Artwork for podcast The SRUC Podcast
SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre discusses the 2023 Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament
Episode 379th November 2023 • The SRUC Podcast • Scotland's Rural College
00:00:00 00:31:15

Share Episode



Dr Ana Vuin is a research fellow who has worked around the world in the areas of rural communities and population migration.  

Alexa Green is an early career researcher interested how we can create transformational changes in our society to ensure a sustainable way of living for people and the planet. 

Claire Donaldson has been a lecturer in tourism at SRUC for the last decade. Claire’s area of expertise is rural tourism and how this is utilised as a form of economic development to improve the lives of rural communities.  

The podcast was hosted by Michelle Flynn, Communications Officer at SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre. Ana and Alexa are both members of SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre. 


Information on the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament   

Click here to visit the Scottish Rural & Islands Parliament 2023 website (  

For more information on the Youth Parliament 


Information on the European Rural Parliament  

Home ( 


European Rural Parliament - leaflet - 2023.pdf 




SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre discusses their recent visit to the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament in Fort William

Michelle Flynn: Welcome to another episode of the SRUC podcast. My name is Michelle Flynn and I'm the communications officer at SRUC's Rural Policy Centre. On today's episode you're going to hear all about the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament.

This is a grassroots democratic assembly which is part of the European -wide network of rural parliaments. The Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament takes place in a different rural community every two years.

Dr Ana Vuin and Alexa Green from SRUC's Rural Policy Centre attended this year's event in Fort William in the early November. Ana Vuin is a research fellow who has worked around the world in the areas of rural communities and population migration.

And Alexa Green is an early career researcher interested in how we can create transformational changes in our society to ensure a sustainable way of living for people and the planet. On this podcast Ana and Alexa are joined by Claire Donaldson who has been a lecturer in tourism at SRUC for the last decade.

Claire's area of expertise is rural tourism and how this is utilised as a form of economic development to improve the lives of rural communities. Claire wasn't able to attend the Rural and Islands Parliament in person but watched some of the sessions and interacted with them online.

The discussion covers why it is important for Scotland to have a Rural and Islands Parliament. Some highlights from the event and key takeaways from attendees. We hope you enjoy it.

I'll now hand over to, Alexa and Claire to talk to us about their experience at this year's Rural Parliament.

Ana Vuin: Hi everyone. I can kick off with my expectations and my impressions.

As a European I was aware of the European Rural Parliament, but I was never aware that Scotland had its own which I think is incredibly valuable for communities and just rural matters in general.

So when it came to organisation in Fort William I wasn't sure what to expect but I knew that it would be a great event that would bring together different stakeholders because I knew how committed and passionate our colleagues from Scottish Rural Action were in the process of organisation.

So what are your takeaways, Alexa?

Alexa Green: Yeah, I mean there were so many highlights from the event for me. I think ahead of the Parliament I was expecting it to be a slightly more formal event with the goal to kind of capture recommendations for Scottish Parliament or to bring forward issues to policymakers and in a way I think that this was captured especially at the end with the rural delivery plan workshop which I'm sad that we missed. But overall, I think the event was a bit more casual in nature and I really liked that the focus was more on collaboration, connection and sharing learning which I think in the end is even more valuable.

But, yeah, for me there's so many highlights from the event especially as someone who obviously didn't grow up in rural and island Scotland. It was just so great to be there and to listen to people's stories and understand a bit more deeply not only the difficulties that rural and island communities face but I think at least in my experience of the conversation more so the amazing strength and ingenuity of rural and island people. Claire how was it for you because I know you were online?

Claire Donaldson: Yeah, I attended online and I was hoping to come and hear recommendations of what's happened so far since the last one as this is my first time attending the rural Parliament.

It would have been good to maybe know what's been achieved over the last two years. Just maybe a little bit more kind of background. Because attending online you're immediately put into a kind of session without much of an introduction.

But having said that I thoroughly enjoyed it, I learnt loads and it was great just to hear from such a kind of wide group of different experts and people that are living in these communities. I don't live somewhere particularly rural myself, so it was it was just fantastic to hear firsthand what some of the challenges are but also the opportunities.

I really enjoyed it. It's a great opportunity to take some key takeaways back to my own teaching and share them with students.

Ana Vuin: I think that's the value of the Parliament, you know. We have a hybrid model where we have an online session, and we have in-person sessions. And I'm sure that your workshop was very interesting and engaging because we all went to different ones, I think.

