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Scottish Independence Debate / “Devolution shouldn’t stop in Edinburgh”

Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell.

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has clarified some of his views on potential Home Rule for the islands after his speech to the LibDem spring conference in Dundee hit the national headlines.

Back in the constituency for a brief 24 hour spell, Scott said he wanted to address the continuous erosion of local control.

Meanwhile, council convener Malcolm Bell said it was “right and proper” for the SIC to enter the debate about the future constitutional role of the islands.

With the referendum on Scottish independence just 19 months away, it was incumbent for the SIC to “test the water” and not to “sleepwalk” into whatever outcome the referendum would throw at the islands authorities, Bell said.

Scott acknowledged that there was as yet no visible popular campaign demanding more local control, but insisted that islanders were in “absolute opposition to constant centralisation”.

He said he wanted to see a system whereby more than 50 per cent of the local authority’s budget was raised locally to increase accountability.

“The period we are now in will lead to changes. I do not think Scotland is going to vote for independence.

“We have already seen further devolution powers under the Calman Commission proposals. I am absolutely sure that post-independence referendum there will be further consideration to ensure that the parliament is more financially accountable.

“I want to make sure that that debate does not stop in Edinburgh. It needs to take place in every town hall across the country, in all 32 local authorities,” the LibDem MSP said.

He added: “The budget that our local authority spends in Shetland on local services should be determined by local taxpayers.

“When you have to sign the cheques as well as raise the money which allows you to sign those cheques, it brings a new dynamic to local responsibility.

“I don’t think we should hold back in our desire and aspiration to improve local democracy. I don’t mean just here in Shetland; I mean right across the country.

“We want more people from more diverse backgrounds to stand for election to local politics to make our councils as reflective of our communities as possible.”

Meanwhile, council leaders from Shetland, Orkney and the western isles will raise the question of further devolution with finance secretary John Swinney when he attends the meeting of the Highlands and islands Convention in Lerwick, next Monday.

Convener Bell said the council is “setting up a project” to instigate the debate in the local community to be ready for “likely constitutional changes” regardless of the outcome of the 2014 referendum.

“The referendum is going to create a situation of constitutional flux. There will be change, and it is important that we, as a distinct island authority, are ready for that and recognise the opportunities and threats that will be presented to us as a result of the referendum.

“Devolution should not stop in Edinburgh. There is no point Westminster devolving power if it is just shifted down a few hundred miles to Edinburgh and stop there. We need to look at things that we could do better here, such as fisheries and ferries.

“It is important that we retain the powers we have got; governments of all shades have centralised over the last 10 to 15 years, and it is important that we do maintain a recognisable islands authority.

“It is important that local people take local decisions on a local level; I don’t want to see the day where we send half a dozen councillors to Inverness for a meeting once a month,” he said.