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Views sought on islands bill

Tavish Scott MSP and SNP candidate Danus Skene

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott is the only islands politician to condemn the Scottish Government’s consultation on further devolution to island communities.

Islands minister Derek Mackay was in Lewis on Wednesday to launch the consultation on proposals that could see stronger islands representation at Holyrood and the creation of a National Islands Plan.

But the local MSP, a staunch critic of the SNP’s record in government, said the islands have been stripped of powers over recent years – only to be given the opportunity of being consulted on what he described as a “draft SNP manifesto.”

Meanwhile his SNP opponent at next year’s Scottish parliament election, Danus Skene, said the consultation was the next step in a “constructive process” that could give islands greater autonomy.

Scott said: “The SNP have been in power for eight years. They have removed powers, responsibilities and money from the islands. Only now, six months before an election, do they decide to ask people what they want.

“Why is there no guarantee over the seabed being placed under island control? Why does the SNP not accept that creating a state police force has not helped community policing? Why are Shetland’s health services underfunded by £900,000 every year by the SNP’s own funding formula?

“The Scottish Government could answer these questions. But instead of explaining the GP crisis, the imposition of school league tables on Shetland education and exclusion of Shetland from the government’s cheaper ferry fares scheme we are presented with a draft SNP manifesto for next year’s elections.”

Skene responded saying that the consultation was an important step forward.

“For me, there are two key principles being put into effect as consultation helps to draft an Islands Bill.

“First, fairness. Island communities suffer from a number of disadvantages of remoteness from markets and from national infrastructure. The Scottish Government is committed to equality of access for island communities within the nation as a whole.

“Second, autonomy. All local authorities should have greater control over their own resources and public decisions, but this is especially true in the isles, which must have their own status to meet their needs and aspirations.

“Greater autonomy for Shetland and other island communities means altering the balance in our relationship with the Edinburgh government, and that is what an islands bill is about.

Wednesday’s announcement builds on the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ (OIOF) initiative, which has lobbied for the interests of Scotland’s island communities at Holyrood and Westminster since 2013.

Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson could not be contacted on Wednesday, but in a statement issued by OIOF, Western Isles council leader Angus Campbell urged people to respond to the consultation.

“The launch of this consultation is very significant in securing greater powers for Island areas and is the first islands-specific piece of legislation in over 40 years.

This is an opportunity for everyone to help shape a more prosperous and fairer future for our Islands”, he said.

The consultation seeks views on:

  • Island-proofing – whether a legal duty should be placed on Ministers and relevant public bodies to ‘island-proof’ their functions and decisions;
  • Empowering island communities – what additional powers and functions could be passed to island councils to benefit or better protect the island communities they serve;
  • National islands plan – whether a legal duty should be placed on all future Scottish Governments to prepare a ‘National Islands Plan’, setting out on-going commitments across all policy areas of Government to support, promote and empower our island communities;
  • Statutory protection for the Nah-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary;
  • Local government electoral wards – whether the Local Government Boundary Commission in Scotland should have discretion to recommend wards with less than three councillors so that populated islands are not placed in an electoral ward that contains a significant proportion of mainland population.

Mackay said: “With the appointment of the first islands minister there can be no doubt of the Scottish Government’s on-going commitment to our island communities.

“I therefore see the launch of today’s consultation as the next step in helping inform the Government’s work for a more prosperous and fairer future for our island communities.”

Highlands and islands list SNP MSP Mike Mackenzie added: “The proposals contain a number of game changing suggestions including a desire to improve transport and connectivity.

“Perhaps the biggest prize, 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 as we realise the opportunities of marine renewables, and all of our island and coastal communities could benefit significantly from what will be a reliable and increasing revenue stream.

The consultation document can be found here: https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/islands-team/islands-bill-consultation 

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