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Accessible vs remote? Social and economic development in rural Scotland

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Three out of ten people within Scotland live outside of urban areas, in rural areas or small towns, according to the 2011 census and 2011-12 Urban Rural Classification. These non-urban regions are incredibly diverse. Aberdeenshire, for example, contains wealthy villages whose development has been linked to commuters working in the oil and gas sector, but it also contains relatively deprived communities, that were once dependent on the fishing industry.

Graph produced using R software package, Credit Jonathan Hopkins and Andrew Copus.

Understanding this diversity is important if policies and funding are to be appropriately designed to help achieve societal priorities.  The Scottish Government has a series of ‘Strategic Objectives’ set out in 2007, that aim for “…a Scotland that is Wealthier and Fairer, Smarter, Healthier, Safer and Stronger and Greener”. If there is a greater understanding of current social and economic development across Scotland, it can help more effectively target development strategies and funding from any source, ranging from EU initiatives such as “LEADER” through to UK or Scotland-level initiatives.

To help inform these challenges, over the last year my colleague Andrew Copus and I have developed a Socio-Economic Performance (SEP) Index, to summarise the key differences in social and economic development across Scotland.

This “SEP Index” combines 20 indicators, which are representative of the first four Strategic Objectives described above, and is ‘centred’ on the year 2011. All data are derived from publicly available sources, including Census data and information from SNS, and a score from 1 - 10 (higher values: better performance) has been calculated for over 2,000 small areas (‘data zones’, each of which contained 500-1,000 residents in 2001) across Scotland’s rural areas and small towns as defined using the 6-fold Urban Rural Classification using a relatively simple, reproducible method.  You can download our report on this index to find out more about the method and the data sources, as well as information about the funders and context of this project.

Map copied from SEP index report (see weblink in sidebar), Credit Jonathan Hopkins and Andrew Copus

By using the SEP index, we can see that accessible rural areas (rural areas within half an hour’s drive from urban areas) typically have higher socio-economic performance than either remote rural areas, or accessible or remote small towns. Accessible small towns generally performed better than remote ones. When we map the SEP Index (see inset map), we can see that the quarter of data zones with the strongest socio-economic performance (coloured dark green) are clustered around urban areas: notably in Aberdeenshire, to the south and east of Edinburgh, the East Renfrewshire area near Glasgow and regions around the Tay Estuary, Perth, and Inverness. Meanwhile, the quarter of data zones with the lowest social and economic development (purple) are often situated in remote areas: Dumfries and Galloway, more isolated islands (including the Western Isles), the far north of Scotland and Argyll. However, this is a broad generalisation, with some remote areas (for instance, the mainland of Shetland) having high socio-economic performance. Similarly, communities in the coalfield regions (e.g. Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire) are relatively close to large urban areas, but display low socio-economic performance.  You can find out more by via our webpage on the SEP index.

It’s important to acknowledge that the SEP Index, like any similar measure, only tells part of the story. However, I think it usefully shows the considerable variation in social and economic development across Scotland, and particularly emphasises the challenges faced by some remote areas. It also points to a key question: to what extent are high-performing accessible rural areas and small towns a product of self-reliant local communities, or a result of development in urban areas ‘spilling over’? These types of questions are important subjects for future study.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.



It's interesting also to see Fort William worse off than the surrounding countryside. I wonder what the index would indicate inside the other urban areas currently marked in yellow?

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Printed from /blogs/accessible-vs-remote-social-and-economic-development-rural-scotland on 28/02/24 04:58:06 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.