Nicola Sturgeon announces new Programme for Government

Hannah Downey

Earlier this week, Nicola Sturgeon published her new Programme for Government. The First Minister unveiled 12 new bills and plans to invest an additional £7 billion in services during the upcoming year, with a number of schemes and investments specific to supporting rural Scotland.

Introducing her new plans for rural Scotland, Sturgeon said;

“People are key to the economic and social wellbeing of Scotland’s rural and island communities. We are determined to reduce the potential disruption of Brexit on rural and island life and to help our communities and businesses flourish. There is untapped potential in the rural economy and the right opportunities and infrastructure can help unleash that.

It is not possible to ignore the uncertainty caused by Brexit – uncertainty that is being made worse by the blundering of the UK Government. But, equally, we must not let it define us, curtail our ambitions or halt Scotland’s progress.”

Prioritising mobile coverage in rural and island areas and addressing the particular opportunities and challenges for island communities were some of the plans included in last years programme, and will continue to be a focus in the future. There are plans to build on the Historic Islands (Scotland) Act set out in May this year by preparing the national islands plan, as well as developing an Islands passport scheme as a marketing initiative to encourage people to visit more of Scotland’s 80 inhabited islands. The First Minister also said;

“We want to help coastal communities keep fishing harbours operational because of their importance to the maritime and rural economies, and the greater wellbeing of those communities. Therefore, in the year ahead, we will provide up to £2 million to meet emergency work at fishing harbours which ensures the continued operation of the facility and the safety of the fishermen and wider community. We will also work with Fisheries Local Action Groups to deliver projects which support harbour diversification and delivers an increase in harbour income.”

The programme also discussed a new Rural Economy Action Plan, which would steer a transition to more sustainable and inclusive economic growth in rural areas. This will include measures to increase the number of people living and working in rural Scotland by providing new opportunities for young people, supporting local micro-enterprises and encouraging innovative delivery of public services.

Another main focus for the future of rural Scotland is helping farmers to move towards a more profitable, low carbon future, adapting to the changing climate and securing business viability for future generations. A number of specific actions were outlined to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including establishing and publishing first-phase research into the feasibility of a SMART target for reducing Scotland’s emissions from nitrogen fertiliser by the end of 2019.

In terms of post-brexit rural Scotland, Sturgeon outlines a strategic approach to farming, food and drink production and rural development for the medium and long term. There are plans to establish an agri-tourism monitor farm programme which will involve working with farms, estates and crofts to develop food tourism as an additional strand to food and farming businesses. Scotland is also set to host the next Rural Parliament in Stranraer in November, which will continue to listen to the views of rural communities about what matters to them most.

The full Programme for Government is available to view online.