A MINISTER is putting the spotlight on rural poverty ahead of the local elections – and says the SNP is the party with the most focus on the issue.

While poverty in Scotland is often viewed as a predominantly urban issue, Màiri McAllan, minister for environment and land reform, wants to highlight the particular challenges faced by those living in remote and rural areas of the country.

Some 15% of people in rural areas live in relative poverty versus 20% of those living in urban areas, according to the latest Scottish Government data.

But rural areas pose their own unique challenges because many homes are off-grid, meaning residents have to heat their homes with oil – a big expense. And everyday services such as schools, nurseries and health centres are spread out across sprawling areas which means many have no other option but to drive.

The National:

McAllan (above centre) told The National: “One of the challenges that we have in rural Scotland at any time is our service provision.

“Our services are fewer and further between than they are in urban areas.

“That’s a strain at the best of times, but during a cost of living crisis, it becomes even more so.

“We need to travel further to get to our jobs, we need to travel further to deal with childcare – often in a completely different direction – or access healthcare or things like that.

“But when you add all of that existing pressure into a cost of living crisis, you have a really challenging situation.

“And the other thing is that in all the discussion of cost of living and energy prices, in rural Scotland we have something like 170,000 off-grid who are largely reliant on oil."

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She said the SNP had a “laser focus” on tackling poverty and that SNP councils were best placed to work with an SNP Scottish Government to deliver reforms to tackle deprivation.

Speaking from her hometown of Biggar, South Lanarkshire, she highlighted work the SNP minority administration had achieved in power there.

“In 2017 voters turned the tide on what I would see as decades of Labour mismanagement,” she said.

“And in those years, they have built over 700 new council homes and they’ve brought over 200 more buildings back into use, as part of that they have driven down homelessness by 41% in South Lanarkshire and I think that is a really great tangible example of what an SNP minority administration can do.”

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And she said that the council is prepared to hold the Scottish Government to account if it needs to do so.

“South Lanarkshire council, as a local MSP, they very robustly tell me exactly what they expect of me at my level and I’ve seen that operate between council administrations and the Scottish Cabinet as well.

“In fact, at this time of crisis that joined-up working between the Scottish Government and SNP councils, I think will be more important than ever.

“If we think about things like delivering the wrap-around childcare, delivering the National Care Service, one of the biggest reforms in the history of devolution, having strong SNP voices at a local and national level and joining up in that regard will make those things a success.”

As the minister for land reform, she said she is prepared to tackle the interests of those who own Scotland’s land.

She said: “It’s a rural and urban issue and what I am trying to do in government is about greater diversity in ownership, greater diversity in use and the ways that communities can benefit from that.

“Scotland has made great progress in reform but the cause marches on.

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“One of the problems is scale and concentration, we have the Scottish Land Commission to advise us and one of the things they have identified is when there is almost a monopoly of ownership, what we call scale and concentration – large-scale ownership concentrated in the hands of few people, that can be detrimental to communities.”