There was an economic boom in my home village of Embo at the turn of the 20th century and my wife’s great-grandparents built a new home for themselves on a new feu at the west of the village - this is the present family home in which we live. Around that time there were 101 bairns between P1 and P7 in Embo Public School, and 84 infants under the age of five, all in a village half the size of the present settlement.

One hundred and twenty years later, there are fewer than 25 youngsters in the 0-18 age group in total. When I was young, the old timers told me of the days when there was a football team in every street. The village, in common with other rural Sutherland villages, hasn’t been able to raise a team this last five years.

The Herald: Kate Forbes is a Highland MSPKate Forbes is a Highland MSP (Image: Jane Barlow/PA)

The Sutherland population statistics, compiled by NHS Highland and acknowledged by Highland Council, are dire.

There are fewer than 80 births in any year, that’s at most one per 25 square miles of wilderness. We have nearly as many pensioners as gainfully-employed working-age people. Highland Council has closed five Sutherland primary schools in as many years and is looking for more to close as its budget dissolves.

Also in the scope for closure is the council HQ at Drummuie in Golspie, which would mean no significant council administrative presence in the 100 miles between Dingwall and Wick.

There is one bank branch left in the county in Golspie, and the mobile service established to service other villages disappears in May. There is one police station covering our vast area. We are forced to carry the burden of a centrally dictated 'climate emergency' when we have in total the carbon footprint of a small Central Belt town and export nine times the windfarm energy we consume, all the while stoically enduring off-grid energy charges.

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We must bear the purity of a so-called biodiversity emergency thrust upon us by the environmental elite when our young people are the endangered species. All this is a recipe for complete socio-economic collapse in Sutherland.

This depopulation on a Clearances scale is directed not by the minions of a grasping absentee landlord, but by the ideologically driven policies of a dogmatic and distant Scottish Government, delivered by its local colonial administrator, Nature Scot, aided in turn by a pack of conservation outriders.

It is increasingly clear that this unelected agency, more powerful in many ways than the elected Highland Council, has a vision for Sutherland as being 2,000 square miles of cold wet desert, devoid of people and livestock, and with our iconic red deer slaughtered to the brink of oblivion, but with a few small colonies of pensioners scattered sparsely around the rim as token lip service to some social conscience.

If this vision comes to pass, it will prove a dereliction of duty by a Scottish Government which seems to have its head stuck up its corporate backside playing word games with pronouns as its main priority, to the complete detriment of the ordinary people it has been elected to serve, and I speak as having long-held empathy for the principle of a Scottish Parliament and indeed the concept of eventual independence. But we deserve so much better than what we’re stuck with at this time.

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In Sutherland, we have endured generations of poverty, neglect and emigration with feeble acquiescence. But there are clear issues of human rights and equality which we must now address. Why should our young people not be able to find jobs, and work, and have homes, and raise families in their places, land that is theirs by right of birth, the hard narrow coastal strips of Sutherland on which our predecessors were dumped by the Clearances? We are cursed at present with age and decay when we desperately need youthful vigour and vitality.

Sutherland needs homes and jobs. The Cromarty Freeport is the next hope of some employment opportunity in the north but its boundary fades far below the Dornoch Firth and it may be three years before any jobs boom matures.

The core pillar of the Sutherland economy is tourism, and golf tourism in particular is currently attracting the interest of large-scale private investors, all the more important when the public purse is threadbare apart from favoured niche environmental projects such as wildland creation and peatland restoration.

I note the wise words of former Energy Minister Brian Wilson: “The lack of political action in the past 20 years has been stunning and is now headed in entirely the wrong direction. The privatisation of peatland restoration backed by huge sums of public money for very dubious environmental outcomes is further embedding the status quo. Does any minister have a clue why they are doing this, beyond reading out their brief?”

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I am one of the many little people of Scotland. My small polite voice is easily ignored by the party-driven political system at both national and local government level, a system which demands strict and rigid adherence to the party line from its party hacks for fear of being cast into the wilderness of the real world where we little people live. I can only make a small noise.

But this is an election year. Politicians hate elections and they hate noise. Kate Forbes, possibly our next First Minister, has said “Every elected representative and official that is tasked with delivering for the Highlands needs to wake up and smell the coffee”.

And so, for my part, I raise my small voice to declare my personal Sutherland Depopulation Emergency, and trust that others will rally to the cause and make their own noise in support.

James McGillivray is a Highland Alliance councillor for East Sutherland and Edderton