If as many people moved to live and work in the Highlands and Islands as there have been opinions expressed about how this could be achieved, then there would be no population issue to discuss.

The myriad initiatives undertaken over generations to rebuild the population of communities have of course had the best of intentions at heart and have had varying degrees of success.

There are brilliant examples of island communities enjoying the social and economic benefits of new industries becoming active in their areas. Think Isle of Skye Candles, North Uist Downpour Gin and Ishga spa products from Lewis.

However, all too often the debate across wider Scotland and beyond around the repopulation of the Highlands and Islands can take on a rose-coloured hue, evoking reconnections with the past rather than building for the future.

The Herald: John Morrison, chair of MG AlbaJohn Morrison, chair of MG Alba (Image: MG Alba)

It is, though, those with their eyes firmly focused on the future who are blazing a trail and can demonstrate incontrovertible evidence of what works and what does not.

Take the young apprentices In North and South Uist and Lewis who have been given their first rung on the ladder in digital broadcasting through creative content apprenticeships run between local arts agencies and MG ALBA, the Gaelic Media Service. This innovative scheme is designed to get young people working in a cutting-edge industry while still able to live and work in their local communities.

Regular viewers of BBC ALBA, the Gaelic TV channel run in partnership by the BBC and MG ALBA, will recognise the voice of the programme announcer in her twenties who lives and works now in Stornoway having graduated from university in Edinburgh.

The New Highland Clearances: Read the full series here

The list goes on and underlines the real world and positive impact that Gaelic broadcasting and digital content production is having in the Highlands and Islands.

We have had dozens of very welcome jobs created over many years with the likes of Radio Nan Gaidheal, but the real game changer came 15 years ago with the establishment of BBC ALBA, a defined Gaelic TV channel.

The channel has been a success with viewers, both Gaelic and non-Gaelic speakers, particularly for sport and music programmes, and a real boon for Scotland’s creative industries.

The Herald: New Highland Clearances

BBC ALBA is a unique partnership funded by MG ALBA and the BBC. Most of MG’s funding comes from the Scottish Government through Ofcom and it has proved to be a very sound investment for the taxpayer.

In 2022-23, MG ALBA spent £12.3m on content, of which £9.8m was spent directly with 24 different production companies on the creation of 407 hours of programmes. Of that, £9.1m was spent with the independent production sector, much of it in tandem with a package of measures intended to foster the development of talent, skills and Gaelic language.

For every pound of public funding investment, MG ALBA has generated a return of £1.34 and created more than 340 jobs – nearly 200 of them in the Highlands and the Western Isles. And there is real potential to create an even better return, and more jobs, with further investment.

BBC ALBA has also been the catalyst for substantial and sustained growth in the number of independent Gaelic production companies, some of which were formed when the channel was launched and have then gone on to be successful suppliers to a range of broadcast and digital networks across the UK.

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Despite the success, MG ALBA’s budget has been frozen for years – by 2027, the money available to MG ALBA will only be worth about 50% of the original channel launch budget. In a recent BBC ALBA commissioning round, almost 30 companies submitted programme proposals to a total value of £9 million but sadly, 95% of those could not be commissioned – despite many excellent ideas – due to a severe lack of budget at the channel.

Governments are forever grappling with the challenges of economic development and stimulus and our political leaders know that sustained employment and thriving businesses are the proven route to better days. Of course, it is not easy and there is such a clamour for funding from all angles it is understandable that decision-makers feel under pressure.

However, what works, works. And the figures for Gaelic media speak for themselves. The more we invest in digital content production the more that can be delivered in terms of creating jobs and brighter prospects for younger people who are showing that there is a future in living and working in the Highlands and Islands and are prepared to address repopulation with action rather than words.

John Morrison is chair of MG ALBA. MG Alba works with partners, stakeholders, producers, and communities to ensure that Gaelic audiences are informed, educated, and entertained in Gaelic: mgalba.com