BOTH sides in the independence referendum campaign have made renewed pitches for isles voters with Scotland’s deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon due to arrive in Shetland on Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of her trip – during which she will take part in an informal lunchtime discussion organised by the local women for independence group ahead of a public evening event at Shetland Musuem – Sturgeon said Westminster had failed to offer any extra powers to the islands.
The key difference in the SNP Government’s proposals, she said, was its vow to devolve 100 per cent of net profit from the seabed around the islands directly to those communities – a pledge not matched by Westminster.
But Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, along with his Orkney colleague Liam McArthur, countered with an announcement that they will introduce a bill aimed at recognising and safeguarding the rights of island communities later this year.
The two Liberal Democrats said new legislation would be needed after the 18 September referendum to ensure promises made to islanders during the campaign are honoured in the event of a No vote.
Scott and McArthur said it was already within the Scottish Parliament’s gift to enact many of the measures the SNP is dangling before voters in the islands.
Sturgeon said diverting the seabed revenue, which currently accrues to the Crown Estate, was “at the heart” of the Scottish Government’s package, entitled ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’.
A Yes vote was the only way of ensuring income from the seabed was available for “the islands themselves to choose how they spend”, she said.
Other proposals include creating a minister for Scotland’s islands and “island proofing” of all legislation; extending enterprise zones to capitalise on opportunities for jobs and investment, and improved connectivity for energy transmission, broadband, postal services and transports.
“I want to ensure every part of Scotland is part of this debate on Scotland’s future,” the deputy first minister said.
“People on Scotland’s islands are waking up to the opportunity a Yes vote will bring to invigorate island economies, to increase local control, to support young people to stay on our islands if they want to and to ensure that our islands benefit from the enormous wealth around them.”
Sturgeon said the UK Government’s response to Shetland, Orkney and the western isles’ Our Islands, Our Future campaign showed that “where people in Scotland recognise the difference that money can make to islands in the future as offshore wave and tidal energy develops, the Westminster parties are determined to hang on to that money in the Treasury.”
She said that First Minister Alex Salmond’s “Lerwick declaration” in summer 2013 showed that “just as we believe the people of Scotland are the best people to make decisions about Scotland, so communities on our islands should have the opportunity to make decisions about what happens there.”
“That is the essence of self-determination and the huge opportunity that comes with independence,” Sturgeon, who staged a Q&A session on board the NorthLink ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick on Tuesday night, added.
Isles politicians including SIC leader Gary Robinson have sought to drive home the point that devolution of powers from London must not stop in Edinburgh.
Scott has long been adamant that too many powers and responsibilities have been sucked back to the capital since the SNP took power in 2007 from the Labour-Lib Dem coalition under which he served as a minister.
Announcing plans for a consultation this autumn seeking the public’s views on their calls for the SNP to “island proof” legislation and the work of public bodies, Scott repeated his criticism, saying he was “determined to reverse this damaging approach to self government in the islands”.
“Police, fire, colleges and crucial transport decisions are all now taken in the central belt with little reference to the needs of the islands,” he said.
“SNP ministers have been busy making all sorts of promises in a bid to persuade islanders to vote for independence. In most cases, however, there is nothing stopping the SNP from delivering these promises now.
“I don’t want to see the nationalists backsliding after 18 September and this bill should help make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The consultation is to look at community benefit in areas such as aquaculture, fisheries management arrangements, relocation of posts and island innovation zones – all put forward by the Our Islands, Our Future campaign.
It will also consider what steps might be taken to safeguard critically important air and ferry transport connections.