Islands Act should not depend on independence

Local government minister Derek Mackay promised an Islands Act following independence.

THE SCOTTISH islands are to have their own act of parliament if Scotland votes for independence in next year’s referendum.

On Thursday the Scottish government pledged to bring forward a bill for an Islands Act at the third meeting of its island areas ministerial working group.

However the island councils say there should be legislation to devolve power to the islands regardless of the referendum’s outcome.

Four Scottish ministers attended the working group meeting along with the three island council leaders and chief executives from Shetland and the western isles.

The ministers were rural affairs and environment secretary Richard Lochhead, energy, enterprise and tourism minister Fergus Ewing, environment and climate change minister Paul Wheelhouse and local government and planning minister Derek Mackay.

Economy was the main topic of discussion, including fisheries, aquaculture, the Crown Estate and measures to boost island economies.

Following the meeting, Mackay said: “Three months in to this process, my sense is that we have commonality and agreement on a number of issues that we would want to bring forward in our prospectus for the islands.

“The best prospect of implementing the outcome of the groups discussion is with the full powers of independence, and in that event we propose to bring forward a bill for an Islands Act.”

Speaking on behalf of the three council leaders, Orkney Islands Council convener Steven Heddle said an Islands Act should not depend on Scotland voting for independence.

“The three islands councils maintain their position that there should be legislation within the lifetime of this parliament regardless of the outcome of the referendum whilst respecting the Scottish government’s political position,” he said.

“As a result of our ongoing discussions we now look forward to the development of a prospectus that will help to chart out the opportunities and way forward for Orkney, Shetland and the western isles, and seek for this to be legislated for within the lifetime of this parliament.”

Three more meetings of the working group have been pencilled in, with the next one due to take place in January when it will discuss transport, tourism, culture and broadband.