THE Rural and Islands Depopulation Action Plan has arrived. Hurrah.

Its delivery will be ­overseen by a Ministerial Population Taskforce. It’s quite the image. I ­imagine them arriving à la Groundforce – ­striding over the fields, Barbours newly waxed, wellies gleaming, shovels in hand ready to get to work.

On the face of it, the Action Plan is a good thing. It is long overdue that all of the facts surrounding depopulation in our rural and island places were laid out in a document which the Government accepts as an accurate reflection of the issue.

It gets points for addressing my pet hate – the way the word “remote” is used. That will be stopped with the exception of a few specific statistical designations. It’s also heartening that there is some suggestion of possible movement in the direction of the Crofting Commission doing more to address vacant or unused crofts – although I won’t be holding my breath.

And that’s where my enthusiasm runs out.

READ MORE: UK showing 'lack of interest' in food labour shortage in Scotland

I can’t deny it is thorough, but by the end of 95 pages, I had almost entirely lost the will. A particular low point was ­realising that Gaelic – the last topic – had not managed to fill so much as an entire page.

No doubt the author was feeling much the same as me by the time they reached the final stages. “Gaelic is important to retaining young people,” they say (I paraphrase). “We’ll do some research.”

That’s a bit like a red flag to a bull for me. All my life I’ve heard that the challenges around Gaelic require ­research. Every time a new research report comes out, it begets yet another. When Gaelic in its heartlands quietly gives up the ghost, we will no doubt launch a study to work out why, with all the research, nothing worked.

That same red flag waved in front of me as I waded through the ­Depopulation Action Plan. “Research”, “review”, “inform”, “learn” and “engage” are words which ­between them appear a total of 269 times.

The National:

The word “research” appears a grand total of 71 times. There is £30,000 in the plan for research to help “understand the drivers of depopulation”. That’s what? One salary?

The frustration was ­evident across ­Highland and Island Twitter last week and in the West Highland Free Press, ­Misneachd – the Gaelic grassroots ­advocacy group – asked: “[How are we] still at the stage where research is needed to determine what is causing ­depopulation?”

Research is undeniably important. I come from a family of academics. ­Between them, my nearest and dearest have 12 degrees of varying types. I was not destined for that life, but I have a healthy respect for the discipline. It more than has its place.

In this instance though, the reasons are well documented at a community level and the solutions are clear as well.

It’s housing. And infrastructure. It’s people speculating on land and ­hoarding wealth. It’s people with the means ­buying up the Highlands and Islands to the ­detriment of people and ­communities who have not got the means but are ­shouldering all of the responsibility. It’s not a mystery that needs to be solved, it’s a series of inequalities which need radical action. And that action must come as a result of genuine community engagement.

READ MORE: Emma Roddick: We will empower locals to take lead against depopulation

It was rightly pointed out this week that there is only so often the Highlands and Islands can politely point to the specific things they need and gently explain what they don’t need. Skye and Raasay last week have made it clear they do not need a National Park – and more power to them.

Our communities have the answers, but we don’t have the resources. We need practical support to make them happen. Frustratingly, that’s not how government – nor indeed action plans – work. It is, as many such plans are, well-intentioned. However, its teeth are up there with those of my most ancient of ewes. Sadly lacking.

There is barely anything new. There is a lot of information that those of us knee-deep in the crisis know off by heart. We have been banging on about it for years. And as Rhoda Grant MSP rightly pointed out last week, there is much rehashing of existing commitments.

Whilst there is little that is new, there is plenty of politicalese.

­Addressing ­depopulation is defined as ­identifying a spectrum of factors relevant to ­depopulation at community level; ­showcasing the current and future role of regional and local actors in ­delivering a collaborative set of interventions; ­setting out the role which the Scottish ­Government will play at a national level in ­supporting communities’ local objectives, and finally, “following delivery of the range of actions set out within this Action Plan, a second phase will aim to harness learning”.

The National: Tarbert, Harris, Western Isles

The only thing I am clear about after that is that Tiree will not be getting a solid revenue funding boost to support building 14 houses.

The Government is promising 110,000 new homes. Of that, rural and island ­communities will get 10%. It was additionally ­reported last week that the Western Isles needs at least 1500 new families.

The Government isn’t actually ­building the houses. Neither – heaven forfend – are the local authorities, and ­housing ­associations seem to be keen to divest themselves of awkward bits of their ­portfolio. The funding, policy and power are centralised in Edinburgh. The graft is being done – often by volunteers – in the places already so hollowed out they are barely functional.

Community organisations are ­contorting themselves to reach two or three pots of Government money so that they can do it. For a start, make it one pot and cut the paperwork.

Local authorities are to take a lead in the planning, says the Action Plan. I ­suppose the Growth Deal funding might take the edge off the years of crippling budget cuts but beyond that, speaking for my council area, I don’t hold out much hope.

READ MORE: Scottish ministers launch blueprint to tackle depopulation

Argyll and Bute is a truly ridiculous Council in many ways. Partly on account of its own actions, but mainly because it is expected to provide suitable services from Helensburgh to Tiree by way of Campbeltown, Islay, Mull, Jura and goodness knows where else.

It is an impossible remit. And therefore, unsurprisingly, the efforts get less enthusiastic the more awkward and difficult it is to reach the service recipients. Frankly, the last organisation who should be getting a say on housing needs in Tiree is our council.

Maybe, I thought, there will be the offer of at least some new funding. There is. In addition to the £30,000 for research, an entire £180,000 has been allocated. Not per Development Trust, or per island, or per local authority. It’s to be split ­between local authorities who will bid for money to pilot something. And best of luck to them – £180,000 doesn’t buy half a house in Tiree right now.

All we can hope is that when the words in the Action Plan filter through the ­various agencies, and finally land at the shovel end of the issue, the ­Government has finally figured out how to successfully engage communities.

We know what we need. We need it to be easier to live in our places. It is that simple.

If people and goods can come and go, if digital connectivity is good, and if ­working-age people have places to live, with ­confidence that schools and ­essential services are in place, then the depopulation problem will solve itself.

The best plan we could possibly have is one which makes it easier to get the ­shovel in the ground and then gets out of the way of the people doing the digging.