TAVISH Scott has attempted to pour cold water on the SNP’s pledge to hand net revenue from the seabed to Shetland Islands Council, saying it is likely to be worth less than £1 million a year.
The Shetland MSP said he had been informed by the Crown Estate, which controls revenue from the UK seabed at present, that the combined revenue to Orkney and Shetland is only £1.2 million.
Salmond made the pledge the centrepiece of last week’s Kirkwall launch of a prospectus to devolve more powers to Scotland’s islands if there is a Yes vote in September’s referendum.
The Crown Estate undertaking was hailed by SIC leader Gary Robinson as a “real result” for the Our Islands, Our Future campaign – though it was immediately dismissed as a “referendum bribe” by Scott and his Westminster counterpart Alistair Carmichael.
Robinson said the income was “a moving target because the income is only going to increase from the seabed particularly as more marine renewables come online”, but that it was likely to amount to a “significant sum”.
Shetland News requested a breakdown of the income from the seabed around the islands from the Crown Estate last week.
In response its senior corporate affairs manager Esther Black said total revenue in Scotland was £13.7 million in 2013/13 – £2.6 million of which came from aquaculture. Fees from offshore renewables were “negligible”, she said, because there are no commercial wave and tidal projects as yet.
Speaking at Holyrood ahead of a debate on parliamentary finance, Scott contrasted the sum from seabed leases with a recent report from SIC finance chief James Gray forecasting a cut in Scottish Government income of around £6 million in the next five years.
“Alex Salmond has been caught out by the detail,” the Liberal Democrat MSP claimed. “His offer is to give Shetland less than £1 million if the islands support his gamble on independence.
“Yet the SIC’s own finance director points out that Mr Salmond’s government has cut the council budget by 19.7 per cent since 2010/11. A further £6 million will be cut by the nationalists over the next five years. As always the Scottish Government’s figures do not add up.
“Without taking into account how much money would be whittled away to achieve the SNP’s proposed ‘net’ figure through various taxes and charges, I am certain that such a low figure will come as a surprise to many islanders considering the pomp with which it was announced last week.”
The MSP added that it had “certainly not gone unnoticed that over the past seven years, the SNP Government has removed millions of pounds in funding from the Northern Isles, and this latest incentive to try and entice islanders to embrace their independence obsession will undoubtedly leave many feeling short changed at best”.
A spokeswoman for local government minister Derek Mackay dismissed the comments as “simply sour grapes from Tavish Scott, who failed to offer these powers when he was a minister, whose party has failed to devolve any control or revenues from the Crown Estate to communities and who are part of a Westminster government that is cutting Scotland’s budget”.
She said the Scottish Government was seeking to protect local government from cuts “imposed on us by Mr Scott’s colleagues in Westminster” and had set out “radical plans that can empower the islands for the long term”.
The spokeswoman added: “Under independence Scotland’s islands will have the full benefit of the income from leasing and other legal agreements in the islands associated with the Crown Estate commissioners’ current responsibilities including agreements for cables, pipelines, aquaculture, wave, wind and tidal devices, piers, local authority harbours and moorings in territorial waters.”
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