Voters in the north and north-east want action to tackle a growing housing crisis that has left rural communities at risk of “dying”, our research shows.
A Survation poll of 2,047 adults, conducted exclusively for us, showed the issue is among the most pressing in Scotland.
One in 10 people surveyed named it in their top three priorities, and that proportion increased to 12% in the sample for Highland, and 11% for Moray.
According to Registers of Scotland, the average price of a home in the nation increased by 81% between 2003/04 and 2019/20.
Meanwhile, the population of parts of the Highlands is projected to plummet by more than a fifth over the next two decades.
Concerns about the impact of the crisis were repeatedly highlighted at local focus groups studied by Survation as part of our research.
Younger people in particular complained about being priced out of the housing market, in part due to an influx of buy-to-let landlords and holiday-home hunters.
One of those was Feargus, a 24-year-old heritage sector worker from Inverness.
He said: “One the reasons I’m living at home is because housing in Inverness is awful. It’s really, really difficult to actually find any suitable accommodation.
“It’s really expensive. Housing in Inverness, you can get up to £600 or £700 a month, just for a wee flat.
“In the rest of the Highlands you’ve got a lot of wee villages that are just dying because young people just can’t afford to live in them, and all the houses are just being bought by people coming up from down south and the lowlands, who can just pay cash.
“So there are young people trying to get mortgages, and trying to scrape together a deposit, and you’ve got folk coming in and just buying houses with cash.
“It’s really, really difficult to find anything. Plus, a lot of these are second homes – they are empty most of the year, so it just kills these local communities. It’s just really, really hard.”
Feargus said the government and local authorities should be introducing radical measures to prevent local housing markets from being inflated in this way.
“We should be getting rid of buy-to-let landlords. People shouldn’t be able to just come in and buy property just to rent it,” he said.
“People should only be allowed one house, in my opinion. Unless you inherit one, that’s fine.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently extended a “stamp duty” holiday in England and Wales, but the Scottish Government has resisted calls to follow suit with its equivalent, the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax.
Donald, a 34-year-old office manager from Forres, is another member of our focus group who spoke about the need to help young people get on to the property ladder.
“Maybe one of the things that could happen would be the government extending the pause on the stamp duty,” he said.
“I think that would encourage people to buy new homes in the area and attract new people.
“It’s probably the only way young people are going to be able to afford it as well. Stamp duty is quite extortionate.
“In my opinion, it would probably be better to scrap stamp duty altogether. I’m sure they could find a replacement way to get money in, whether that means taxing the wealthy – it’s just a thought.”
Jennifer, a 23-year-old graduate from Aberdeenshire, said housing supply is also a problem in the north-east.
“There is a lack of affordable housing in my village, especially for young people that are looking to buy,” she said.
“To get on to the property market, it is very, very difficult for them to do that, because the housing prices are too high.”
Gordon, who is 68 and lives with his wife in Nairn, said debate over the release of land for new housing development had often been contentious.
“There is conflict going on here in Nairn at this moment in time. Highland Council would like to sell off a large chunk of Common Good Land to developers to allow the building of houses, and I suspect social housing, or maybe that is just a hope,” he said.
“There does seem to be some debate about whether this is an appropriate time to do it.”