SCOTLAND’S three island authorities have launched an ambitious campaign to secure greater autonomy following the 2014 independence referendum.
‘Our Islands – Our Future’ is the islands’ response to the constitutional changes likely to happen regardless of the outcome of the national vote.
Stopping short of calling for home rule, council leaders from Shetland, Orkney and the western isles said the constitutional debate was “a once in a generation opportunity” to devolve more powers to the islands.
However they have made it clear that their demands may yet become more radical, depending on the response they receive from politicians and governments.
In a four-way video link press conference held in Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Edinburgh on Monday morning, the council leaders said they were neither pro or anti independence.
They also stressed they were keen to engage with all political parties.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar leader Angus Campbell said: “The constitutional debate offers the opportunity for the three island councils to secure increased powers for our communities to take decisions which will benefit the economies and the lives of those who live in the islands.”
These powers include:
- control of the seabed around the isles with revenues currently paid to the Crown Estate being channelled into local needs;
- new grid connections to the Scottish mainland to allow renewable energy developments;
- new fiscal arrangements to allow local income from local resources such as renewables and fishing;
- clear recognition of the status of the three island groups and a guarantee that they will remain individual council areas.
Orkney Islands Council leader Steven Heddle said they were “calling for change”.
SIC leader Gary Robinson said that devolution should not stop in Edinburgh and decision-making should be as close as possible to the people affected.
The three council leaders now hope their ideas will be taken up by national politicians and become part of the constitutional debate that will culminate in the referendum on Scottish independence on 18 September next year.
Heddle said: “The response we get back will shape what happens next, whether we become more demanding and less reasonable in what we are saying.”
Robinson added: “This is very much setting out our stall and seeing what the political parties and the governments of the day are willing to give us.”
To further focus the debate, the islands are in the process of organising a two-day conference in Orkney,on 19 and 20 September to discuss their proposals with national politicians.
Welcoming Mondays’ campaign launch, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the trend of centralising powers away from local authorities needed to be reversed.
“I am very pleased that the island councils have now produced a blueprint of what they want from their governments,” he said.
“Devolution of power in 1999 to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh from London was meant to be about enhancing local government. Sadly, the experience has been the opposite.”
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