MORE than one southern TV presenter has been seen striding across a “remote” Scottish something. Breathing in the ratings whilst pondering the meaning of life. A drone sweeps across the landscape – just to emphasise the far-away-ness of it all.

“It’s so remote,” the viewers purr, ­imagining a lone cottage perched ­somewhere coastal, rooms lit by flickering candlelight and just enough storm to be ­atmospheric.

If you are in a city, then living in what you consider to be a remote location may be your holy grail. But if you are “remote” in the sense that you live a long way from an urban centre, are you actually remote? Opinions differ and not least about the word itself.

Linguistically, “remote” appears fairly ­innocuous. Collins Dictionary defines it thus: “Remote areas are far away from ­cities and places where most people live and are therefore difficult to get to.” The Oxford English Dictionary settles on ­“situated far from the main centres of population; ­distant”.

That definition isn’t universally ­accepted. A sign appeared mysteriously in Jura a few years ago. It said: “It’s only remote if the things that matter are far away.” The artist was challenging the idea that by living away from a centre of population, you are remote when in truth, many people see Edinburgh or Glasgow as remote.

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That “what is remote?” debate surfaces on social media from time to time. When it does, the dividing lines are drawn. For some, “remote” is simply a word ­describing the fact that you are a ferry, five hours and a Citylink bus from the ­nearest ­McDonald’s (Fort William from ­Harris, if you are ­wondering.

The ­McFlurry is a tepid ­milkshake on the turn by the time you get home, but everything else is ­microwaveable.) For others, the word ­“remote” is like a red rag to a bull – suggesting a criminally misplaced understanding of rural and island Scotland as distant, and for distant, read “unimportant”.

In the Highlands and Islands, we are ­often unthinkingly seen and described as remote. And if we are going to be technical about it – using the dictionary definitions above – we are.

We are remote in the sense that most people live in urban centres and we do not. We are remote in the sense that on a good day, we have one bus, compared to one bus every 15 minutes.

One of the problems is that the ­concept of remote doesn’t travel alone. It brings with it synonyms like ­“distant”. You might have heard some of them – ­secluded, ­hidden, isolated, lonely, ­peripheral, on the edge, hard to reach, inaccessible, ­middle of ­nowhere, empty, obscure.

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­Alongside the synonyms come ­assumptions about ­“remote” places such as, old ­fashioned, backward, ­behind, ­ignorant. To ­compound that, “remote”, “distant” and their ­accompanying ­baggage reflect what many see as the ­attitude of central ­Scotland towards the Highlands and Islands.

The recently published Remote, ­Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan from the Scottish Government drew ­comment on social media, with some islanders asking for the title to be revised – on the grounds of having “connotations of centrist policy-making”.

There is a practical reason for the ­title. It’s because, according to Scottish ­Government guidelines, anywhere under 10,000 people or anywhere more than half an hour’s drive from a location with a population of under 10,000 people equals “remote”.

One wonders, then, what the point of “rural and islands” in the title is, as the definition of remote seems to be fairly all-encompassing. That aside, the ­frustration with the use of “remote” in a policy ­document title is due to its use as a lazy shorthand for “places which are not ­immediately under our nose” – places which are distant in more ways than one.

The prevailing political landscape is one where the power is held in the ­Scottish central belt. Edinburgh, ­Glasgow and ­Inverness are the key hubs, and spokes go out from there. Some of the spokes are longer than others. Often, by the time they reach our further-flung ­communities, the spoke is so long as to be entirely ­useless. (See: CalMac being ­headquartered in Gourock.)

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Because we are not in the “centre”, we are distant from seats of power. By virtue of being literally distant, we also become metaphorically distant – and as a result, we are placed in the “hard to cater for” category.

Rural areas are often hard to cater for because we are an afterthought in policy terms. Too often has policy been created for an urban context and then awkwardly retrofitted to “remote, rural and island” contexts. A great example is the Short Term Letting legislation designed as it was, for Edinburgh, not Eigg.

And it’s not just policymakers in the frame. The media’s obsession with ­beautiful places and their never-ending quest for the idyll drives a narrative of “remote” as ­being empty and ­tantalisingly hard to reach – there for holidays, ­adventure, finding yourself, navel-gazing in the mountains and congratulating yourself on surviving the experience. It’s a prize at the end of a long road rather than a ­starting point.

These apparently “remote” ­places are rarely depicted as a centre of things or as living places, full of ­people and ­communities, of businesses and ­entrepreneurs, of technology, research and enterprise. But that is what they are.

Our Highland and Island towns, ­villages and communities are full of ­talent. They may be geographically remote from an accepted “centre” but each seemingly ­“remote” community is at the very centre of its own world.

And it is that centre which is critical to the conversation. For those in rural areas who have never left their places of birth, who have returned home, or whose ­family is close, it is easier, I daresay, to know where their centre is. For them, remote is far away because their world is on their doorstep. If you live rurally without those connections or roots, the sense of being remote may be all the sharper because the things that matter are far away.

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So, where does that leave us? To use remote, or not to use remote? That is indeed the question.

When most people use the word remote, the ­connotations and ­accompanying baggage are irrelevant, they are simply indicating the equivalent of the distance to McDonald’s from Harris.

But when organisations, policymakers and service providers use it, they should first ask themselves some questions. If a place is going to be referred to as remote, they first need to define who or what is remote, and from whom. Who is using the word and why are they using it?

Most importantly, who is at the centre of the conversation?

For activists, if remote is a word that the inner workings of Government ­understand, then it makes sense to use it – but it doesn’t mean that we need to like it. By challenging the use of words like remote, we challenge that ­centralised, ­urban-first approach which too often ­forgets to, or avoids, designing ­specifically for rural areas. Challenging that should absolutely include questioning the titles of policy documents.

If our “remote” places and their people were put at the very centre of their world when it came to decision-making and spending, then their distance from urban areas would be irrelevant. They would be in control. Solutions would be found by starting from the perspective of what is possible locally, rather than what is ­impossible from a distance. Maybe it is time for policymakers to get out more. ­ After all, the road is the same length in both directions.