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Salmond to lay out autonomy proposals in Kirkwall

First minister Alex Salmond, pictured with SIC convener Malcolm Bell on a visit to Shetland in July 2013, will follow up his "Lerwick Declaration" by setting out a prospectus on greater autonomy for Scotland's islands in Kirkwall on Monday. Photo: Shetnews

FIRST minister Alex Salmond will set out proposals to devolve more powers to Scotland’s three island groups in Kirkwall on Monday.

He will unveil a prospectus entitled “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” as part of a two-day visit to Orkney.

It follows almost a year of talks between the SNP government and the three local authorities as part of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, a collaboration between Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

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A government statement ahead of the announcement said the islands prospectus would “show how, with the powers of independence, Scotland’s islands can be empowered to have greater control over their local economies, natural environment and have a guarantee that their concerns on all issues will be heard at the heart of government”.

It promises to set out opportunities from renewable energy and aquaculture which would benefit island communities.

Ahead of the launch, Salmond said: “In July 2013, in Shetland, I set out the Lerwick Declaration, that just as we believe the people of Scotland are best placed to make decisions about what happens in Scotland, so we believe in self-determination and the right of local communities to have a greater role in their own future.

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“That principle has guided our engagement with Scotland’s islands and is at the heart of these proposals.”

He said the prospectus resulted from a “close partnership” between islands council leaders and the Scottish Government following the formation of a ministerial working group last year.

“The prospectus demonstrates the opportunities independence can bring for Scotland’s islands to secure a better and more prosperous future,” Salmond said. “The prospectus will also set out the action that is being taken now in a number of devolved areas.”

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Several local politicians, including Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, have criticised the Scottish Government for centralising local services such as the police force and fire brigade, claiming it contradicts SNP rhetoric about devolving powers.

“Scotland’s islands are special,” Salmond said. “They are beautiful and diverse, enjoying rich histories, healthy economies and immense prospects for future growth. It is our shared responsibility to ensure that they play an essential part in Scotland’s future.”

The Our Islands Our Future campaign is also seeking action from Westminster in areas such as control over income generated for the Crown Estate from the seabed around the islands.

The campaign has garnered widespread – albeit muted – support in the main, though a handful of activists have criticised it for being insufficiently radical in the amount of autonomy it is seeking.

Speaking on behalf of the three councils, Orkney Islands Council convener Steven Heddle said the islands faced “unique challenges” owing to their “geographic remoteness from the rest of the country”.

“Our firm belief is that empowering our islands would bring many benefits,” he said, “giving us the tools to invest in our communities and drive sustainable economic growth.

“Over the past 12 months we have presented what we believe to be a strong and compelling case and the Scottish Government has clearly demonstrated its willingness to work and negotiate with us.

“The end result of those negotiations is today’s launch of the Government’s response to the case we’ve made for our islands. This is an important day for our campaign and for our communities.”

 

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