In 2011, I was sent to the Isle of Arran to work.

I had just completed my postgraduate teaching course, and was ready to embark on my first year in the profession. In Scotland, that ‘probation’ year comes with the promise of a guaranteed job, and mine was waiting for me across the water from Ardrossan.

But I didn’t know anything about Arran. My first visit to the island – a one-night camping trip that was really just an excuse for a few beers by a fire – had taken place a couple of years earlier, and I’d been over to see the school and find somewhere to live, but to be honest I had no idea what to expect. The same was true of my new flatmate – a chemistry teacher who had also been sent to Arran for her probation period.

By the end of our first night on the island, it was clear that we were now in a community, and that we were very obviously incomers.

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I grew up in a Glasgow suburb that was, and still is, little more than an overnight hotel for people who work in the city but don’t want to have to actually live there. Now here I was, preparing to work in an environment where everyone on the island would know me, and where the things that I did would have a marked impact on others.

Arran taught me what it feels like to live in, and contribute to, a real community. I often say that, under happier circumstances, I’d never have become a lecturer or an author or a journalist, and would instead still be an extremely happy English teacher on the Isle of Arran.

The Herald: New Highland Clearances

But that period in my life also taught me that Scotland is run by and for the central belt.

I’m sure that various parts of Arran, and countless other places up and down the highlands and islands, look great on a Visit Scotland poster in some foreign airport, but don’t for one second think that means that the country as a whole respects, cares about, or even really acknowledges the communities that live in these so-called “remote” and isolated places.

A combination of a housing crisis and the lack of healthcare provision, as well as a ferry service that, even then, was already becoming increasingly unreliable, pushed my family and I back to the mainland after just a few years. The day I left for good, I sat on the deck of the boat carrying me away from Arran and cried. I’ve never really gotten over it, to be honest. I probably never will.

And it gets worse, because after I left the school struggled to replace me for a very long time. I told anyone who ever asked, or might have been considering applying, how much I had loved the job, how great the kids and their families were, and how happy I had been – but I also had to tell them the truth about why I left.

Things are different now, at least for me. I’m the education writer for The Herald and, as part of that job, I get to go and see people, and schools, in different parts of Scotland.

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One of the first big projects I worked on after taking on the new role was the special report on education in Orkney. During my visit there, I saw several examples where education was understood as part of the broader need to protect and support communities, even when doing so doesn’t seem to be an ‘efficient’ use of financial resources.

I went to St Andrew’s Primary school and its attached nursery, which is housed in a brand new building several miles south of Kirkwall. The investment is part of a push to enhance the area’s early years and educational provision which, it is hoped, will make it easier for families to stay nearby.

A few days later I hopped on a small, inter-island ferry and made my way to Westray. There, I found a tiny school catering to children from nursery through to the end of S4. It’s not a perfect model by any means – as I said at the time, Orcadian education is imperfect and improvable – but what I found most striking, and heartening, was the fact that this unusual school structure was built, and has been maintained, to serve communities rather than accountants.

Contrary to what various facets of policymaking and Scottish culture might suggest, the highlands and islands are not, in fact, an enormous historic theme park maintained for the benefit of urban Scots looking for a relaxing weekend ‘away from it all’.

The people who live there matter. Their communities matter. Their Scotland matters.

I desperately wish our country could have learned that lesson already, but if the next best thing is learning it now then that will have to do.

But if I'm honest, I doubt we'll even manage that.