Blueprint for countryside
More people, more rail: SNP plan for rural economy
The Borders railway has helped stimulate the local economy
Encouraging people to move to the Scottish countryside and reinstating branch railway lines underpin an ambitious plan to boost the rural economy to be unveiled by the SNP.
There will be a sharp increase in funding to support Scottish food and drink, a core driver of the rural economy, and a demand that Holyrood be given powers to impose taxes on online delivery firms to protect local shops.
The SNP hopes the 10-year “Rural Stimulus Plan”, to be unveiled at next month’s annual conference, will build on the impact of initiatives such as the Borders railway and investment in broadband connectivity in rural areas.
The party reiterates existing policy to put one million acres of land in community ownership and replant parts of the ancient Caledonian Forest. It will also consider free bus travel for those in the most remote communities.
In the short term, there is a focus on helping to revive the struggling tourism sector which has been crushed the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, elements of the plan may require the Scottish government to be given more financial muscle, such as greater borrowing powers.
Fergus Mutch, the SNP’s former communications chief at Holyrood who hopes to contest the Aberdeenshire West seat in May, is among those who have worked on the blueprint.
He told The National newspaper: “Rural and remote Scotland face serious challenges and the SNP should think big about how we solve them.
“Our Rural Stimulus Plan offers a set of serious, ambitious proposals to help these communities across Scotland realise their potential.
“Covid-19 has changed life for each and every one of us. There’s been plenty of chat about what the ‘new normal’ looks like and how we might seek to ‘build back better’.
The plans will be put to the online conference at the end of November.