Nobody should underestimate the contribution of rural Scotland Scotland’s rural economy is a hive of activity – despite the current challenging economic climate – as any visitor to the Royal Highland Show will be able to verify.
Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to flock through the gates where they will be greeted by an array of businesses and organisations highlighting the vast range of goods and services that rural Scotland is home to.
I never fail to be impressed by rural Scotland, not just the majestic landscape – though that is clearly impressive – but also its people. Time and time again, I find myself struck by the enormous vibrancy of our rural communities, their sense of pride, can-do attitude and entrepreneurial spirit.
Despite the recession we’ve experienced in the last few years, rural areas of Scotland have generally bucked the trend and many rural industries are enjoying a mood of optimism. This includes our traditional industries – such as agriculture and forestry – as well as some of our fishing sectors which are also enjoying high demand for their top quality products.
Indeed, our food and drink sector is certainly one industry where rural Scotland can excel and it is a pillar of our national economy.
Our fine natural larder and plethora of quality ingredients mean that Scotland is now hailed as a land of food and drink – and so much of that produce has its roots in rural Scotland. This is a success story which has generated hundreds of millions of pounds for Scotland’s economy.
Nobody should underestimate the contribution of rural Scotland – and particularly our farmers – when it comes to food production. Whether it’s prime Scotch beef, tatties and veg, dairy produce or grain to make whisky – all these things begin life on our farms. Our farmers produce the world-class produce that is winning Scotland a deserved reputation for its fine food.
Increasingly, we’re also seeing businesses springing up to add value to this produce – from farmers diversifying into cheese-making and tearooms to specialist retailers who make the best use of the fine raw materials on their doorstep.
Soaring food and drink exports have also helped to boost Scotland’s reputation overseas with our produce becoming increasingly sought after in foreign markets and dinner plates. This has the additional benefit of boosting our tourism industry and both sectors are hoping to capitalise on the cinema release of Disney’s Brave.
This just highlights that, while our food and drink sector is undoubtedly leading the way, there are also exciting opportunities opening up in the tourism and renewables industries and the Scottish Government is working hard to ensure that rural Scotland can take advantage of the considerable opportunities which lie on the doorstep.
Across Scotland, we’re focused on delivering faster sustainable economic growth which will allow people throughout the country – whether they live in a rural or urban area – to flourish. Our refreshed Government Economic Strategy outlines practical measures to help us achieve this, with a focus on accelerating recovery, driving sustainable growth and developing a more resilient economy.
Home to almost a million people, rural Scotland has a great deal going for it. The magnificent scenery combined with the plentiful supplies of fresh clean air and water are all key components in our growth areas. Particularly in an economic downturn it’s important that we focus on these key areas where there is considerable growth potential.
But there are also challenges and specific pressures faced by people living in rural areas. These include soaring fuel costs, a shortage of affordable housing and high-speed broadband provision.
We’re committed to working with rural communities to address these issues. For instance, for the first time in a generation, we have seen new council houses being built by rural authorities. We’ve also supported a range of projects in rural areas to increase the availability of affordable housing.
And, looking at broadband, we’re investing significantly – with public sector funding of £290m – as we want all parts of Scotland to have access to superfast broadband and our digital strategy states that it should be available to everyone in Scotland by 2020.
There are a number of key challenges facing Scotland’s rural economy. These include how we can harness the impressive natural resources which are found in rural Scotland to ensure they are used for the benefit of all our communities and to help to attract new businesses.
At the heart of rural Scotland, and part of what I believe makes it special, are our people and their communities.
We want to do more to exploit rural Scotland’s potential and make our rural communities even stronger.
That’s why we’re currently considering whether a Rural Parliament, something which has worked well in other European nations, is something which could benefit Scotland. Plans are at an early stage and we will only take this forward if there is community demand for it and evidence that it will bring real benefit. However, I believe it is an innovative solution and one which demonstrates the enthusiasm and passion which our rural communities engender.
I believe Scotland is a magnificent country but I’d have to say that my heart lies in rural Scotland.
That’s why I am privileged to represent rural Scotland’s interests in the Scottish Parliament and I’m determined to do all I can to ensure we have a thriving rural economy which delivers for those who live there.