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Letters / A sea of friendliness

Sometimes you can feel the tide changing. The wind drops off; the sea calms as the tidal stream slows and then it reverses and starts to gather strength.

Such a day it was the 28 August when I visited Shetland with Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister. There was a palpable sense that, even here where the Liberal Democrats still hold sway, people are increasingly considering a Yes vote on 18 September.

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The feeling grew all day as more and more smiling faces appeared, keen to meet, or to have photographs taken with Nicola and proud to assert their support for independence. People who have thought long and hard on this matter and decided that Scotland’s best future and Shetland’s lies in voting Yes.

We were bathed in sunshine and a sea of friendliness and hospitality as we walked and talked our way through a busy schedule.

For me this was Shetland at its best; optimistic, confident and not at all frightened of looking the challenges and the opportunities of the future in the eye. Project fear doesn’t appear to have worked in Shetland.

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The day culminated in a packed question and answer session in the Lerwick museum. The tone was of friendly good humour, a tone that has characterised almost all of the many such meetings that have been held all over the country. The applause was rapturous as Nicola demonstrated her common sense approach to the series of thoughtful questions that were put to her.

The Yes campaign is about better opportunities for all of Scotland and amongst the heroes to emerge from this year of the referendum have undoubtedly been the three island authority leaders, Steven Heddle, Gary Robinson and Angus Campbell.

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They quickly realised the opportunity presented by the referendum and capitalised on it when they initiated the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign. What all three quickly realised also is that in joining forces they added both force and credibility to the campaign.

In doing so they placed Scotland’s islands firmly on the map and on the political agenda. They were rightly recognised for this in being jointly named as ‘Scottish Local Politicians of the Year’ in November last year. This is important because for far too long the regional inequalities afflicting our islands have not been addressed.

The approach taken to this campaign by the two governments could hardly be further apart. The First Minister announced the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group to work with the island councils when the cabinet met in Lerwick last year.

The results of that year of discussions were announced this June when the First Minister visited Orkney. The ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus from the Scottish Government contains a substantial offering and was warmly welcomed by leaders of all three island councils.

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By contrast the UK Government’s offering has the feeling of being hastily cobbled together and offers little more than a few warm words.

Most importantly the Scottish Government document contains proposals for an ‘Islands Act’ to enshrine the concept and duty of ‘island proofing’ of legislation and regulation and put this on a statutory basis.

This will be a powerful piece of legislation because as islanders know, what works well in Edinburgh may not work at all well on Shetland, particularly on the smaller and more remote islands.

The prospectus includes the appointment of an Islands Minister so that island concerns and issues are continually taken to the heart of the Scottish Government and constantly inform government policy.

Perhaps the biggest prize though, and the most warmly welcomed, is the commitment to devolve 100 per cent of Crown Estate revenues to island and coastal communities.

Crown Estate revenues from seabed leases are set to grow very significantly as we realise the opportunities of marine renewables and the whole community of Shetland will benefit from what will be a reliable and increasing revenue stream.

After years of talk islanders have understandably become frustrated about the UK Government’s complacent attitude towards providing the necessary interconnectors so that our renewable industry can properly develop. With independence we will have full powers over energy and the Scottish Government has committed to dealing with this longstanding lack of infrastructure.

Proper stewardship of economic resources like marine renewables and the related devolution of the Crown Estate revenues can only be accomplished if Scotland votes for independence.

This on its own is a very powerful reason why all of Scotland’s islanders, especially those on Shetland, with its very promising renewable energy future, should vote Yes in the referendum.

Recent polls are showing that the wind is in the sails of the Yes campaign. People all over Scotland, including those on our islands, are realising that this campaign is not about party politics.

It is about our country and our future, a future that is best secured by a Yes vote on 18 September.

Mike Mackenzie
SNP list MSP for the Highlands and Islands

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