PEOPLE are Scotland’s greatest asset. But a falling birth rate, ageing population and an uncertain future on migration after  Brexit  mean that parts of the country are struggling to secure the populations required to thrive.

Let’s start with the numbers: Scotland’s population is projected to peak at 5.53 million and start to fall from 2033. By 2045, the number of children is forecast to fall by nearly a fifth and our overall population is expected to have reduced to 5.49 million.

That might come as a surprise given that more people are set to move to Scotland than leave each year, contributing to our economy and our communities.

READ MORE: Richard Walker - Labour is better than the Tories, but still no good for Scotland

Unfortunately, that boost will be offset by our ageing population. There are projected to be more deaths than births each year, and the gap between births and deaths is due to widen. Over time, forecasts indicate this will outweigh the growth from migration.

That’s all before we take into account the uncertainty and labour market challenges caused by the UK Government’s post-Brexit tightening of immigration rules.

Many of our rural and island areas and communities on the west coast are facing particular challenges. It’s clear that the impact of Scotland’s changing population is being felt unequally.

Population decline is already apparent in a number of council areas, at the same time as many of our urban communities continue to grow.

I spend a lot of time in rural and island areas, both as a local MSP for Highlands and Islands and in my role as Migration Minister. Depopulation has always been on the agenda, but the reasons for these changes vary from place to place and there are often complex, interlinked factors at play.

Addressing the impact of these challenges requires a collaborative response across the Scottish Government, local government and partners to ensure a thriving and sustainable country for generations to come.

READ MORE: Save Grangemouth campaign to be launched in 'day of action'

Today, I will be in Fort William to launch the Scottish Government’s Addressing Depopulation Action Plan. It is the latest phase of our work to support people to stay, live and work in places where populations are set to decrease.

The plan will include targeted funding to support places that are particularly impacted by the effects of depopulation, available to be spent where communities know it is needed most.

It will also consolidate work that is already ongoing in areas including housing, transport and education, and recognise the role that the Scottish Government must play in addressing depopulation, including where we need to change our approach.

Understanding that depopulation affects different places in different ways is at the heart of this strategy. We have engaged extensively in the development of this plan, including directly with communities themselves, as well as local authorities and enterprise agencies.

Local leaders and organisations know their communities best, and we will set out concrete steps to empower them and channel their expertise.

When I arrive in Fort William this morning, I’ll be chatting with folk from the local community and getting the craic on the mountain film festival which is taking place this week.

READ MORE: Patrick Harvie - The call of 'Ceasefire Now' is ringing in Labour's ears

With the growth of remote working and cultural attractions like the festival, it is increasingly seen as a town on the up – an appealing place for people to live, work and bring up their families.

I’m really keen to hear what else people think has changed in recent years and how other communities could harness that same momentum.

While there is no quick fix to the challenges that lead to population decline, our plan will set out the next steps in our work to help communities up and down the country grasp opportunities and unleash their potential.

Growing up in the Highlands, I understand the need for us to act across every portfolio to retain and attract people to the area, and why it’s so important that local people are empowered to lead on local priorities.

Addressing depopulation is an exciting piece of work and a priority for the Scottish Government, so, I hope that the plan will be well-received and that we can crack on with implementing the many actions proposed in the best way possible with our partners.