This chapter introduces the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) and provides context for the work that has been carried out to create it. This includes information about the Scottish islands, the policy context of this work, and how this work fits with other efforts to improve island-level data to meet the commitment set out in the 2019 National Islands Plan.
The Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) proposes a new way of classifying Scotland’s islands which uses data on populations, local amenities, and ferry services to understand the similarities and differences between the nation’s islands. In doing so it helps to address a commitment in the National Islands Plan (Scottish Government, 2019) for better data about islands to help inform action and policy.
This report summarises the island types defined under the Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology 2024 and goes on to provide a breakdown of islands based on the individual factors of population, local amenities, and ferry connections.
The high-level typology detailed in Chapter 4 of this report outlines ten island types based on similarities and differences in terms of population, local amenities, and ferry access to mainland Scotland. It is intended to support those wishing to understand the diversity of Scotland’s islands for a variety of purposes. This might include, for example, providing a context for the evaluation of Island Communities Impact Assessments and examining options for replicability of projects across the islands.
1.1 Scotland’s islands
Scotland’s islands are home to a diverse range of communities, businesses, and resources which contribute to the rich tapestry of national life. The islands have many unique characteristics and qualities which are valued by those who live there as well as by visitors and investors from mainland Scotland and beyond. However, this uniqueness also presents the islands with some specific challenges such as low populations and distance from main population centres. In addition, the majority of island communities rely on ferries to transport both people, goods, and those providing services to and from the island. Island residents may rely on ferries to access schooling, medical appointments, work, or grocery stores, for example, and also to bring in supplies and professional services from elsewhere.
These challenges mean that life on an island can be very different from life in mainland Scotland and this has often led to islanders feeling that they are on the periphery of public policy. In particular, island communities have previously stated that they feel that decisions which directly affected them were taken by people who were completely detached from the reality of life away from mainland Scotland (Scottish Government, 2019). It is in this context that the Scottish Government has taken active steps, via the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the National Islands Plan (2019), to address the challenges faced by island communities and build sustainable island futures for our islands for local and national benefit.
1.2 Policy context
The first National Plan for Scotland’s Islands (also known as the National Islands Plan) was published in 2019 as a provision of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act sets out the Scottish Government’s objective of ensuring that there is a sustained focus across 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 includes 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 Act, 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 data about islands
The National Islands Plan sets out 13 strategic objectives which support the Scottish Government in improving outcomes for island communities. These objectives include increasing the availability of data about islands to help identify and assess the specific challenges faced by communities and to better understand how to target support to meet their diverse needs.
Work has already been undertaken to support this commitment, including the release of the Scottish Island Regions (2023) geography which helps reflect some of the nuance between islands within local authority areas. This has facilitated new island-level evidence sources, including:
- the National Records of Scotland Scottish Island Regions dashboard,
- household estimates outlining occupied and vacant dwellings in Scottish Island Regions, and
- the Sub-Scotland Economic Statistics database.
In addition, from 2024 routine releases of house price data by Registers of Scotland will include information covering the Scottish Islands Regions. These sources were used in the development of the Scottish Islands Data Dashboard which provides a compilation of Scottish Islands evidence, in conjunction with other sources.
Primary data collection also took place in 2020 (see National Islands Plan Survey: final report, Scottish Government, 2021) with analysis of a second round of the Scottish Islands Survey (2023) currently underway and due to report later in 2024.
The Scottish Government Scottish Islands Typology (2024) detailed in this report further contributes to the drive to improve data about islands by providing a way to compare islands to each other based on key factors which affect daily life: population, access to amenities and services on-island, and the wider access offered by ferry connections.
1.5 Other useful resources
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