For me it was very insightful to be at the wellbeing field trip because I learned about so many small organisations and so many valuable organisations that I've never heard about before and it just gave me the opportunity to connect with organisations, communities and individuals that share my research interests. So if we're talking about the parliament per se, I think that the value goes way beyond the event as a three -day thing that is organised - whether it's online or in person - because it kind of prompts all these potential collaborations and networks and it brings something that we can take home with us and then engage in our future research and learnings, as you said Claire.

Alexa Green: Yeah I would definitely agree with that and I think that at least being in-person, the value add was not even just being at the event and being a part of the in-person workshops but also just the conversations that you were able to have with people on the sidelines or when we went on our field trips we were in buses with one another. So you were sitting next to someone you maybe didn't know or listening in on conversations that people were having behind you, if you're like me. And I think those were really valuable, for me at least, to again hear some of the stories that people were sharing and see that there are actually so many similarities in the issues that people are facing but also the lives that people are living even though they're a part of different communities.

Claire what was it like for you online?

Claire Donaldson: I think it's brilliant that they offer the online it's so crucially important for people that can't make it and I think was there 300 people attending the event all in all.

So it's great that we can now do that. However, seeing the program line up, there's a part of me that wishes I could have gone to the study trips.

Yes, I'm a rural business lecturer but I specialise in tourism and I think they had a community -led tourism study visit. There was a few of the trips I looked at and I thought I really wish I could attend those.

So in two years’ time, depending on the location and, you know, just with various work commitments, if I can, I would much rather attend in person purely for the reasons that you've just given. Because I've done some of these study visits before and you're right, just the value in speaking to people face to face. It's not quite the same as being in a breakout room. It's just far more organic and natural face to face.

So I would like to attend. However, just with teaching commitments this year, I've not been able to go. So being able to do it online was brilliant. I can go to the workshops that I chose to go to, and it all worked well.

Ana Vuin: I think that is additional value of the Scottish Rural Parliament and you know, the ability to do a hybrid model because as you said, you can interact even though you're not there in person.

And we were discussing this a fair bit at the parliament, how accessibility in that shape and form can be very beneficial for community members that cannot be there for whatever reason.

And we're hoping to see more of that I think in the future. So when we were talking about the field trips that I mentioned before, I did the wellbeing one. And some of the groups that I interacted with and found out about were Breathing Space and Lochaber Hope. And both of them offer both online and in-person support. And I thought that was a wonderful thing because at this, you know, time, we need to have those options available for everyone.

And I thought that, you know, that the ability to interact with community via different digital tools is incredibly important.

Alexa Green: That's really cool to hear what the experience was like for you, because obviously we were all in quite different groups.

So Ana, were there any other groups that you were part of any other kind of learnings from? Yeah, those workshops that, you know, Claire and I weren't able to attend?

Ana Vuin: Absolutely. So the first one was the wellbeing one that I've already mentioned a couple of times, but the second one was around table discussing how researchers should interact with communities.

And I felt it was a great opportunity for me as a researcher to sit back and listen, and just to take in all the feedback that I got from different community members. Because it was a very interesting discussion that prompted, you know, the ideas of who are these people that come into our communities? What do they do? Why do they do it? And how do they do it?

And I think these are the questions that we as researchers need to ask ourselves, what is our motivation to do research? And what are we giving back to our communities? So five years ago,

I developed some of the seminars for my students that were dealing with ethical concerns of research in communities, and just kind of looking into different perspectives of what we bring as researchers to these communities when we want to do the fieldwork.

And I felt it was the right time and in the opportunity to share some of that knowledge. So although I kind of listened most of the time, I provided some kind of feedback that kind of allowed a bit of a different perspective for the community members of what we can contribute to their communities in the long run.

Alexa Green: Yeah, I think that's really great and well said and really nice that you were able to take that backseat and listen, but also kind of understand everything in terms of the research that you've already done, and kind of that wealth of experience that you have already working in communities. And, you know, I would have really liked to be a part of that workshop. It really interesting. But yeah, for me, I was a part of a few other workshops.

So one was on social enterprises and the other was looking at the circular economy and of course we were scribing for the climate workshop, which went really well. But in and amongst all of that, I think some of my key takeaways, as I mentioned before, were kind of in the in-between moments. And I think the main thing for me was just understanding the amazing impact of storytelling.

