THE recession could kill off towns all over Scotland, according to an authoritative new analysis of the state of rural Scotland.

The report lists the towns most vulnerable to the economic downturns. Nine out of 10 of those most at risk of job losses and cutbacks are in Ayrshire, Argyll, and Dumfries and Galloway. The worst off are said to be Campbeltown and Dunoon, which share joint first place in the league of economic losers. Other towns that feature high in the so-called "vulnerability index" are Girvan, Stranraer, Sanquhar, Cumnock, Ayr, Maybole and Kilwinning. The only place in the top 10 that is not in the south west is the village of Castlebay on the island of Barra.

The index has been drawn up by the Scottish Agricultural College's Rural Policy Centre as part of a 104-page report to be published tomorrow. It suggests, according to the centre's Dr Jane Atterton, that some communities could die.

"Ongoing vulnerability in some settlements may lead to increasing unemployment, population out-migration and a decline in local service provision, and may place the long-term sustainability of these settlements at risk," she warned.

"This has implications for the population of the town itself, and of its surrounding rural hinterland in terms of the ability of people to access vital services, including employment and healthcare. This is particularly the case in more remote areas where residents often have limited choice in terms of the service centres they can access."

Other towns at high risk from the recession are Kirkcaldy and East Wemyss in Fife, Arbroath and Kirriemuir in Angus, and Eyemouth and Hawick in the Scottish Borders. In Ayrshire, Ardrossan and Kilmarnock are also vulnerable, along with Alloa in Clackmannshire and Dumfries.

The index ranks 90 towns and villages across the country using four measures of economic wellbeing. They are the number of people of working age, the number claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, the number working in the public sector and income levels.

Atterton argued that larger towns with populations between 10,000 and 125,000 were predominant in the most vulnerable top 20, while smaller towns with populations of between 3000 and 10,000 tended to rank between 20 and 40. Small rural settlements with less than 3000 people tended to be among the less vulnerable.

"Remote settlements offer a more limited choice of employment, with many relying on public-sector jobs or a declining industrial base," Atterton said.

Many towns faced serious challenges from public-sector cutbacks and escalating economic uncertainty, she cautioned. "Towns play a vital role in Scotland's rural and regional development, but they have not received substantial policy recognition, leaving them at risk of falling into a gap between urban and rural policies."

The land reform campaigner, Andy Wightman, argued that rural Scotland did not have the powers it needed to resolve the problems. "Local authorities have very limited powers and virtually no financial autonomy," he told the Sunday Herald.

"Towns such as Campbeltown have had their town councils abolished. Key land uses such as forestry, agriculture, marine renewable energy and nature conservation are administered by centralised, unaccountable quangos and departments."

Wightman pointed out that the markets for land were unregulated and open to speculators from all over the world. "Until communities in rural Scotland gain more autonomy and power, they will continue to be at the mercy of decisions made in faraway places," he said.

Dr Paul Courtney, from the Countryside and Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire, called for the plight of remote towns to be urgently addressed. "Small towns provide a wealth of opportunities for those in

footloose industries able to capitalise on the opportunities of virtual global networks for the delivery of services and information.

"Central to securing a sustainable future in the 21st-century economy is entrepreneurship and innovation. Greater priority should be placed on creating a fertile environment for the growth of modern day businesses in our more remote communities."

However, it is not all bad news. Outside the "cluster of vulnerable places" in the south and south west, towns in Aberdeenshire, the Lothians and Perth and Kinross tended to do better. The town with the best future in Scotland is named as Newburgh in Aberdeenshire.

Others rated as highly resistant to the recession are Chapelton in South Lanarkshire, Linlithgow in West Lothian and Aviemore in Highland. The residents of Blackburn, Banchory and Inverurie in Aberdeenshire have little to fear, along with Aberfeldy, Almondbank and Couper Angus in Perth and Kinross, and St Andrews in Fife.

"People living in settlements in accessible rural areas, such as Newburgh, can more easily find alternative employment if they lose their public-sector job, and are less likely to be left relying on a low income or unemployed," Atterton said.

'It's good here, but there's no money -'

Campbeltown may be Scotland's most vulnerable town, but its residents love it. By Dominic Ryan

THE main street in Campbeltown isn't what you might call vibrant. The windows of the stores – squat, Victorian buildings – display brooms, batteries and maritime knick-knacks. Three shop fronts are papered over, the surfboard store has long since closed, and there is a general air of fatigue in the chipped facades and peeling doorways.

It is early morning, a time when you really appreciate Campbeltown as Scotland's most remote mainland town. Some 38 miles south of Tarbert on the Kintyre peninsula, it sits at the head of a deep loch, guarded on one side by the green humps of Davaar Island and all others by steep-sided hills.

A convoy of cars comes trundling through town heading for the Co-op and the Tesco Metro, the two supermarkets serving a population of almost 5000. Pedestrians amble: mostly elderly couples and occasionally a teen mum with a toddler.

