I recently visited the Isle of Lewis with the Scottish Affairs Committee to hear from crofters directly about how UK agricultural policy works for the farming and crofting community, especially in remote areas. Island life certainly has its unique challenges, but I was struck by some of the similarities between Lewis and Midlothian.
When I visited Eastside Farm ran by the Cowan family near Penicuik, their challenges of running a working sheep farm in the Pentlands with the breath-taking, dramatic landscape and changing weather were similar to the experiences I heard about on Lewis. But the real similarity between the two was the passion for the land and environment.
The love and dedication shown by the people I met for their communities, land and way of life was clear to see. Their traditions may be formed around crofting and fishing, and ours around mining and industry – as well as farming – but both communities and traditions have been challenged by 21st century life. The decline of our traditional industries coupled with technological developments and more opportunities for young people in cities has affected both Lewis and Midlothian.
At a town hall meeting I heard from residents of all ages, about the need for more opportunities for young people. This is something I hear often in Midlothian too. Last weekend when out at one of my roving surgeries, I spoke to a lovely senior citizen in Penicuik – his main concern was a lack of well-paid and secure jobs for young people. He told me that he worked hard, and that he and his wife moved into the house that he still lives in over fifty years ago. He worried that young people growing up here nowadays wouldn’t have the same access to a good job and a home. I agree – and will work hard to ensure our young people have opportunities to take advantage of here in Midlothian.