Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament 2023

Various images of delegates at SRIP 2023
Susan Thomson

The Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament (SRIP) is an important opportunity for voice of rural and island communities to help reinforce the importance of local democracy and to help shape the emerging Rural Delivery Plan. The theme of this year’s SRIP was Village Halls and Community Spaces.

At 10:00 on the 1st November the first of around 350 delegates from all over Scotland arrived at the Nevis Centre in Fort Willam to attend the SRIP.  The delegates were able to network and watch films in either the Screen Machine or the Moving Images caravan prior to the offical opening at midday with a welcome address from Scottish Rural Action Chair, Theona Morisson and Scottish Islands Federation, Chair Camille Dressler. Afterwards, lunch in the main hall was accompanied by music from Ardnamurchan High School Folk Band.

After lunch, over 75 young people from across Scotland, the delegates of the Scottish Rural and Islands Youth Parliament (SRIYP), left for the Caol Centre for their workshops and discussions to identify the actions they want to see to better secure their futures. This year was the inaugural SRIYP, with Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land reform and Islands attending.

The remaining delegates then had a choice of six different workshops to attend in and around the Nevis Centre and the nearby UHI campus. The panel discussion focussed on the rural delivery plan, rural futures and the National Islands Plan, and the role of rural and island communities in informing both. The workshop discussion topics included National Island Plan; Rural Poverty: Achieving Adequate Incomes; Village Halls and Community Spaces; Water and Wastewater; European Connections, and Enterprise: Access and Progression Routes.

After these workshops delegates had a quick coffee break and then they were back to work in the final workshops of the day. The workshop choices for delegates in the second round were Democracy and Local Governance, Open Space, Climate, Childcare, Digital Connectivity, and Land Use and Ownership. Discussions during the workshops explored the challenges and opportunities faced by rural and island communities with the aim of fostering a deeper understanding of the needs and aspirations of rural and island Scotland.

Day two, and delegates were out in the communities surrounding Fort William for study trips. Ms Gougeon also attended a series of project visits on the morning of Thursday 2nd November alongside SRIP delegates. Eight different study trips were available to delegates.

  • The Population Renewal visit was full of insights, local history and community housing project ideas.
  • The Community Led Tourism Study Visit made stops to Glenfinnan Community Car Park and Glenfinnan Station Museum to learn how tourism has impacted the area.
  • Kentallen and Duror Community Centre hosted a Transport Systems study visit with brilliant insights into Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure, cycling and paths.
  • Food Systems in Rural and Island Places study visit was a delicious adventure with visits to the Fort William Auction Mart, the Land-workers' Alliance, Glen Spean Brewery, Great Glen Charcuterie, Food Lochaber culminating with a farm walk at Peter's Barn.
  • At the Spean Bridge Community Centre, Energy Futures attendees had the opportunity to imagine a positive energy future and the barriers and actions required to achieve it.
  • Arkaig Forest and Highland Cinema were the locations to talk Culture and Wellbeing with an excellent workshop on social prescribing.
  • The Circular Economy study visit hosted by Kinlochleven Community Trust  provided a tour of some of their projects including their Community Pantry and  the local Men’s Shed where the group heard powerful testimonial of the importance of this vital community space. After this the group travelled on to Ballachulish Village Hall where Lochaber Environmental Group’s spoke about their composting initiative and the Restart Lochaber project to reuse and repair goods. The Scottish Islands Federation spoke on the Islands Marine Litter Working Group and Fyne Futures talked about their work on Bute.

Afterwards, it was back at the Nevis Centre where delegates could network over coffee, take part in the 10 Pin bowling Challenge or have another opportunity to see some films in the Screen Machine and the Moving Images caravan.  Additionally, three network roundtables were hosted on the topics of Community Led Local Development (CLLD output statement), Cross Border Collaboration and Learning and Community Research Protocols, after which delegates headed back to their accommodation to get ready for a Gala Dinner and Ceilidh in the evening. 

Lydia Rohmer, Principal and Chief Executive at West Highland College UHI was our keynote speaker at the Gala Dinner. Her inspiring speech on community impact wowed us all. After dinner Beinn Lee, a six-piece band from Uist in the Outer Hebrides provided the music for the ceilidh.

On the final day, the SRIP also welcomed 150 online delegates, bringing the total number of attendees to 500, to participate in a ‘Rural and Islands Futures’ panel discussion.  Chaired by Mairi McFadyen, with Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Dr. Liam Glynn, University of Limerick, Cllr Maureen Chalmers COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing and Ellie Moore, a delegate at the Rural and Island Youth Parliament, who brought the voices of the youth delegates to the centre stage.

The final workshop of the Parliament brought together the key themes of the past few days to shape the Rural Delivery Plan, review the National Islands Plan, and chart our course forward.

Following the event Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance said:

“Scotland’s rural economy is bursting with talent and potential. That was the clear message that cut through from my attendance at this week’s Rural and Islands Parliament, which I was privileged to attend.

The rural economy is not just crucial to Scotland’s national brand, it is vital to our national prosperity, with people working in businesses such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, and tourism helping contribute £39 billion a year to the economy.”

“All the views aired by people at this fifth assembly of the Parliament are important as, ultimately - they will help inform policymaking and shape development of the Rural Delivery Plan – which will set out how all parts of the Scottish Government will deliver for our vision for Scotland’s rural and island communities.”

“We will continue to listen – and discussions held at this assembly will play a key role for sharing ideas and solutions. Everyone who attended this week’s event should be extremely proud of the important page they are helping write to create a strong, future vision of rural Scotland that works for everyone”

The outputs from the Parliament will contribute to the development of the Rural Delivery Plan scheduled for 2026 and the National Islands Plan Review. They will also be available to rural and island communities when they are taken on a roadshow across Scotland’s rural and island places throughout 2024, further extending the impact of the discussions and enriching the insights gathered at the parliament. The recommendations of the parliament will also be showcased at the next European Rural Parliament.

The final act for all at SRIP 2023 was to join Mairi McFadyen in an emotional rendition of a verse of “Here’s a Health to the Company” by Colm R. McGuinness, before heading home.