Growing up in Hawick I not only developed a strong local accent, but I felt a strong connection to a community that can proudly boast not succumbing to an American fast-food chain or a supermarket beginning with T. Due to the relative isolation of the town, days and weeks could pass by without ever leaving. During my days in school, this was never a problem however upon facing the conundrum of life post-Hawick High School, it became quickly evident that my young adult life would be spent away from Hawick, and the Scottish Borders.
During my final year at school, me and my former classmates would flick through glossy college and university prospectus filled with at excitement at the prospect of living in a big city and having a world of opportunities at our disposal. Unlike other young Scots, the possibility to have the best of both worlds and continue in education and remain at home was not an option. Although Borders College offers some excellent courses, the biggest barrier was the poor connectivity to our neighbouring cities and larger towns.
Even with the reopening of the Borders railway, the 50 mile journey from Hawick to Edinburgh can still take over two hours to complete. For those living in Kelso and Duns, the situation is far worse with the option of rail travel only a distant dream.
Being a rural area should not result in a so called brain drain for the region. There are countless example of remote areas utilising technology and entrepreneurship to retain young talent and harness it. A report by Highlands & Islands Enterprise in 2014 found that young people aged 16-29 accounted for 16% of the total population of the area, and that younger worker have a higher level of labour activity than elsewhere in Scotland. The report also noted, there remains a high number of young people leaving the region to study at higher education institutions, however unlike the Scottish Borders, the University of the Highlands & Islands offers lots of options to study in the region and online. For the Scottish Borders and the wider South of Scotland region, this model of online learning should be given considerable thought as a viable option to retain its younger population.
Now, faced with a declining manufacturing industry, there must be bolder action taken to provide long-term and meaningful learning and career prospects for young people in the Scottish Borders. The industries of the future will not be found in the past and that is why a better connected, in terms of broadband, communities and infrastructure must be a priority.
Securing opportunities for young people in the Scottish Borders requires bold action by politicians, and it is only by voting for the Scottish Greens and returning a green voice to Holyrood can we start that journey to a more prosperous region, for all generations.