And I think following on from what you've just said, Ana, I feel like as researchers, we have an opportunity to, in a way, be storytellers, which is a really beautiful opportunity to learn from the communities and the issues that we're looking into and then finding a way to tell those stories to Scottish Parliament, perhaps, or to policymakers and just to others so that we can better understand and learn from these different experiences.

So I was able to find that in some of the short films that were played, for example, by the Highlands and Islands Climate Hub of the many sustainable enterprises that are in rural and island communities and all of the really amazing things that are happening there.

There was also a movie that was screened in the screen machine, which is a mobile movie theatre that's been running for 25 years, bringing films to rural and island areas, which is so cool. The film is called Dùthchas - I think that's not how you pronounce it. I think it's ‘dooth cuss’, something like that. But it's a beautiful Scottish Gallic word that kind of means home and belonging.

And this film kind of explains that through the story of people who lived on and left the Isle of Berneray and the Outer Hebrides. And then finally, the last thing that I wanted to mention was just, yeah, what I had said before was just the fact that there were so many opportunities for conversations. And I think taking that learning and taking that backseat was a really amazing opportunity and experience.

Claire Donaldson: It's great hearing what you girls have said and what you've taken away because that's something I was thinking about. It would have been great if some of the workshops had been recorded so the ones you can't attend, you can go back and just watch and listen to all these other, you know, experts and people have talked about.

I think I put my name down for a couple of workshops, but the one I was, the one I got allocated was the National Islands Plan, which I can tell you some of the highlights and takeaways I took away from it.

The other ones I really wanted to go to were the Village Hall and Community Spaces. And I think Land Use and Ownership and Climate, it'd be great to, I don't know, get either notes or recordings from that.

The National Island Plan, our session, it was good. Straight away going into the session though, and I had a feeling this would be the number one thing that people would talk about first off.

It's always in the news was just the issues with ferries. It was talked about quite passionately straight off the back, as you can imagine. One of the people in our session lived in the Isle of Mull and he was just explaining, you know, the ferry is a real issue. And then just public transport on the island itself is an issue. And I think that was kind of noted again on the Friday as well.

We heard from a lady who lived, she was talking about the Corran Ferry, wasn't she? And just the impact that's had over the last year. It was definitely transport infrastructure was the biggest problem discussed in our session.

But also they were talking about the National Island Plan. They said it was great and the aims of it were fit for purpose, but it came with no budget allocated to it, which was an issue. The theme with all the, I think there's going to be eight of us in the group session, everybody seemed to say the same thing. There's a gap between what the Scottish Executive are putting out there and what's being filtered down to the local communities.

And somebody was saying, it'd be great if we had this need for a designated teams in the local council that, you know, kind of bridge that gap. So just better communication.

They were also saying there was kind of low levels of confidence of their own voices being heard from the Scottish Government. And interestingly, this is something, because I teach rural tourism, I hadn't really thought about this before.

It was one of the people, as I say, that live in the Isle of Mull that mentioned it. And he was saying, people that live there and have lived there their whole lives, or maybe slightly disengaged, or maybe potentially lacking motivation now, whereas him being a newcomer, fresh blood, if you like, he was very engaged. And he felt there was maybe not, he didn't use the word animosity, but maybe there was just a slight reticence between being that newcomer and not wanting to kind of rustle the feathers of people that have lived there a long time.

So that was quite interesting to hear his perspective from that. But yeah, I think the main thing they were talking about was to bridge the gap, kind of better leadership and engagement and participation between the two groups, being local communities and Scottish Government. But it was good to learn a lot from hearing what they were all saying. It was interesting, all the different perspectives.

Ana Vuin: I think that just reinforces why the Parliament is so important for Scotland in general, because if we're thinking about all the knowledge that we gained and all the learnings from these sessions, we all wish that we could be at different sessions.

We all wish we could hear more and learn more, but even the knowledge that we gained is so valuable for us and for our future work. But also, you know, it brings Scotland back onto the EU radar in many ways, because the findings and the learnings from this Parliament will be shown next year at the EU Rural Parliament, which I believe is a wonderful link, not only for researchers - as we know that Horizon is back to UK and we can participate in it - but also you know just to bring us back on to radar when it comes to collaborations, exchange of knowledge, positive policies, just the way how communities do things.

