Internet connectivity tops the Government’s rural agenda, the opening session of Scotland’s Rural Parliament heard in Brechin.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing told representatives from countryside organisations and lobbying groups that the Government intended to flip the disadvantages of living in rural Scotland and drive forward the economy in the traditional areas of farming, fishing, aquaculture, field sports, tourism as well as other sectors.
And he acknowledged that being digitally connected was central to making progress with that ambition.
“All of us who live in rural Scotland know that many of our neighbours feel disconnected and isolated,” he said.
“They feel that the issues which concern them are all too often overlooked or not sufficiently respected, and that money doesn’t find its way out of the cities in many cases.”
Mr Ewing added that while rural Scotland had many successes, it was often underappreciated and undervalued. An empowering voice for rural Scotland was therefore “absolutely essential”.
He said: “I think the rural parliament is certainly playing a role – albeit it is only two years old – and I warmly welcome it continuing.”
He also revealed he had met representatives from the Grampian Growers, Aberdeen Grain and Ringlink farm co-operatives who were concerned about the impact of Brexit on their labour force.
“It became clear how these cooperatives which help farmers are almost totally reliant on a workforce of migrant workers coming from the EU. These are people who come here and work hard, very often on low pay and often [doing] hard work. As a matter of respect and decency it behoves us to value their contribution and say ‘you are welcome’ in our country,” he said.
He added that the Government would “strain every sinew” to ensure people working in the food processing factories, in slaughterhouses and in the tourism sector would be able to continue working here in future and continue to provide a contribution to rural life.
This week’s session in Brechin follows the successful launch of the Scottish Rural Parliament in Oban in 2014. A manifesto will be agreed by delegates today and tomorrow there will be a debate on the impact on rural Scotland of leaving the EU. There will also be an exhibition, workshops and visits to local projects.