The key feature of the original Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) was its exceptionally wide social and economic remit.

Unlike most economic development agencies, including its successor, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), as it has now evolved, it was expected to take risks and had the backing of government to do so.

It always had chairmen of substance – Robert Grieve, Andrew Gilchrist, Ken Alexander, Bob Cowan - who became advocates for the region and the Board. They were confident enough in their own right to stand up to government when necessary.

That was essential but it certainly does not happen now, with increasingly centralised control over everything that moves in Scotland – the antithesis of devolution. The budget of HIE has also been cut very substantially over the past decade with correspondingly less impact.

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While the HIDB did a huge amount of good, there were two issues never fully resolved. The first was its very limited powers over land so that it was never able to tackle a central issue of under-development in much of the Highland, the concentration of land ownership in the hands of people with little interest in development – often quite the opposite.

The second, which any rural development agency will run into, is the conflict between growth points and periphery. If you concentrate on building up a few centres then inevitably this will draw population from the poorer places with fewer opportunities within your own region. That dichotomy was around from the earliest days of the Board.

The paradoxical result continues to be that parts of the Highlands and Islands which were most in need of support half a century ago are still losing population.

At the same time, huge resources have been poured into turning the Inverness area into a prosperous, ever-expanding city. To me, that is not Highland development and it makes the headline population figures very misleading.

When I was in government, I started something called Iomairt aig an Oir – Initiative at the Edge – which was meant to focus on the most peripheral areas and to bring together all relevant public bodies at the micro level. But the “silos” are resistant so you still have no co-ordinated approach to land use, housing and jobs which are the three key factors in determining whether people can live in any rural area.

Other countries can learn a lot from the original HIDB – wide-ranging powers, strong leadership and a decent budget for starters. If they are serious, they must encourage an approach to risk that governments are normally averse to. In the Highlands and Islands, that is where the HIDB made a real difference but which scarcely happens now.