Because sometimes you get the examples from community members that you've never heard of because it's very anecdotal and it's happening now and no one captured it yet but if you actually as a researcher take it in and start looking at different examples you might find you know similar cases or communities that are struggling with the same problems that could use that case as a positive one so I think the benefit of the parliament goes way beyond Scotland and it can be transferred on to many different rural communities obviously not as a cookie cutter where you have you know the same model for everyone but just bits and pieces and knowledge and I think that is incredibly important.

Alexa what do you think?

Alexa Green: Yeah I totally agree and I think it just reinforces the idea that we probably get from most of these in -person meetings and parliaments and events is that we need to encourage more collaboration and we need more spaces for collaboration and for keeping in contact so that we don't lose these connections for the next two years before the next parliament so I think for me that definitely makes me think of the fact that we need to kind of keep in contact and keep connected but I think also for our research and for our teaching at least for me after attending this event I really do feel like more researchers including us should be engaged in conversations like you were mentioning Ana about how our research influences rural and island communities and how our research on rural and island issues,

A: accounts for the context within which our research sits, B: co -produces knowledge with rural and island communities, and then C, as I was mentioning before, tells a compelling story, which helps those out with the context understand and be better able to inform policies which honour, involve, and benefit rural and island communities.

Because I think what was evident to me, at least, is that there is so much historical and geographical context within which these rural communities live in, and it's important for us to really fully understand that as much as possible before moving forward with some of our research and our teaching.

It's really important to be mindful of that context. And I think in going to events like these and continuing having conversations and collaborations with people in these communities, it allows us to be a little bit more embedded in those communities, even if we're not living in them, and to be more connected with that research and with the people who are helping us understand these livelihoods and these experiences a bit more.

Claire Donaldson: I totally agree. I remember on the Friday at the end, one of the questions that was asked for everybody was what do you think is the most important thing going forward? And everybody said the same thing. It was about sharing best practice, which is just basically knowledge transfer, isn't it? Just being able to learn from one another. And I got the impression that, yeah, maybe you're right. Two years is too long a time to not know what other people are doing right, and so that you can replicate it. What I took from it as well for my own teaching was each island is so unique and has its own challenges, its own strengths, its own opportunities, and it's one of these things that it's fantastic there is a national island plan, but one size doesn't fit all. Everybody has their own challenges.

Some people, the ferry transport isn't an issue, where other people, migration is just the biggest issue, then there's affordable housing. It's just a different array of challenges for each island, and as I say, they were all different. But it was just brilliant to be able to hear and connect to everybody's stories. There was some brilliant sharing of solutions, hearing best practice yeah it was just there was a lot of positive influence going on.

Ana Vuin: I think it definitely reinforced my belief that all of these factors such as housing, migration, social exclusion are interconnected not only in Scotland but other rural communities as well. But specifically in Scotland and at the Rural Parliament it was very clear that they're so interconnected that you cannot observe one without thinking about all these other factors and community members are so well aware of that.

I really enjoyed listening to them basically simplifying and just kind-of being very straightforward about this issue, these are the additional issues, that cause this issue and then thinking about potential solutions and all these conversations are incredibly useful for all of us so when it comes to, you know, the Rural Parliament and when it comes, as you said, two years is maybe too long but at the same time it gives you enough time to think about what's going on at the moment, what are the current practices, what's happening policy -wise and we can look at the emerging trends so we can see and maybe estimate what's going to happen

So I don't think that two years is too long. It is long enough but it's not too long to actually adapt the strategies adapt the policies and utilise the knowledge from these communities for, you know, a more substantial feedback towards the government but also community members

Alexa Green: Yeah, I think that's a good point that you know you need to allow for some time to allow the learnings from the previous parliament to sit in and to allow for some changes to happen as well.

You know, change takes time. And when you learn something new and you create a new connection with someone at an event, it doesn't always mean that you go straight into implementing those changes right away.

So those changes might take time, and so allowing that two -year span would really, hopefully, create plenty of time for new engagements, new connections, and new integrations of different policies, etc.

ural and Island Parliament in:

Ana Vuin: I would like to see more sessions. We had plenty this time, but there wasn't an opportunity for everyone to listen to them. So maybe a more inclusive approach in terms of recording the sessions, I think that would be incredibly useful, but also maybe extending the topics, when I say more sessions, that's what I mean, onto different, you know, layers and complexities within rural communities.

