John MacDonald returned to Lochaber six years ago, the area where he grew up.

At the time he was lecturing in American Politics at the University of Glasgow and running a small think-tank and its accompanying magazine.

The 51-year-old said he has no regrets about the move, which allowed him to return to one of his passions, shinty coaching and give his two children the same childhood experiences he enjoyed. 

However, he says the move meant "writing things off professionally".

Now working as a civil servant he says a significant proportion of the jobs advertised that might be suitable for him are not full-time.

"For professional jobs, the area is a bit of a desert," said Mr MacDonald, whose wife is a nurse.

The Herald: 'For professional jobs, the area is a desert' 'For professional jobs, the area is a desert' (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

"I went from working at the University of Glasgow - one of the world's top 100 universities - to working in the storeroom at Marks & Spencer for around minimum wage.

"There are lots of part-time positions, offered as 0.5 or 0.3 of a job - most ordinary people can't afford to take up a job like that."

'The government sees the Highlands as a cash cow for tourist money'

The family struggled to find accommodation, initially staying with in-laws and he describes the housing crisis  as "beyond belief".

He said: "My wife and I have both experienced in our professional lives...people who have been really keen to move to the area and have even accepted jobs here, but have had to decline the positions because they can't even find somewhere to rent, let alone buy.

"And these are often people on decent salaries who would easily pay £1000 a month to rent somewhere.

"I spoke to someone a while back, lovely people who moved up to the peninsula over Ardnamurchan way, bought a house for themselves and a house for let. You are smiling through gritted teeth.

"The only thing that is going to arrest the pattern of house buying and second home ownership which has emerged over the last 20 years and is resulting in locals being marginalised, is government legislation.

"In Scandinavia and Jersey there are strict rules in place before people can purchase a property."

He said social housing was being built in the area but it was "well known that the quality of the houses going up is really poor".

The Herald: 'The problems across the Highlands and Islands are well known' 'The problems across the Highlands and Islands are well known' (Image: Colin Mearns/Newsquest)

He added: "We have a very central belt focussed body politic. The problems across the Highlands and Island region are obvious and well-known.

"It’s about jobs and it’s about housing and it’s about transport and childcare.

"These are the barriers that heavily impact people living here, and which act as a barrier to Highlanders wishing to move back.

"If you look at all of the areas around Fort William - public transport is absolutely dire," said Mr MacDonald.

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He said communities were increasingly becoming more vocal about the tourism economy and how much it benefits those who aren't involved in the industry.

"I think the view of a lot of Highlanders is that the government just sees the Highlands as a cash cow for tourist money," said Mr MacDonald. "As long as the tourists and money are coming in, everything is just fine.

"I think there needs to be much bigger democratisation of the debate around the merits of having so much of the Highland economy and infrastructure dedicated to it.

"They talk about tourist jobs but a lot of those jobs are poor quality, around minimum wage, and they operate between April and October.

The Herald: View of Fort William from Caol View of Fort William from Caol (Image: Newsquest)

"If you look at the strongest voices in this debate - the people who benefit from tourism are all the people who run restaurants, they are people who can afford to own a big enough house that they can run as a B&B or a hotel - they are often operating at a different financial level.

"They are clearly going to want to maintain the status quo."

He said he is hugely supportive of the introduction of a tourist tax and said a lot of people believe the Scottish Government should be legislating more on the issues that concern Highland communities the most.

"They need to devolve far more power and responsibility to local authorities," he said.

"But giving more power to Highland Council isn't necessarily going to do anything for the west highlands. Most people who use the A82 are incredulous that dualling the A9 seems to be regarded a priority.

"It's because we enjoy living here that we want things to improve for communities.

"There has been a bit of a backlash to all the cliches about the Highlands. This is a real place, it is not a postcard."