Scottish Rural & Islands Parliament Opens With Three Days of Rural Empowerment and Discussion in Fort William
The Scottish Rural & Islands Parliament (SRIP) is to return for its fifth edition, promising three days of dynamic discussions and engagement with rural and island communities from across Scotland. Hosted at the Nevis Centre in Fort William from today, Wednesday 1st to Friday 3rd November, this biennial gathering continues to grow in prominence as a vital platform for amplifying the voices of rural and island residents in shaping those policies that affect their lives.
The SRIP is a grassroots-driven participatory assembly that brings together individuals, community members, businesses, and organisations interested in rural and island Scotland. It provides an inclusive space for participants to engage in meaningful discussions, share expertise, and further collaborate on issues of vital importance to these communities, in addition to recognising and celebrating the important assets in rural and island areas of Scotland.
Under the overarching theme of "Village Halls and Community Spaces," this year's SRIP will explore a range of relevant topics, including democracy and local governance, climate change, water resources, housing, childcare, rural cost of living, digital connectivity, youth perspectives, and many more. These discussions will address 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.
This year also sees the inaugural Scottish Rural & Islands Youth Parliament, taking place at the Caol Community Centre today, Wednesday 1st November. This youth-focused event will engage individuals aged 16 to 30 in discussions relevant them, enabling them to reflect on their lived experiences and articulate what is important for them, ensuring that young voices are collectively heard and valued in policymaking.
Not only are there over 350 delegates attending in person, plus over 100 online, but there are many organisations across the Lochaber region involved in study visits, including those from Arisaig, Arkaig, Ballachulish, Glenfinnan, Kentallan and Duror, and Spean Bridge. The SRIP will also welcome political figures including the Depute First Minister, Shona Robinson, and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon.
Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Shona Robinson said:
“The Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament is a vital, grassroots democratic assembly that this government is proud and privileged to support. It provides a platform for the voices of the people who live and work in our rural and island communities.
“Our rural economy is not just crucial to Scotland’s national brand, but to our national prosperity, and I greatly value the opportunity to meet with delegates, share views and listen to what people are saying at the only Parliament of its kind in the UK.
“Ultimately, views aired over the three days of this fifth assembly will help inform Scottish Government policymaking, with discussions at previous Rural Parliaments helping shape the current development of our Rural Delivery Plan. I have no doubt this Parliament will prove equally dynamic and empowering for people representing the whole of rural Scotland.”
The SRIP is coordinated by Scottish Rural Action, a charity supporting the rural movement in Scotland, and the Scottish Islands Federation, which unites island communities to promote their interests and drive positive change. The event is also supported by a wide range of organisations and curators who play an essential role in shaping and stimulating the discussions.
Speaking on behalf of the coordinating organisations, Theona Morrison, Chair of Scottish Rural Action expressed enthusiasm ahead of the event and offered her thanks to the Nevis Centre, who are hosting this year’s Rural & Islands Parliament, and to the many organisations who have been partnering to deliver it. She continued:
“Rural and island places make up 98% of our country’s landmass. They are the locus of our natural assets, of our capacity to produce food and generate energy, and of a rich enterprising, cultural and linguistic tapestry. We have a huge opportunity in Fort William to shine a light on the solutions that rural and islands communities offer to global challenges. I am particularly excited for the inaugural Scottish Rural and Islands Youth Parliament, taking place at Caol Community Centre. Over 75 young people from across Scotland are coming together to identify actions they want to see to better secure their futures.”
On behalf of the Scottish Islands Federation, chair Camille Dressler says:
“The Scottish Islands Federation is delighted to be welcoming representation from more than 20 Scottish Islands at this year's Scottish Rural & Islands Parliament. From Orkney to Arran to Uist, each Island has their own unique challenges and ideas of how to progress. Through SRIP, they now have the opportunity to come together to amplify their voice, foster innovation and strengthen connections between communities, organisations and decision-makers.”
The insights and outcomes of the SRIP aim to directly influence the Scottish Government's policy-making process. The discussions will contribute to the development of the Rural Delivery Plan scheduled for 2026 and the National Islands Plan Review. The outputs from all the sessions will also be taken on a roadshow in rural and island locations across Scotland throughout 2024, further extending the impact of the discussions and enriching the insights gathered at the parliament.