Scottish islands: data overview 2023

This report gives a snapshot of Scotland's island-level data as collated in the new Scottish Islands Data Dashboard and draws out key findings relating to each of the strategic objective topic areas set out in the National Islands Plan.

1 Introduction

The Scottish Islands Data Dashboard collates existing data on the Scottish Islands in order to enable policymakers and other stakeholders to easily access key Scottish Islands data on a variety of topics. Data for each of the strategic objectives outlined in The National Plan for Scotland's Islands (2019) has been compiled. Within each strategic objective, key data sources have been selected to allow for monitoring of progress towards achieving these objectives. This report briefly presents and summarises some of the key information located within the Scottish Islands Data Dashboard

1.1 Scotland’s Islands

Our islands contribute to national life in a variety of ways. As well as playing a key role in how we understand ourselves as a nation they also influence the way international audiences see Scotland. As such they are integral to our national identity while also preserving and promoting strong local identities. The people and communities in Scotland’s inhabited islands, both those born in the islands and those who have moved there, are key to this.

The National Islands Plan consultation, carried out in 2018, identified that those living in Scotland’s islands value the strong sense of community, freedom and safety that life in the islands offers. The islands’ important economic role, their spectacular natural environment, and their rich cultural heritage mean that they are both valued by the nation and are a draw for visitors and investors from around the world who hold a special affection for our islands. Islands and island communities in Scotland are innovative and resilient, often developing examples of community-based solutions in estate management, energy, and digital connectivity, or pioneering health delivery, arts provision, and support for language and culture. This not only benefits local communities but can also produce ideas and solutions that can be then exported to the mainland.

While there are many positive aspects of life in Scotland’s islands, (including access to green spaces), the communities and individuals who live there can experience specific challenges. Many of these challenges are related to geographical location, higher costs, reliance on ferries, and distances from services. This has often led to islanders and island communities feeling that they are on the periphery of public policy. In particular, island communities have previously often felt that decisions which directly affect them were taken by people not living in the island who were detached from the reality of life away from the mainland. In addition, depopulation has been identified as a key issue affecting many island areas. While most islands have in the past experienced much stronger population levels, a pattern of long-term out-migration from the islands has affected many island communities, leading to challenges with service provision and community sustainability. It is in this context that the Scottish Government has developed proactive policies to address the challenges faced by island communities and build sustainable island futures for local and national benefit.

1.2 Policy context

Scotland’s first ever National Islands Plan was published in 2019 as a provision of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 which set out the Scottish Government’s objective of ensuring that there is a sustained focus across the Scottish Government and the public sector to meet the needs of islanders - now and in the future, with the aim of improving outcomes for communities. The Act received Royal Assent on 6 July 2018, the first Commencement Regulations were laid on 20 September 2018, and the act came into force on 4 October 2018. The Act is an historic piece of place-based legislation that carries the promise of improving island governance and policy in Scotland and included a duty on Scottish Ministers to prepare a National Islands Plan.

The National Islands Plan addressed the requirement in the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 to “set out the main objectives and strategy of the Scottish Ministers in relation to improving outcomes for island communities that result from, or are contributed to by, the carrying out of functions of a public nature”. In preparing the plan, Scottish Ministers were required to consider the distinctive geographical, natural heritage and cultural characteristics (including the linguistic heritage) of each of the areas inhabited by island communities. The initial five-year plan is currently under review, as required by the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, and the Scottish Government is working with local authorities, island communities and relevant sectors and partners to ensure this process is as thorough and effective as possible. The review will provide vital feedback from those most impacted by the National Islands Plan.

1.3 Improving island-level data

Strategic objective 13 of the National Islands Plan focuses on supporting the effective implementation of the plan. In relation to this objective, the plan sets out a commitment to “review the availability, usefulness of, and the wider barriers to, island level data both at an individual island level, groups of islands and consider the creation of a ‘Scottish islands’ data level in order to better understand the challenges faced by island communities” and a range of work has been undertaken to support this.

The recent release of the Scottish Islands Region Geography has facilitated new island-level evidence sources, including i) the National Records of Scotland (NRS)’s Scottish Island Regions population dashboard, ii) Household estimates outlining occupied and vacant dwellings in Scottish Island Regions, and iii) the Sub-Scotland Economic Statistics database. Charts on households (including second homes and vacant properties) have now been added to the NRS Island regions interactive dashboard. In addition, the next routine release of house price data by Registers of Scotland in November 2023 will include information covering the Scottish Islands Regions. These sources have been used in the development of a new dashboard which provides a compilation of Scottish Islands evidence, in conjunction with other sources.

1.4 Scottish Islands Data Dashboard

This new interactive Scottish Islands Data Dashboard uses existing datasets, as identified by a review of data in 2022/23, to create an additional mechanism to monitor the National Islands Plan. The dashboard presents island data categorised by the strategic objectives set out in the plan. Where possible the new Scottish Islands Region Geography has been applied to the existing data. However, some data are only available at a Local Authority level. Where Local Authority level data has been used this has been clearly highlighted in the dashboard. The following chapters summarise the key points from each section of the dashboard.

Alongside developing the Scottish Islands Data Dashboard, we have also been developing a similar data dashboard for rural Scotland. The Rural Scotland Data Dashboard, which will be available shortly, will provide evidence for the Rural Delivery Plan and a separate report focusing on this dashboard will be made available.

1.5 Other useful resources

Scottish island regions 2023: overview

Scottish island regions 2023: best-fitting data zones

Population Estimates of Scottish Island Regions (2011 Data Zone based)

Small area population estimates for Scotland, 2021 (interactive map)

Scottish Island Regions GIS files



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