2007 - 2022

The Highland Clearances, 2022

There is a rural housing crisis which constitutes an economic clearance of young people raised in the Highlands and Islands. This crisis is fatally undermining efforts to maintain the Gaelic language and culture in rural and island communities and threatening their very existence. 

Young people, working professionals and families all struggle to get access to housing on the open market. Government ‘help to buy’ schemes, and the proposed ‘Islands Bond’ do not help, they use public money to subsidise further price increases, transferring public funds to private profit. It seems there is a lack of understanding of the nature of the housing market and the extent of the housing crisis. While there is an urgent need for more social and affordable housing, this alone does not address the underlying issue, nor help working professionals compete with investors, retirees, and second home buyers, to buy their own home. 

All homes sold in Scotland must have a ‘Home Report’. A registered surveyor will prepare this report, which will state the condition and value of the house, and give the house an EPC, Energy Performance Certificate. This price is considered reasonable based on the condition of the house and the market. But the value of a house varies depending on what it is then used for. If a house is bought as a home, you will not be able to make money from it to recoup the purchase price. If a house is bought as a rental property investment, particularly in popular tourist areas, a substantial profit can be made each week to recoup, and thereby justify a higher purchase price. 

Homes are being sold for their values as rental properties, rather than for their value as residences. Homes are often sold for more than 30% over the Home Report value. To get a mortgage on a house, you need a deposit of 5-20% of the mortgageable, Home Report value. Houses are currently being sold, often unseen, to wealthy individuals and companies who have the money to pay over 130% of the Home Report value in cash. 

Building more homes will not address this economic imbalance. The housing market must be regulated.

As a buyer, you must have the money for a deposit of between 5% and 20% of the value of the house, depending on your employment situation and the bank. The mortgage will be based on the value of the house as assessed in the Home Report. If you have a decent salary, you can get a mortgage of up to 95% of the Home Report value. The mortgage obtained is based on the price in the Home Report, not the sale price. Housing in the Highlands is in high demand, and tourism makes rental income valuable, with houses often being sold for 120 – 150% of the Home Report value.

As an example, a house with a Home Report value of £160,000 may sell for £208,000, 130% of the Home Report value. A deposit at 10% would require £16,000. A further £48,000 would be needed to pay the 30% over Home Report. That means you would need to have £64,000 of your own money to buy this house. You need to have that money, as well as a high enough income that will allow you to get a mortgage in the first place. With rents so scarce and expensive, and the lack of well-paid permanent jobs, young people have no chance of saving this money.

Tourism, through services such as AirBnB, removes homes from communities. The number of short-term rental homes continues to rise, with Skye being one of the worst areas in Scotland for short-term lets. There are around 1000 houses on short-term let on Skye alone, 18.6% of the houses. According to Council figures, there are only 4500 households on Skye, with over 10,000 living in the island. Skye is the worst affected area in Scotland in terms of households occupied full-time, 91.6% in the Highlands, 95.9% across Scotland, but 81.4% in the Isle of Skye.

While more social housing is desperately needed, the housing market means that young, relatively well-paid professionals; doctors, nurses, teachers, architects, and engineers will not have access to housing. Government schemes, such as ‘Help to Buy’, and the proposed ‘Island Bond’ do not allow them to compete with well-off individuals, and tourism companies, as these schemes only cover the mortgageable value given in a Home Report, not the sale price. These schemes ultimately serve to publicly subsidise further price inflation.

Communities need young families and people of working age. Houses are currently being sold to wealthy individuals, who will make money from them. A house should be a home for people who want to live there. While tourism is an important part of the economy, it should not smother and kill communities.

Good employment is scarce in the Highlands, with median wages £1,824 below the national average in Scotland as a whole. Hospitality jobs are often temporary and seasonal. According to Government statistics, 13% of Skye residents work in hospitality compared to a national average of 6.3%. 64.4% of people working in hospitality earn less than a living wage. Hospitality is the lowest paid employment sector in Scotland, £8.72 per hour, below living wage. 6.8% of Skye’s population is involved in agriculture and fishing compared to 2% nationally.

Add to all this that the cost of living is also higher in rural areas. People pay more for rent, food, electricity, heating, fuel, and delivery costs. We see less benefit from our tax money, public transport is poor, and people have to travel long distances in their own cars to use services, health and care, galleries, museums, sport and cultural events are all much harder to access but paid for through taxation. The cost of living makes it much harder for people in rural areas to save money. Rural infrastructure and economic inequality are penalising young people in the Highlands. This is an ongoing economic clearance.


Just some of the additional costs suffered by Highlanders:

+£1,000 per year on heating 

*Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association estimate *prior to recent increases*

+£3,456 per year on rent 

*Average Rent in Scotland £628pm / Skye £916pm

+£1,040 per year on food 

*Approximate estimate of £20pw on household grocery shop

-£1,824 median wage below national average

*Scottish Government figures


+£7,320 per year worse off













Help to support independent Scottish journalism by subscribing or donating today.


