ANYONE who has recently tried to book accommodation in the Highlands this summer is probably aware that many are already booked up.

They have also gone up in price considerably too, which is great news for owners but not so much for tourists.

But no-one can begrudge folk making a decent living out of their rentals, particularly after the pandemic lockdown which left many facing financial ruin.

Standards have also risen dramatically in recent times as the number of tourists has also risen with folk no longer tolerant of the sub-standard fayre that was on offer until relatively recently.

But, of course, there are some who don’t like tourists very much and would be happier if they all disappeared again and left rural Scotland to, well, wither and die presumably.

Read More: Dualling the A96 is a road safety issue - not a climate one

One of the biggest things frequently used against tourism is the number of short-term lets which, it is claimed, helps to drive people away due a lack of affordable accommodation.

Second home owners are also held up as the Devil incarnate by some for keeping young families off the property ladder in some areas.

But is this fair? Well, no, according to one man who has done his own research into the issue.

According to Roddy MacLeod, “well-intentioned” policy aimed at curbing the number of short-term lets and second homes is instead having a detrimental effect on rural locations off Scotland’s main tourist track and will actually result in further depopulation.

New powers enabling councils to charge up to double the full rate of council tax on second homes came into force last month to “support local areas to make the best use of existing housing stock”.

It follows the introduction of a controversial licensing scheme for short-term let and B&B owners last year.

Read More: Handing CalMac a permanent ferry contract is best option

Mr Macleod used National Records of Scotland data and maps of Airbnb listed properties.

He said: “In virtually all of those rural zones showing population decline, there were very few short-term lets.

“However there were proportionally many more lets located in all of the rural zones showing population increase.”

He acknowledged there would be many reasons for this but said the exception was Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, which has experienced a population increase of 3.6%.

He said: “There are quite a lot of short-term lets there. Just a coincidence? Of course not.”

It is important to note that his research is fairly crude, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Rather than be viewed as bad, holiday lets provide a variety of job opportunities as well as local income and increased footfall in some of our most fragile economic areas.

Read More: Let's party like its 1984 before even it gets banned too

There is a huge problem with depopulation across vast swathes of the country but this has not been solely caused by short-term lets or second homes.

It is caused by a lack of affordable housing stock, which is the fault of councils and ministers for failing to recognise this and build more homes.

It is hard to escape the feeling that blaming incomers for all rural Scotland’s ills is part of a class war that is raging outwards from urban areas.

This does no-one any good at all. Policymakers have to act to stem the problem of depopulation and the short-sighted move to force out second home owners is not the way to go about it.