GROWING up in the heart of Aberdeen city, urban life was all I knew for a long time. The bustling streets, the lights, the ceaseless activity formed my understanding of my environment.

As I navigated my way through the lanes of this city, my young mind was already becoming familiar with the intricacies of urban living. Yet, life had different plans and in my 20s, I found myself moving to a small village in Aberdeenshire with my young daughter.

The charm of the rural expanse and the lure of its tranquillity was something I had never known and soon came to cherish. The coastlines, the striking cliffs, the feeling of space, the edge of the land – it was a completely different world, and I fell in love with it.

The beauty of beaches and coasts, both near and far, has always had a special place in my heart. Whether it was the childish delight of feeling the sand under my feet or the calming rhythm of the waves, these were the things that used to captivate me as a child and continue to hold a charm for me even today.

I can imagine how this enchanting beauty might draw others to want to own a second home here, to share in the allure of the stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, the rich culture, and warm communities. However, we must also acknowledge the challenges it creates, especially the need to secure homes for locals.

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Many rural families must live apart from their support networks because of precisely that lure to have a second home. I have been told of the frustration of constituents who, during the winter months, were crammed into family homes, or sofa surfing when they could see many empty holiday houses – “a wasted home”, they tell me.

The stark contrast of my urban upbringing and my present rural life has given me a perspective on the diversity of Scotland. From the bustling urban landscapes of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where I spend considerable time due to my professional commitments, to the peaceful, picturesque coasts of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, Scotland thrives on diversity.

However, this same diversity poses challenges as the needs of urban and rural communities often diverge significantly. A one-size-fits-all approach to policymaking often overlooks the needs of our more isolated, rural communities, highlighting the need for more localised decision-making.

A glaring example of this challenge is policies such as the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), designed with the best intentions but inadvertently potentially causing difficulties for our fishing communities.

Large-scale infrastructure projects often miss the mark in these areas, too. Peterhead and Fraserburgh, for instance, despite being two of Scotland’s largest towns, lack freight rail links – a critical gap considering they serve as landing points for 70% of Scotland’s fish.

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There’s merit in having unified national policies, of course. They help ensure a standard quality of care and education across the country, with services not contingent on one’s postcode. But we also need to strike a balance, creating national standards while allowing local authorities the flexibility to tailor implementations to meet local needs.

This balancing act is crucial for rural communities, where social and economic inequalities often intensify due to restricted access to resources such as healthcare, education and social services.

Consider transportation and housing, two areas where these disparities are particularly stark. Limited public transport options can severely restrict the mobility of rural residents, affecting their access to education, healthcare, employment, and social interactions.

The shortage of affordable housing, exacerbated by a rise in second homes, can lead to increased homelessness and other associated social issues. These challenges also push many young folk away from their rural homes, forcing them to move away from family support, which in turn creates even more disadvantages for rural communities and future generations.

But could more localised powers be a solution to these disparities? Local communities, after all, understand their own challenges better and are better equipped to design policies that best address their needs. Empowering local authorities could also drive democratic participation at a local level, re-invigorating community council involvement and local council elections, often marked by low voter turnouts and participation.

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There is also a lack of diversity, with low representation of minority demographics, which compounds local inequality. To ensure a well-rounded and equal share of the pie, we need all tastes catered for in one way or another.

In particular, what I see lacking is parity of esteem with other spheres of government. Would this give local residents the desire to engage more in local democracy if they could see direct impacts and positive outcomes from their involvement? Most of my casework as an MSP is council related, and often policy related.

How do we ensure people are aware of exactly how vital their council vote is and is a campaign for further empowerment a good way to do that?

I do warmly welcome the recent moves towards more empowerment for councils from the Scottish Government. The Verity House Agreement, signed by First Minister Humza Yousaf and Cosla president Shona Morrison, aims to build a stronger relationship between the Scottish Government and local government, with mutual trust and respect at its core.

Among other commitments, it will agree a new fiscal framework to control how local authorities’ funding is allocated, reducing ring-fencing and giving them greater control over their budgets to meet local needs.

Ultimately, localised decision-making isn’t a silver bullet for all the issues plaguing our rural communities. However, it’s a significant step towards empowering them, addressing the compounded inequalities they face and building a Scotland that serves all, irrespective of where they choose to call home.

It also means we ensure the diversity that makes Scotland so unique becomes a strength rather than a challenge.