Inclusive participation in rural Scotland: research report

Preliminary exploration report details the findings of research into barriers to participation facing lesser heard voices in the context of rural Scotland. Specifically, it focuses on the LGBTI community, disabled people, carers and ethnic minorities.

1 Executive Summary

This report details the findings of research into barriers to participation facing lesser heard voices in the context of rural Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to supporting a Rural Movement, which can be described as a grass-roots process that seeks to connect rural communities with decision makers. The purpose of a Rural Movement, as outlined by Scottish Rural Action (SRA), is two-fold:

1. “To connect rural communities of place and of interest, enabling them to share their expertise and best practice on matters relating to rural resilience, redesign and renewal.”

2. “To advance two-way dialogue between rural communities and decision-makers, ensuring that policy and legislation at all levels of government is enacted in response to expert input from those living and working in rural Scotland.”

The Scottish Government recognises the need to ensure this Rural Movement, and the associated biennial meeting of the Rural Parliament, should be inclusive of all rural voices and experiences.

The following report intends to assist in this regard, presenting findings from qualitative research that aimed to:

a) Understand the rural experiences of four communities of interest (LGBTI people, disabled people, ethnic minorities, and carers) in Scotland;

b) Understand the barriers to participation these communities face in relation to rural policy and decision-making in Scotland; and

c) Understand how these barriers to participation may be addressed.

The term ‘communities of interest’ will hence forth refer to the four groups collectively.

Literature review findings

Previous research regarding the rural experiences of the communities of interest, and the barriers to participation these communities face in relation to rural policy and decision-making, is relatively limited in both the Scottish context and that of the wider United Kingdom. However, available evidence did highlight rural experiences such as prejudice, discrimination, and social exclusion more broadly. Possible barriers to rural participation that were highlighted included those extending from social exclusion, poor transport, employment patterns, and policy invisibility.


A higher proportion of the population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other in urban Scotland than in rural Scotland. Ethnic minorities make up a higher proportion of the population in urban settings than rural settings. However, there is no clear relationship between rurality and care provision nor the proportion of disabled people.

The Social Survey Core Questions (SSCQ) indicate that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other (LGBO) population of Scotland is estimated at 2.9%. There is no reliable data on Scotland’s trans population. A higher proportion of the population identify as LGBO in urban areas than in rural.

Ethnic minorities are estimated to make up around 11% of Scotland’s population. with the exception of the white polish population. However, this population is unevenly geographically distributed. For example, while 6.7% of Scotland’s large urban areas population identified as either Asian, Asian Scottish, or Asian British ethnicities, this was the case for only 0.4% of the population in remote rural areas.

The Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) estimated that, in 2020, disabled people made up 31% of Scotland's population. According to the SSCQ, the proportion of disabled people in urban and rural areas varies, but does not appear to vary consistently with the level of rurality in which individual lives.

According to the SHeS, an estimated 19% of Scotland’s population undertake unpaid care work. The SSCQ, which provides a slightly higher estimate, provides a breakdown of these results relative to the Scottish Government six-fold Urban Rural Classification. Based on this data, there is no clear relationship between rurality and levels of care provision.


Six stakeholder interviews were conducted with individuals who, in a professional capacity, had engaged with these disadvantaged groups in rural Scotland.


The main findings are as follows:

  • The experiences of the communities of interest in rural Scotland often constitute, or are co-factors in the formation of, barriers to participation in both society more broadly, and rural policy and decision-making more specifically. To put this another way, the participants in the research noted several challenges facing the communities of interest in rural Scotland: geographic isolation, social isolation, and social exclusion; a lack of infrastructure and services that meet groups’ needs; a lack of representation within decision-making bodies; minority stress and challenging economic conditions and circumstances in rural Scotland. These experiences, in turn, make participation in rural Scotland more challenging.
  • With this in mind, specific barriers to participation in decision making could be addressed through the active inclusion of the communities of interest, with attention to their lived experience, in the decision-making process. Stakeholders stressed that the onus to pursue this inclusion was on the decision-making bodies and organisations, and not the communities of interest themselves. One example of this are the Disability Access Panels that exist in most council areas of Scotland. Another approach could be to include organisations that have an already established relationship with the communities of interest.
  • However, addressing the wider social and economic barriers to participation present in rural Scotland may also require policy interventions beyond the scope of what is discussed here. For example, one participant suggested the adoption of a universal basic income as a mechanism to address economic barriers to participation. While this conclusion is out of the scope of this report, the broader economic context of participation should be noted.



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