Grants of up to £50,000 are to be offered to people willing to relocate to one of Scotland’s remote islands amid fears that tight-knit communities are dying out.
Under a plan to address depopulation, the Scottish government is to spend £5 million on the scheme over the next five years, with 100 of the resettlement "bonds" on offer.
It is planned that the cash will be given to working age adults and families to allow them to buy houses and start businesses in outposts hit by an exodus of residents over recent decades. People already living there could also become eligible for grants if they agree to stay put.
It is hoped the initiative will address concerns that a lack of jobs and opportunities on many of Scotland’s 93 inhabited islands – where populations range from more than 20,000 to just one – are forcing younger locals to the mainland.
Meanwhile, in some of the more accessible and popular islands, such as Skye, there are fears that rich people buying holiday or retirement homes are pricing young locals out of the housing market.
Under plans unveiled in a consultation, the SNP government also wants to set up an "advisory service" for successful applicants to smooth the transition to island life. This would help address "potential tensions" with current inhabitants and offer advice about their new home’s culture, history and social etiquette.
"It’s a way for us to address some of the key financial barriers for people who want to live on our islands," Mairi Gougeon, the SNP’s Rural Affairs and Islands Secretary, said.
The consultation is seeking views on who should be eligible to apply for the grants and to which islands they would apply. The plan was included in the SNP’s manifesto at May’s Holyrood elections.
However, Liam McArthur, the Lib Dem MSP for the Orkney Islands, dismissed the initiative as a gimmick and said there were more serious issues, such as an ongoing ferries crisis, for the Scottish government to address.
"A government that was serious about this issue would get on with boosting investment in isles infrastructure, delivering affordable housing and replacing our ageing ferry infrastructure urgently," said mr McArthur.