IT is quiet in Torrejoncillo del Rey. “Silence,” says Carmen Acedo, is the village’s “great protagonist”.

The TV reporter has come to the sleepy community in Spain’s vast and central Castilla La Mancha province to talk depopulation. And she can hardly find anybody to speak to.

That is because Torrejoncillo, an hour and a half south-east of Madrid, has lost nine out of 10 of its people since the 1950s.

There are barely 200 left. A majority are pensioners. Only four of them are children.

FULL STORY: Spain to copy the Highlands on stopping people exodus

Ms Acedo, from local public broadcaster CMM, is doing vox pops, vox populi, where there is barely a populus to have a voice.

“Half the houses are shut up,” said one middle-aged woman in the street. “There are entire barrios, neighbourhoods, that are nearly closed,” added another.

One interviewee, an elderly woman standing in Torrejoncillo’s deserted main square, sums up why her community is dying. “There was no work, “ she tells Ms Acedo, “and the people emigrated.”

It is more than a year since CMM TV covered the depopulation of Torrejoncillo. That came after figures showed the town had lost 23% of its population in 2016 alone.

But this one town is just part of a bigger picture. It is in Cuenca region, part of Castilla-La Mancha whose population has dropped a third since the beginning of the 20th century, a period that has included a civil war, depression and decades of authoritarian right rule.

Cuenca region is, along with the Arctic north of the Nordic world, is suffering the steepest depopulation in the European Union.

Local authorities and business and civic society lobbies in the region - whose stunning capital, also Cuenca, is famed for its homes hanging from its cliffs - think they have a solution. They want to copy Scotland and its half-century long effort to keep people in the Highlands and Islands.

Last week Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s acting prime minister, took an interest in the scheme at a depopulation summit.

Cuenca, along with neighbouring Soria, in Lastilla y Leon, and Teruel in Aragon, is part of an international network called Southern Sparsely Populated Areas or SSPA.

They are joined by a Croatia’s biggest county by area, Lika-Senj and Evrytania, a mountainous region of central Greece. These areas are being hollowed out.

Impoverished Lika-Senj, despite being home to some of Croatia’s top tourist sites, such as the deep blue Plitvice Lakes and waterfalls, is haemorrhaging people.


Plitvice Lakes

Its population was estimated at 45,000 in mid-2017. That is half of what it was in 1981, before the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia. But it is also less than a third of figures recorded in the 1850s.

Evrytania is the oldest place in Europe. That is, it has the highest median age, more than 53. Young people leave.

It is easy to see therefore why Scotland’s efforts look like a success from afar.

After all, there are around as many people in the Highlands and Islands as there were in the middle of the 19th century.

A hundred thousand souls have been added to the region - which includes Moray, most of Argyll and Bute, as well as Arran and the Cumbraes on the Firth of Clyde - since Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson created the old Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) in 1965.

VIEWPOINT: Brian Wilson: the unfinished business of the Highlands and Islands Development Board

Nobody in Scotland thinks the job is done - even if the post Clearances population decline has been effectively reversed.

HIDB has morphed in to Highlands and Islands Enterprise or HIE but it still has a fundamental remit: giving people a reason to live in the region.

That is because, those close to development projects stress, there are still communities on the very edge of viability. Scotland has its Torrejoncillos, such as islands which are just one family leaving away from losing their schools.

“Orkney or Oban might be booming,” said one source. “But there are still parts of the Western Isles or the Cowal peninsula that are losing people.”

More people are dying in Outer Hebrides than are being born. The archipelago’s population is expected to fall another 14% by 2039.

SNP ministers are worried, especially as Brexit brings the prospect of a new immigration regime and a devalued currency which respectably prevent and deter people coming from the rest of the continent, including the struggling corners of southern Europe such as Castilla La Mancha.

But it is not the politics of Highland regeneration that appeals to the SSPA network regions, it is the lack, thereof. They want to politics-proof re-population.

SSPA, funded by the European Union and various regional governments, produced a major report on the Highlands and Islands. One of its main conclusions was the importance of having “a strategy and an agency of great autonomy to guarantee long-term continuous action”. An agency, like HIDB/HIE, which is protected from the “characteristic fates and fluctuations of political cycles”.

Tomás Guitarte of Teruel Existe, a body whose very name suggests its purpose is to remind the world that the Aragonese region exists, is one of those lobbying Mr Sánchez.

Citing HIE, he said: “We are talking about a body which is publicly funded but independent of political power. It is a model of success. “

Speaking to La Razón, a Madrid paper, Mr Guitarte said: “Many of the problems we face come from political decisions made at any given time that have no continuity.” His demand? A state pact, to bring together government, business and social stakeholders for a decade or two. Will he get it? Or will the fickle politics mean the battle with depopulation is lost?