THE SCOTTISH government has released details of how island communities would gain greater powers should the nation vote for independence in the September referendum.
The prospectus Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities, launched by First Minister Alex Salmond in Kirkwall on Monday, was welcomed by council leaders but has already been condemned as a “bribe” by the islands’ Lib Dem politicians.
Speaking at the Orkney College on Monday, the First Minister outlined a comprehensive package of powers for the island communities in case of independence.
- To bring forward a bill for an Islands Act upon independence to place a duty on the Scottish Government and other public bodies to ‘island-proof’ their functions and decisions, and create a post of ‘Minister for Island Communities’;
- To extend to 2020 the duration of the Enterprise Areas at Arnish, Lyness and Hatston, and support the establishment of Island Innovation Zones, to help sustain job opportunities;
- To allocate, upon independence, 100 per cent of the net income from the islands’ sea bed leasing revenues to island communities rather than to central government;
- To ensure islands councils’ representation on a new strategic energy committee upon independence, and explore ways to mitigate any adverse community impacts from oil and gas activities consistent with our commitments made to the industry in Scotland’s future;
- To develop a ‘planning brief’ approach for aquaculture to underpin further development and growth of the sector, and develop a ‘Community Benefit Charter’ with the Islands Councils, the aquaculture industry and those involved in the regulatory framework
- To ensure the special needs of island communities have a stronger voice and representation in Europe.
The First Minister said: ”Today’s prospectus is the most comprehensive package for empowering Scotland’s island communities that has been put forward by any government.
“It recognises the unique contribution that island communities make to modern Scotland, and also the distinctive needs and priorities they have.”
Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson, welcomed the announcement: “We asserted at the outset of this process that the seas and the seabed around us are hugely important – both socially and economically – to our islands.
“By implementing the measures contained in Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities we can maximise the opportunities presented by fisheries and aquaculture, and realise the full potential of marine renewables, while protecting our pristine environment.
“Crown Estate powers and a share of the income generated from leasing agreements will allow us to support investment in our coastal communities and ensure that this has a lasting and sustainable impact.
“By strengthening and embedding the County Council Acts’ powers, each of the islands’ councils will be better able to manage the diverse and sometimes conflicting demands on the marine environment,” Robinson said.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the SNP government had removed more powers from the islands than what they now promise to give back.
“Over the last seven years, the SNP have orchestrated a steady erosion of local services, responsibilities and accountability. They have centralised the police and the fire services, reduced funding for local colleges and cut back the Air Discount Scheme.
“As a result, islanders are sick and tired of seeing local powers diminished and transferred to the central belt to an Edinburgh government far removed from the realities of island life.
“The islands councils have worked extremely hard to reverse this centralisation so it is very disappointing to see that only minimal responsibility will be returned to the isles should they back Alex Salmond’s push for independence.”
“I recognise that the SIC has always argued that local government responsibilities should not be conditional on an SNP referendum bribe and it is a great shame that Alex Salmond failed to listen to that and has instead attempted to use the island councils for his political objective of independence,” he said.
More for follow from our reporter Neil Riddell who is in Kirkwall to gather reactions and give a first analysis.