Comments (32)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Tom Ultuous says:

    Spot on Martainn. There was an article on MSN today saying Plaid Cymru supporters were threatening to start torching second homes as happened a few decades ago.

    1. David+B says:

      The Welsh Government have passed legislation allowing councils to increase council tax on 2nd homes by 300% from next year (as part of the Welsh Labour/ PC participation agreement). Should be no need to torch anything.

      Why haven’t we done the same?

      1. MacGilleRuadh says:

        Good question. I’d put it down to the SNP government’s inefficiency, lethargy and obsession with fringe issues

        1. Colin d says:

          You are right there. The SNP COULD do something about this social problem

      2. Tom Ultuous says:

        Good on the Welsh govt and the Scottish govt should do similar. Don’t think it’s a good idea to leave it up to the councils though. If an area is awash with second homes does that not make it more likely to have a Tory council?

        1. David+B says:

          Interesting question. Neither Highland nor Edinburgh councils are Tory run so I’d be inclined to say ‘no’. I strongly believe local communities have the competence to manage their own affairs so would devolve powers to the lowest possible level.

          1. 220604 says:

            Indeed, part of the housing problem in local areas is that housing policy is decided remotely. There needs to be far greater devolution of resources to local communities so they can identify and prioritise their own economic and social needs.

  2. Auld Yin says:

    Not just Gaelic language and culture that’s in danger. Doric, Shetlandic, Orcadian…and similar issues for our sisters and brothers in Wales, Cumbria, Cornwall, Ellan Vannin…

  3. Alan Webster says:

    if people want large areas of the Highlands and Islands empty except for holiday homes with few schools and shops, where local culture and language is consigned to history books then fine, change nothing. Something must be done to protect those who want to live and work here and if it means a block is put on cashed up incomers so be it

  4. MacGilleRuadh says:

    It’s the same in Galloway except the population gave up Gaelic 300 years ago. Essentially there is population replacement going on. The young are off to Glasgow and retirees (mostly but not exclusively) are coming in droves from England, mainly places like Lancashire. They still can’t believe how cheap the housing is although it will soon level off at Northern English levels I imagine.
    Meanwhile land reform seems to be in reverse, agricultural land is consolidating under a few large subsidised landowners (one trousers £1m pa subsidy pa) and hill land is being fought over by city investment firms at about ten times the cost level of a few years ago.
    But never mind, Nicola is spending time congratulating and fawning over our dear and glorious leader.

    1. John McIntyre says:

      I realise people are very uncomfortable speaking about the franchise but the population replacement in places like Galloway and Skye will have a major impact on any future independence referendum. You need only look at the independence referendum and Brexit vote in Orkney and Moray and the population demographics in those places.

      NB I am not in favour of limiting the Scottish independence referendum franchise to those born in the country. I think everybody who lives in Scotland irrespective of birthplace should have a vote to determine the future of the country, however, I am firmly in favour of limiting the franchise to those who have resided permanently in Scotland for a minimum of 10 years, to be proven by reference to tax records and local government records.

      Last time, in 2014, those born in Scotland voted yes by 53% (source – Edinburgh University, Centre for Constitutional Change, Professor Ailsa Henderson, Why Scotland Voted No). Those born in the rest of the UK voted against independence by 75%.

      Apparently the gap between yes/no between the born in Scotland group and the born in the rest of the UK group is narrowing post Brexit. Common Weal has published data about this.

      1. 220603 says:

        Yes, you could do this in the hope of gerrymandering a vote in favour of making the Scottish government independent of the UK.

        But it’s a vital democratic principle that, if someone participates in the civic life of a community, they should have a say in the governance of its public affairs irrespective of how long they’ve been members of that community.

        Denying some Scots a vote in any future referendum on the matter on the basis of a ten-year residency rule would be profoundly and shamefully undemocratic.

        1. John McIntyre says:

          Really interesting to hear your views. I respect your right to your opinions but I disagree.

          My aunt and mother are Irish citizens by descent. My aunt, a Scot but with UK citizenship and Irish citizenship, resides in county Westmeath in Ireland with her partner who is a Scot without Irish citizenship (he’s only a UK citizen). My aunt had the legal right to vote in the Repeal the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution abortion referendum in Ireland. Her partner was not despite the fact he lives, works and pays taxes there.

          My friend from uni, a Scot with only UK citizenship, relocated to Copenhagen Denmark with her Danish boyfriend prior to the Brexit withdrawal day. She is unable to vote in referenda in Denmark. – she has no right to and would have to become a Danish citizen to do so, which requires years’ residency amongst other things.

