Scottish Independence Debate / Seabed ownership the ultimate goal

SIC political leader Gary Robinson: 'Ownership of the seabed would be our ultimate aim'.

THE THREE islands councils seeking greater autonomy from central government aim to take ownership of the seabed up to a 12-mile limit around the islands.

The leaders of the local authorities in Shetland, Orkney and the western isles were in London on Monday and Tuesday to make their case for more local decision-making powers.

Speaking during a short break in a hectic schedule of meetings, SIC political leader Gary Robinson described their meetings with civil servants and junior ministers from various government departments as “useful”.

The Our Islands – Our Future campaign seeks to wrest powers from government, including control of the seabed, control of fisheries management and external transport links.

One of the main issues discussed was the control over the seabed and the distribution of income derived from it.

Currently hundreds of thousands of pounds are drained from the islands’ economies in licence payments for aquaculture, harbour infrastructure, cables and land reclamation.


On Monday, Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael said the Crown Estate was “unfinished business” and described the organisation’s coastal communities fund as a first step to redistributing income.

On Tuesday, Robinson went a step further when setting out the Our islands – Our Future stall.

“We would like to see the powers and potentially the ownership of the seabed transferred from the Crown Estate to the islands authorities; and if not the ownership, then at least we would like to see the islands authorities having more control over the benefit deriving from the ownership of the seabed,” he said.

He referred to a report from the Scottish affairs select committee, which advocated an 80 to 20 per cent split of Crown Estate’s income with 80 per cent going to local communities.

“Ownership of the seabed would be our ultimate aim. There is actually a precedent for that: the Isle of Man bought from the Crown Estate the seabed out to the 12-mile limit.

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“I think what we are seeking is very much supported by the Scottish affairs select committee,” Robinson said.

He added that there was no competition between the Scottish government and Westminster as to who was more willing to accommodate the islands’ demands.

“With the Scottish government we are discussing the issues that are devolved to Scotland, what we discussing here at Westminster are the things that aren’t devolved.

“From my point of view these are similar discussions but on different topics,” Robinson said.

“I very much welcome Alistair Carmichael’s comment that he promised to deliver now.

“One of the clear messages that came out of our conference in Orkney was that there were things that both Westminster and Holyrood could offer us now.

“Our campaign is not really predicated on the independence referendum. Clearly, there are opportunities therein, but we are asking for things that the Lisbon Treaty and the Montgomery report have said local government should have in any case.

“It is entirely reasonable and I don’t see a reason why we should not get cross-government and cross-party support for it.”

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