Concern over island’s population trends

Bute population infographic
Bute population infographic

The issue of Bute’s dwindling, aging population has been a pressing concern on the island for years, and statistics published this month seem to confirm local fears.

The National Records of Scotland released figures showing that while the overall population of Scotland increased by 0.59% between 2015 and 2016, and Argyll and Bute’s by 0.28%, the proportion of elderly people is increasing.

One alarming statement from the NRS report is that along with Dumfries and Galloway, South Ayrshire, the Western Islands, South Ayrshire and the Scottish Borders, Argyll and Bute has the lowest proportion of people aged 64 and under (40%) in Scotland.

This will resonate with what some have believed for years; that a lack of prospects for young people on Bute is driving them away, leaving the island as mainly a retirement destination.

Iain Youngs, who owns the Criterion bar on Gallowgate, has lived on Bute all his life.

He told the Buteman: “I still remember being in Rothesay as a boy, and the difference now is like night and day.

“It’s like a ghost town out there some days, it used to be miles busier.

“The island isn’t advertised enough. On the mainland you see posters for Arran and places like that – but not for Rothesay.

“People have forgotten Bute, even though it’s probably the most accessible island in Britain.”

Iain likens the situation to English seaside towns like Blackpool and Scarborough, whose sizable tourist industries suffered greatly after the popularisation of package holidays and cheap flights.

“The difference is these places reinvented themselves, and Bute hasn’t done that yet.

“There’s nothing for young people here, so they leave.

“Some people call it an elephant island; you come here to die.

“It’s bad but that’s the way it is and I don’t know if it’s going to pick up again.”

Local business leaders have spoken of the importance of attracting enterprise to the island to compensate for the reduced income from tourists.

And some younger workers are still attracted to the island.

Angie Phillips is from Staffordshire and moved to Rothesay recently to manage the Black Pull pub with her partner.

She said: “A lot of people from England and even further away visit it once and enjoy it, then they come here to retire.

“There are not a lot of jobs on the island, so young people once they get to the age they want to go to college they leave the island to go to Glasgow or Edinburgh, and they don’t come back a lot.

“If they want more people to stay here they will have to provide more jobs.”