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Scottish Independence Debate / Islands put pressure on party leaders

Island council leaders Angus Campbell, Gary Robinson and Steven Heddle in Lerwick on a sunny day in May this year. Photo Malcolm Younger

THE THREE Scottish island councils are piling pressure on the main political parties about devolving more power following next year’s independence referendum.

The three council leaders have written to Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, UK prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband demanding a response to their appeal for more powers.

The island leaders met in Orkney this week to finalise details around September’s Kirkwall conference on the islands’ future post referendum.

The councils’ Our Islands – Our Future campaign is seeking control of the seabed around the isles, grid connections to the mainland, new fiscal arrangements to earn an income from local industry and guarantees the council areas will not be merged.

While the councils intend to remain neutral in the debate on independence, they want to gain something from the constitutional debate that will change the distribution of power after 2014.

Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson said that the fact that there was a UK wide election one year after the referendum was good timing for the campaign.

“The political parties need to send a clear message as to what the policies in their manifestos will be towards the islands,” he said.

“One thing that is absolutely clear about the referendum is that regardless of the result there will be some degree of constitutional change.”

Robinson said the leaders had made good progress on exploring key themes, identifying speakers and populating a guest list for the Orkney conference on 19 and 20 September.

“The timing of this get-together was critical as it allowed us to refine our message ahead of the Cabinet meetings in Lerwick next week when we’ll have the opportunity to discuss our aspirations face-to-face with Scottish ministers,” he said.

Noting first minister Salmond was in the Isle of Man this week discussing currency and language amongst other things, he added: “I am pleased he has followed in the footsteps of our convener to see what they have to offer in terms of their governance.”

The leaders said that they were pleased with the progress of the campaign, which was gathering support from across local government in Scotland.

It has also received the backing of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions.

Robinson said: “We don’t think that what we are asking for is in any way unreasonable and as (Orkney Islands Council leader) Steven Heddle frequently points out, most of it is contained within things like the EU’s Lisbon Treaty.”