Maree Todd: Our Communities Need People to Flourish

Maree ToddOver recess I have been travelling around the Highlands and Islands talking with folk, including in Orkney. It’s clear we need more people to live and work here if our communities are to flourish. We need our young people to have the opportunity to stay, and we need to attract newcomers too.

Unfortunately, because of Brexit and hostility towards immigration from the UK government, we have already seen too many folk removed from the Highlands & Islands who were an asset to the area.

Just this week, the situation for the Windrush generation has come to a head. They arrived in the UK as children in the first wave of Commonwealth immigration 70 years ago, and now fear for their status. People who have lived here longer than I have been alive, face deportation.

If the Home Office treatment of these UK citizens, which Home Secretary Amber Rudd has admitted is “wrong” and “appalling”, really is a series of errors, one can only imagine how insecure that makes our EU citizens feel with Brexit looming – over three million of them call the UK home.

On a more positive note, the Uists, that cluster of islands in the Outer Hebrides, appear to be attracting a new generation of young people, keen to lay down roots in communities which are somewhat removed from the hub of the cities and university life they’ve left behind.

Research by the community has shown that the islands seem to be bucking the long-term depopulation trend, with a rising birth-rate and an increase in the number of young people opting to either return to the islands where they were raised or arriving to make them home.

Of 469 young people surveyed, most in their 20s and 30s, half are either newcomers to the islands or ‘returners’, including 253 children.

Orcadians will know that it is a fallacy to suggest that folk attracted to islands are coming for a slow pace of life – many islanders are active in their communities and work several jobs –  but they are seen as safer places to bring up children and offering a quality of life that is difficult to achieve in urban areas. Long may this trend continue.

Unfortunately, I can’t end on that positive note, with Monday marred by yet more evidence of crass insensitivity from the UK Government.

It is unclear what Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey was thinking when she tried to persuade a Holyrood committee that rape victims might welcome the experience of speaking to a stranger about their ordeal.

Her attempt at defending the controversial two-child benefit cap policy as giving women “an opportunity to talk” about their assaults, is just the latest example of how out of touch the Tories really are.

It is high time that this inhumane policy, which means women can only claim benefits for a third child if they can prove they were as a result of giving birth to twins, adopting or due to a “non-consensual conception”, was scrapped.

This is a regular column from Local MSP Maree Todd, SNP. Conservative, Labour and Green politicians have also been offered a regular column in The Orkney News. 

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