          Keen to hear your views. Are Ireland and Denmark gerrymandering their referenda? Are Ireland and Denmark racist? Are Ireland and Denmark undemocratic?

          The problem with saying, as you do, that my preferred position “denies some Scots” a vote is that there is no such thing legally as Scottish citizenship. And so anybody who is wealthy enough to buy a house in this country and move here, or is wealthy and educated enough to be offered a professional job here and relocates, becomes – in your definition – a “Scot” overnight simply by having an address here. And yet this same right is definitely not granted to Scots moving elsewhere. In fact, no other country on earth that I am aware of has a national constitutional referendum franchise as wide open as Scotland used in 2014 (basically a local government franchise i. e. an address in Scotland). Why is that?

          Wishing you well and thanks for the debate.

          1. Niemand says:

            Well yeah but that is because you are imagining Scotland has the status of an independent nation before it becomes independent which doesn’t really work – so the examples you give from elsewhere don’t compare properly. This is the conundrum.
            Small point – it is 72% rUK born people who voted No rather than 75%. The detail of the survey makes interesting reading:

            For me the bigger issue is why don’t more Scots born people want independence? – just a few percent swing would wipe out the incomer issue. This would seem a much better avenue to pursue than the franchise question whilst at the same time potentially delivering a result that had clear support (especially if more incomers were persuaded at the same time). Imagine a 52/48 win with most of the English-born living in Scotland disenfranchised? Do you think that that would work out well especially if Unionist Scots had never supported the change of franchise in the first place? It all looks a bit desperate and I am not that convinced 10-year residency would make the difference – do you have evidence it would i.e. that a significant proportion of those r/UK born people did/would vote Yes?

          2. 220604 says:

            If Denmark and Ireland deny people who participate in the civic life of their respective communities (by definition, ‘Danes’ and ‘Irish’) a say in the governance of their community’s public affairs, then – yes – they are lacking in democracy.

            ‘…no other country… has a national constitutional referendum franchise as wide open as Scotland used in 2014… Why is that?’

            In respect of the national franchise, Scotland is more democratic than other comparable communities. That’s why.

        2. Colin d says:

          You are just wrong. No other country allows foreign citizens to influence important decisions like referenda. Just check it out first before talking crap

      2. David+B says:

        Since you’ve mentioned my home of Moray – yes we have a lot of RAF and retirees from rUK, but there’s also a hell of a lot of teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists etc. who have moved up from England and are filling gaps left by the fact we’re not training these people locally. I’d look at training gaps and the fact young people have to leave to get training, before disenfranchising those who are serving and contributing to the local community.

  5. Hector says:

    Its not just the highlands
    Same problem exists in all rural areas of scotland

  6. Graeme McCormick says:

    One of the main reasons for the lack of housing in rural areas is the sale of council housing under the right-to-buy legislation, these were bought by the sitting tenants often with help from their children who no longer lived in the area and remained holiday homes for the families.

    At the time of the sale some councils prohibited the houses being used as holiday homes or short term lets. To my knowledge that condition was never enforced.

    Today Scotland is not short of land to build good quality social housing for rent . In addition there’s plenty of land to build houses to purchase. Planning and title burdens can be imposed to regulate purchasers as has happened in the past.

    Instead of fretting about second homes and creating artificial impediments to regulate the existing markets which the very rich can just ignore the Scottish Government must introduce Annual Ground Rent on all land and property. That will force land owners to steward what they own and if they can’t raise enough to pay the AGR they’ll soon get shot of it at little or no cost to avoid the liability. That will reduce the cost of building and provide well designed easily run houses. For those wanting to buy plots or houses who are local then the SG should introduce special mortgages as current lenders’ mortgage policies are not sympathetic towards self build with restricted burdens.

    This could all be done under the Devolution Settlement without consent from the U.K. government .

    1. 220603 says:

      Spot on, Graeme. An AGR that returns all land to common ownership and rents it back to its users at a rate set by projected public expenditure could replace our current inefficient and inequitable tax-based systems of distributive justice. You had an interesting article on this in The National a couple of years ago, I remember.

    2. Colin d says:

      Spot on

  7. Alistair MacKichan says:

    We need protection of heritage, settled communities, and Gaelic. Existing communities in the Gaeltachachd should be designated zones where direct protectionism against the forces cited in this article is made. Holyrood needs to look beyond the money to the inviolable right of our first people to be sustained.

  8. 220603 says:

    The comments here express the same nativist sentiments that the sasunnach express anent the perceived existential threat of migration. As such, those comments are to be deplored.