So maybe we can have a case study approaches where a specific community presents, you know, their realities in a specific session.

So as you mentioned, the Isle of Mull, what's happening with their economy, what's happening with the new short-lets law that came into the force on October 1st, and what's going to happen with them in the future, what do they think? And, as you said, you know, is the community more passive? Are they more active? Are they prompting the changes? Or they are kind of just sitting back and listening to what's going on, trying to figure out what's the next step. So I think these types of sessions could be incredibly useful for other communities just to understand how diverse the geographic landscape is and economic landscape of rural Scotland.

Alexa Green: I think that sounds really great. And it also sounds to me like an opportunity for researchers to be in the room to listen. I think one of the things that I would like to see at the next Scottish Parliament are opportunities for different tiers of involvement.

So we talked a little bit about wanting to have a recording or just for people who maybe can't participate or don't feel like it's appropriate to participate actively in a discussion because they might not be as well -versed on the issues, just to be able to listen in and to still gain those understandings and that knowledge I think would be really nice to see.

For example, I feel really lucky that I was able to attend, and I think my participation added something, but I recognise that there are so many people who are on the waiting list, so many different community members who might have benefited from that face -to -face collaboration. Again, I think it would be great to have options for people to listen in and maybe even for researchers to have that task of scribing because I think that worked really well for our climate session.

Also, I really, really loved the field trips and I think that it would be a good idea to continue to have those in the future. We talked a little bit about whether two years is too long, so maybe it would be nice to see either an in -between event or some type of platform created to ensure that we can kind of continue those conversations and those connections to have something more to talk about at the next one.

Claire, what about you?

Claire Donaldson: Well, I do hope to attend in person next time purely just so I can go on these field trips and these study visits because having done these through Erasmus and things, the learning is just so invaluable when you get to do the study visits. It's first-hand, you get to experience it, it's authentic, you can speak to either the community group or the business one or wherever it may be - and you just don't get that online.

o the sessions next time from:

I have a list of people that I'd like to contact just to find out a wee bit more information about the ones that I couldn't attend. So it'd be great if some of the information was available, even post event.

It was Ana that mentioned case studies. These are always great. I mean I use case studies all the time, I think if they included a few best practice case studies next time. Being able to see a good case study puts the learning and everything into practice. You can see what's been done and how people can replicate it. And I think that's quite motivating and inspiring for people that are maybe, you know, don't know how to overcome whatever the issue may be, whatever the challenge may be.

So I think opening up with case studies would be a good thing.

t's not really about the next:

Ana Vuin: I really liked that you mentioned Ellie because I thought her speech was so inspiring and I had an opportunity to have a very quick chat with her the day before. So I didn't know she would be the one that will give the speech at the end of the conference, but she's so lovely. And just meeting some of the other youth members was very valuable because you could see that they are very passionate, very interested, very engaged and they are keen to make the change, which is much needed in some of the rural areas.

To touch upon the case studies, I always use case studies as well and I think it's so relevant to use them so your students and anyone else can really contextualise the knowledge and they can think about it in a very specific example.

What I usually do is I tell my students that they should follow the Goldilocks and Three Bears metaphor when they're talking about rural areas. So, you know, one size definitely doesn't fit them all you know because one porridge will be too hot, one porridge will be too cold but one of them will be just right. And I feel when we're talking about rural areas this is one of those metaphors that you can really apply. So yeah, Alexa, any final thoughts?

Alexa Green: Yeah, really glad that you mentioned the Youth Parliament. Claire, it was so great to be in some of the sessions with some of the Youth Parliament members and I think it's so important to have a specific Youth Parliament because oftentimes their recommendations, their findings and their discussions are much more bold. They've seen these issues firsthand, of course, living in rural communities but they've got more of an idea of what the future should look like and they're not afraid to say it.

hould be carried forward into:

So I think that's a little bit of the benefit of doing research in this area and getting to know so many people and again having that kind of outsider's perspective is seeing where the different connections can be made and trying to add value where possible.

Michelle Flynn: Well I hope you enjoyed this episode. I know I did.

If you'd like to find out more about the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament you can visit or see the link in our show notes.

SRUC's Rural Policy Centre is a knowledge hub for rural Scotland. We engage and collaborate with researchers, businesses and communities to share their latest knowledge with policymakers in Scotland.

To find out more about our work please visit us at




More from YouTube