The On Demand Economy is key to the survival of Scotland’s rural communities


Scotland facing a population crisis

As the Scotsman reported in 2018 Scotland’s rural communities face losing up to a third of their working age population by 2046, losing more than a quarter of their population within the next thirty years, with Western Isles, Argyll and the Southern Uplands among the worst affected.

A report by the James Hutton Institute found that “sparsely populated areas” – defined as those where fewer than 10,000 people can be reached within 30 minutes of travel – account for almost half of Scotland, but just 2.6 per cent of the population live there.

Workers on Tap – Tapping into the Gig Economy

So what can be done about it, how can this trend be reversed?

The answer is the ‘Gig Economy‘.

The use of remote working has now become a mature, commonplace model for corporate employment.

It’s no longer secretly thought of as really watching daytime TV in your pyjamas, but in many cases is actually a must have if you want to attract the best staff.

With the emergence of the On Demand Economy this will evolve such that these workers are no longer even full time employees, but instead will provide their services as self-employed freelancers, a trend that the Economist described as Workers on Tap.

The Cloud is a platform for On Demand computing, which itself is then a platform for a broader transformation of society towards an ‘On Demand Economy‘, exemplified by ventures like Uber taxis and Airbnb. These ventures apply these principles to disrupt traditional industries, by overlaying a ‘digital mesh’ across cities to better harness their idling resources.

Another Economist article There’s An App for That covers how the model is rapidly expanding into numerous industries, citing numerous Uber-like startups repeating the success for markets like cleaning, food delivery and home handyman services.

The flexibility and wide range of options highlights the interesting dynamic – It will be a virtual organization formed through the union of self-employed consultants, an ‘On Demand’ business utilizing the same principles as Uber and Airbnb, but applied to professional services.

In the Business Insider article they highlight this exploding trend and the underlying dynamic:

“Every week, new services launch that aggregate and organizes freelancer labor (those with excess time) to help those who have money but not time.”

On Abdullahi Muhammed writes how by 2020 half of all American workers will be freelancers. NACo provides a detailed report on the same trend.

Sites like, Abodoo, Peopleperhour and Fiverr, among many others, all offer marketplaces where you can hire workers on tap. I use Fiverr extensively so I can swear by it personally, I wouldn’t hire ad-hoc resource via any other route now.

The Future of Work

It’s not a new idea, also back in 2004 Thomas Malone wrote about the coming Future of Work, and long before that the original visionary Charles Handy described how our employment will evolve to become ‘portfolio working‘. Malone said:

“Imagine organizations where most workers aren’t employees at all, but electronically connected freelancers living wherever they want to.”

This is our goal for Digital Scotland, to organize a nationwide ‘Platform Co-operative‘ – There is no distinguishing between management and workers, where “they are owned and governed by those who depend on them most—workers, users, and other relevant stakeholders.”

Handy offers a blueprint for how to practically structure such a virtual team that we will implement, describing a ‘Shamrock organization‘.

Digital Enterprise Centres

Although the most basic unit is the ability to work from home via broadband, it will intersect with another key trend, with the combination of both offering the key to reversing Scotland’s population challenges.

‘Co-working centres’ are simply offices rented in equally small units, to one person or more at a time, so that they can enjoy the benefits of those facilities but without having to pay for the entire place – They share it with other individuals and micro-businesses like themselves.

They’re key because human beings what they are working from home alone presents it’s own difficulties, that can be addressed through having access to such a facility – Local to where they are.

Working in offices isn’t what people find unpleasant, it’s the many hours spent stuck in traffic commuting to and from them. Being able to walk down to one in your local village is an entirely different proposition.

Smart rural economic teams are seeing the potential in this market and are equipping themselves with such resources.

In Essex they are offering ‘The Common Room‘ and RuralConnect describes ‘the Hub Club’ in Hexham.

This is one of the key recommendations made by the Scottish Rural College, to unlock £2.5 billion in growth for the nation through better digitally enabling our rural communities, where they describe them as “Digital Enterprise Centres”:

Establishing hubs in rural towns which businesses can use or visit for better connectivity, start-up workspace, hot-desk space and training.

Quality of Life

This Sharemyoffice article suggests they are the future of the rural economy, and they’re right, and in her Medium article describes why:

“Also if you work in a small team, the bonds made in rural coworking spaces tend to be stronger, since in these situations you normally live and work from the same place. Whether that includes, hikes and bike rides, swimming or surfing, skiing or rock climbing, living outside of the cites allows us to reconnect with the nature — which is what most of us need from time to time.”

For towns seeking to retain and attract young workers and their families this is how to do it – Thousands are moving out of the cities to enjoy a better quality of life, and with Scotland’s rural areas like Orkney offering the very best of this across the entire UK, there is a uniquely powerful perfect storm of opportunity to promote Scotland as the best nation in the world for digital living and working.

Get Involved

Our goal is to support local communities across Scotland to equip their towns with these resources, via our Smart Village program.

We’re looking for local chapter partners who will lead those efforts in their communities – Contact us if you would like to be the digital champion for your rural community.

Neil McEvoy
Founder of Digital Scotland. Veteran entrepreneur with 20+ years of pioneering Cloud computing innovations and best practices.

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