  9. Jim+Stamper says:

    It is essential that there needs to be a recognition of a different classification, in planning legislation for example, between long term residential and short term residential. For a property to be used for short term lets it should require to get council approval for a change of use, perhaps to tourism. Councils could refuse permission where housing for local workers is in short supply. If there is concern that this would adversely affect the benefits tourism brings then planning authorities could consider approval of applications for construction of properties specifically for that, e.g. holiday cabins etc. if appropriate.
    I would also suggest that second homes should be discouraged. Perhaps they should also be classified as tourism and require a change of use.
    Both of these would also put off purchasers paying excessive prices as they would be uncertain of getting permission for the change of use.

    I’m sure a petition suggesting this would get considerable support.

    1. David+B says:

      Jim – short term let control area legislation was passed by Holyrood last year. In control areas, owners will need planning permission for change of use to STLs. Edinburgh and Aviemore are likely to be the first. Though in typical SNP style, the council can only request ministerial permission to implement a control area, the power hasn’t been properly devolved to local authorities.

      There’s also a concern about a wave of appeals against STL change of use planning refusals, which councils would be ill-resources to deal with.

  10. Alastair McIntosh says:

    Jim Stamper says in comments here: “ For a property to be used for short term lets it should require to get council approval for a change of use, perhaps to tourism. Councils could refuse permission where housing for local workers is in short supply.” That’s the kind of measure needed. But I’m mindful that as with quick fixes for crofting legislation, the devil’s often in the unintended consequences of the detail. Has any group, perhaps parliamentary, already applied a combination of both intelligence and community-based value to solutions? If not, is anything stopping that from being done?

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      Sorry, for value read values.

  11. Anne Bennett says:

    Something must be done about this situation. Our village is turning into Centreparcs. The houses surrounding us are being turned into playthings for wealthy people from England. Our villages are losing their heart.

  12. Catherine Booth says:

    You say that a deposit of between 5 and 20% needs to be put down when buying any particular property. Well that’s the way it is down South. That’s the expectation here. Properties are valued by estate agents but a vendor can up the asking price.
    The answer is to build more affordable housing and not to rely on existing properties.

    1. There’s a cultural aspect as well which means this is not just about ‘enough housing to go around’, there also needs to be strict allocation of housing as in for people who live and work in the area and bring something to the community

  13. J says:

    This is not a new problem, it was a problem almost 40 years ago when my family moved back to Skye, and probably before then too. I would postulate that this isn’t a modern clearances but simply the continuation of what was started in the mid 18th century.
    It’s always been about economies of scale. Mass investment into rural areas will never occur because rural populations are not at levels to sustain such. Bulk goods can’t be acquired at large enough scales, or cheap enough prices to make large volumes of home building sustainable (although the recent development in Staffin is a welcome and good start).
    The expenditure required is beyond most local governance and when the Scottish Government accountants look at the per capita costs, better value is found in denser population areas. It’s just a cold, hard fact of economics that means the Highlands and rural areas of Scotland (and yes elsewhere but this article is salient to only Scotland) will never be able to garner enough support for mass investment of the scale required – regardless of governmental colour red, blue, yellow, orange or green.
    Does that mean simply that nothing should be done? No. It just means things have to be done on a smaller and slower scale . Freight subsidies at a UK level for rural areas might help (will never happen for the above economies of scale argument), so that bulk volumes could be transported to allow a more even cost field, but that goes against what “Free Market” political parties stand for. Housing caps again may assist but fall foul of the same.
    The harsh reality is that the economic systems that everyone benefits from means that Skye, the Highlands and all rural areas will be held over a barrel to. How do you qualify whom is a local or not? Only those born there? Not everyone born there chooses to stay and live out their lives there. Some of these “incomers” are people born there who return with their own families later in life, my family for example.

    I don’t want to see the Highland way of life and culture eradicated, Gaelic culture is a part of MY heritage too even if I was not born in the highlands, but no government of any colour ever is going to prioritise 10k or 100k people over 5m or 65m. Not without a vast well of cash and a total revamp of the ideology.

    A bigger brain than mine might be able to find a way to break the catch 22, I can’t see a way that things will realistically change.

    1. Màrtainn says:

      Many other European nations understand the role of Government in redistributing wealth to the periphery to counteract the centralising tendency of capitalism. Ultimately this strengthens a nations economy, rather than allowing wealth and power to be endlessly accumulated in a small corner of the country (all eggs in one basket model).

      There are also plenty examples of legislation which can control and regulate the housing market. People tend to react with “it’s a private house and mine to sell” but the reality is there are already rules around buying and selling property. You can’t just rock up and swap a house for a few magic beans and sign the deed away yourself. The Lake District to some degree, but certainly Jersey have strict property laws which prohibit the sale of homes to people who don’t meet certain criteria, a contract of employment or existing residency in Jersey for example. Other European nations, Norway for example have two markets, residential and holiday home/letting market. New Zealand has banned property sale to non-domiciled buyers.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.