THE longer I live in a rural part of Scotland, the more I realise that the decision to leave an urban setting is surrounded by penalty clauses.

People who dwell in remote parts of our lovely country often face steeper charges for incoming goods and services and fuel. They also face additional difficulties to get on the property ladder.

This week some young Highlands-based Scots set up a group to underline how difficult it is for them to live and work in the areas where they grew up, when town dwellers outbid them on properties which they only intend to use for part-time leisure.

They want a system where locals are given early opportunities to buy a permanent home before weekenders or people looking for a countryside place to rent out.

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Full disclosure: I found my permanent home in Argyll and Bute via years of having first used a caravan and latterly a tiny terraced cottage – both as holiday escapes from pressurised city centre living and working.

They were also used extensively by elderly relations as their holiday destination.

Nevertheless, I recognise now that both could have been used as starter homes for young people, and I have much greater understanding of the difficulties faced by them making that important first purchase – not least in an era where jobs and incomes are also less secure and the rental sector has become increasingly unaffordable.

In some ways it’s a sub section of the community right-to-buy legislation which has let so many small and island communities take control of their own land and destinies, often after years of neglect by landowners as we saw on the island of Eigg, now revitalised.

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Lobbying groups like the Countryside Alliance are never slow to rush to the defence of huge sporting estates which, they claim, offer good land management and local jobs. More usually they involve a relatively small number of jobs, often involving tied accommodation.

Some land is “managed” so that grouse may thrive for as long as it takes to rear and shoot them. A by-product has often been the slaughter of hares and the poisoning of rare raptors.

The map of Scottish land ownership shows vast tracts owned by a handful of concerns, many of them foreign based, and often more than reluctant to divulge details of the ultimate owners or their offshore tax arrangements.

Others will point to benign landlords whom, they argue, behave properly towards tenant farmers and rural dwellers.

I remain unconvinced that it is healthy for so much of Scotland to be in so few hands. Especially where those who live and work on the land have such little say in its development.

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