The quiet of the town is broken by an explosion of noise in the doorway of The Whisky Shop from a family of tourists in Ali G-style yellow bubble jackets and outsized sunglasses, laden with bottles. They pile into a rental car, clucking contentedly in Italian, with mementoes of Campbeltown, once whisky capital of the world. Of 34 distilleries that used to be here, only three remain active: Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glengyle.

A veneer of the genteel remains: The Old Bookshelf store, antique emporium The Old Curiosity Shop, an art gallery, and a bespoke jewellers.

In Gallery 10, with its photographs of local flora and fauna, lunch is served to the shuffle of newspapers.

The owner, Susan Macdiarmid, remains upbeat about business and her town. Open now for a year, trade has been good, she says.

"People here have so much going for them," she says. "They have talents, skills. We do suffer because of the geographical remoteness and there is an element of neglect from central government. Ferry links to Ayrshire and Northern Ireland would be the single biggest boost to the local economy. But we get on with things. There is a community spirit, fuelled by the music and arts. Music is in the blood."

At the harbour there is the cinema, The Picture House. Its Art Nouveau doors opened in 1913 but strangely today, being Friday, it's closed.

The harbour is home to leisure boats and a remnant of the once-mighty fishing fleet. At the quayside, next to the tiny tourist office, Andrus from Estonia stands in a blue shellsuit that stops far short of wrists and ankles.

"It's good here," he says. "But no money. No boats."

A hiss of air brakes announces the arrival of the Glasgow bus. Passengers spill out before the town's cultural epicentre, the Aqualibrium – an improbable yet ingenious all-in-one library and swimming pool, where excited schoolchildren are congregating.

One passenger, walking by the statue of Sir William Mackinnon, a Campbeltown man who made his fortune in the 1800s in shipping, is another local lad made good. Leaving Campbeltown Grammar in 2001, Lorne MacDougall was one of the first students of the BA Scottish Music Piping course at the then RSAMD. He has just arranged and played the bagpipe scores for Brave, the new Disney-Pixar film.

"Campbeltown was a great place to grow up in," he tells me. "There were always music and dance projects and a lot of the time they would merge. The music scene has only expanded."

More could be done, he says: "An arts centre, simple. Arts centres exist in towns all over the country and the fact there's not one in Campbeltown is amazing, with its musical and cultural heritage."

How does it feel coming back from the bright lights? "I'll meet people in the street and almost miss my bus by spending so much time speaking to them about what they are working on musically. It's always been this way, a very inspirational wee town."

As daylight fades, the pubs fill. In The Black Sheep, part of The Royal Hotel, overlooking the harbour and newly reopened after a trend-bucking, multi-million pound refurbishment, a young man is enjoying a pint with friends.

John McCallum, at the end of his international politics and French studies at Stirling University, is home to take a sales post with Springbank distillery.

"Nightlife here is uniquely a pub scene, which is nevertheless fun," he says. "And there are events throughout the year promoting homegrown music."

He acknowledges the lack of new businesses, the blow caused by the closure of the nearby air base, the jaded town centre, but is adamantly upbeat: the returning native is in no doubt of Campbeltown's indomitable spirit.

"People are passionate about their town. There are many proactive members of the community looking to make it a happy and vibrant place to live," he says.

Later, by the harbour, the sound of laughter and fiddles drifts from a pub. The line between sky and sea is solid grey. Dark clouds on the horizon? Or simply mist rolling in from the sea?

'Past battles mean we know how to fight the recession'

CAMPBELTOWN is likely to buck the trend of the recession in the long-term, its supporters say.

John Semple, depute leader of Argyll and Bute Council who represents South Kintyre, disputed the report which named the town as the most vulnerable in the country to the economic downturn.

He pointed to development in the area, such as two new four-star hotels opened in the past month and a £27 million investment in golf and tourism, including a new course at Machrihanish.

Local wind-turbine maker Wind Towers Ltd, with more than 100 staff, continues to win new contracts, Semple said.

"Campbeltown has had a lot of economic difficulties before the recession started and we were actually taking steps to reverse that before the recession," he said. "So I think the effect of the recession here has been less than it would have been and we are likely to come out of this better off than an awful lot of places."

He added: "One of the things we need for that to happen is to become better connected. What we would really like to see is a ferry service which runs across to Troon from Campbeltown," he said.

Ferry services are key for residents in Dunoon, the other town found to be most likely to be hit by the economic downturn.

Mick Rice runs a B&B near the town and stood as a Labour candidate in the recent council elections. He said improved ferry services – including cheaper fares through the road-equivalent tariff scheme – could attract visitors.

"We are currently labouring under having a passenger-only ferry service and that clearly is having quite an impact on businesses more generally in the town," he said. "We are hoping to get a proper vehicle passenger-ferry service."

Rice said another recent report indicated that Dunoon town centre was more resilient than elsewhere in Scotland.

He added: "A lot of people here are used to making do with hardly anything. We are used to scraping along keeping things going and making sure the show is on the road."