NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has questioned the SNP’s pledge of further autonomy for the islands, claiming its rhetoric contradicts the way it has “centralised” services to Edinburgh.
Yesterday four Scottish Government cabinet ministers met with council leaders from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles at Lerwick Town Hall
It was the latest in a series of meetings to discuss the islands’ desire for greater autonomy under its “our islands, our future” campaign.
Both sides emerged saying talks had been “positive” and “constructive” as work continues on producing a prospectus, to be published in June, outlining what new powers island councils may be given.
Local government minister Derek Mackay pointed out that the island authorities were benefiting from an “unprecedented” level of direct access to ministers as part of the campaign.
SIC leader Gary Robinson said the talks were the “most crucial yet”, and he believes ministers are getting the message about the need for more say on transport issues such as ferry and air connections to the mainland.
During a cabinet visit last summer First Minister Alex Salmond proclaimed a “Lerwick Declaration” and said the SNP was keen to find ways of devolving power over things like the seabed and fisheries management to the islands.
Politicians from all three island groups were clear at the outset that “our islands, our future” sought to use the constitutional debate surrounding September’s referendum to secure more power.
But on Tuesday Carmichael claimed the SNP was dangling the offer as “a sort of carrot for the independence referendum” and “completely misunderstands what the whole exercise is about”.
“It should not be dependent on a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote,” the Scottish Secretary said.
“You look at the pattern of the way in which power and control has been stripped away from the island communities, held in the centre of Edinburgh in recent years: creation of a single police force, centralisation now of control rooms for ambulance and fire services, and the disgraceful way they managed the letting of the islands’ ferries contract.
“You judge people not on what they promise, but on what they deliver, and in recent times the delivery from the SNP government in Edinburgh, as far as island communities are concerned, has been pretty poor.”
However, Yes Shetland chairman Brian Nugent told Shetland News he felt centralising police and fire services had come about chiefly as a result of spending cuts ushered in by the Westminster coalition which Carmichael is part of.
“One of the drivers of the one police force, one fire brigade is the situation in the economy,” Nugent said, “and that was brought on by the banking collapse and the austerity programme at the Tory/Liberal government have put in place.”
He pointed out that the UK has had “plenty of time to do things for Shetland, and haven’t, over a much longer period than the government in Edinburgh”.
“It’s taken them a long time to pay anything towards the Shetland housing debt, although Britain made lots of money out of the workers that came up and produced all the oil, and they left Shetland with the debt.
“Had the Scottish Government not committed to its £10 million share the UK government wouldn’t have helped at all.”
Meanwhile Yes Shetland is holding a meeting in Burra on Thursday night. Highlands and Islands list MSP Jean Urquhart will be speaking at the event in the Hamnavoe Hall.
Nugent said he felt Yes Shetland was “picking up support”, with lots of folk seeming “open to persuasion” over the case for independence.