvertently destabilise that.

What it certainly won’t do is overcome the whopping transport difficulties that have become the islanders “new normal”.

Calmac’s ageing ferry fleet was to be boosted by two new hybrid ferries constructed at Ferguson Marine shipbuilders on the Clyde five years ago. But a bitter contractual dispute means they are late, double the original cost, and might possibly appear next winter.

So, any ferry breakdown – and there have been many – means cancelled sailings and huge disruption. Farmers can’t get cattle to market; B&B owners have lost bookings; islanders can’t attend mainland hospital appointments – it’s the kind of thing that makes island life seem impossible.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s insistence on 35% capacity for passengers on Cal Mac ferries has been hugely unpopular. An interim move could have boosted the number of passengers wearing face-coverings and given island businesses a summer season. As it is, the ferries will return to almost normal just in time for the schools going back and the end of the Scottish season.

The Scottish Government’s also facing criticism for backing plans to take well paid air traffic control jobs off the islands.

The National: Barra Airport experienced the highest growth in passenger traffic of any HIAL Airport in 2014/15, as the island's famous beach landing lures tourists from around the world

Last weekend union members working for Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) held a one-day strike over plans to close island air traffic control towers and shift jobs to Inverness. HIAL – wholly owned by Scottish Ministers – say it’s the only way to meet new technical requirements.

But the union argues that upgrading each island airport would cost about the same and keep “high value, skilled jobs in economies [the Outer Hebrides and Northern Isles] that can ill-afford to lose them”. Prospect says only 5% of staff based outside Inverness, are happy to relocate. So, the Scottish Government might be making up to 50 experienced island staff redundant.

Edinburgh giveth and Edinburgh taketh away.

Is the centralisation plan really worth that level of economic and social misery? Prospect say ministers have refused to meet island communities, despite interventions by the SNP Western Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil. By contrast, Westminster ministers faced with a similar revolt over closing island coastguard stations 10 years ago turned up to face the music and actually changed their minds.

Ironically, each island air traffic control job is worth about £50k. The same amount as the Islands Bond, except those salaries will flow into island economies every year – not just once.

WHAT’S needed now isn’t a raft of eye-catching handouts.

It’s the political courage to tackle scared cows.

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How can land be released quickly for housing?

Should community landowners in the Outer Hebrides let go of land so youngsters can build their own homes?

Is the crofting system – so hard won – now standing in the way of a more equitable share out of rural land?

Real debate is happening now – on Facebook pages.

As one islander observed: “Vast swathes of fertile [croft] land are becoming unusable as no grazing, no irrigation or maintenance being undertaken.

“The village I grew up in is a mass of kit houses owned by retired people and crofting land is just being overgrown by the gorse.”

Where is this in mainstream political debate?

If politicians don’t have the courage to tackle it – and they don’t – an Island Citizens Assembly would give people the chance to come up with their own solutions. It’s something island councils working together could set up very quickly.

Unless it’s just easier to applaud the lucky £50,000 Bond winners and continue to look the other way.