SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott launched a ferocious attack on the SNP government and called for greater powers to be devolved to the islands at the Liberal Democrat Party conference on Friday.
The 49 year old MSP, who has represented the isles ever since the Scottish Parliament was formed 17 years ago, told conference today’s mood in the isles was for greater self control.
“I have canvassed a lot of doors across the islands already,” he told party delegates. “The mood is for decisions that affect us to be taken by us.”
Conference endorsed a proposal from Scott and Orkney MSP Liam McArthur for a new Islands (Scotland) Bill that would protect all three of Scotland’s island groups from central government edicts.
As well as handing over ownership of the seabed to local authorities, and “island proofing” all legislation and negotiations with Westminster and Brussels, the proposed bill includes an Islands Plan that would:
• help islands meet their inflated health costs;
• develop a long term plan for the lifeline air service;
• increase consultation for significant decisions like ferry fares and the Air Discount Scheme;
• find ways to “plug the remaining gaps in broadband and mobile coverage”.
During his speech Scott laid into the government on a wide range of issues including appalling broadband speeds in rural areas.
He quoted Unst ferryman Stephen Spence’s frustration at having to use his work computer because his home one is so slow.
He slammed the SNP over the crofting subsidy payment disaster, as good as saying rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead should step down.
“The SNP has spent an unbelievable £178 million on a computer to make just 14,000 payments. It has failed,” he said.
“The agriculture minister does not command the confidence of the industry. So Scotland’s first minister should step in, take charge, and sort out this shambles.”
Having accused the SNP of working “hand in hand” with the Tories to engineer a Brexit from the European Union that would trigger a second independence referendum, he attacked the government’s centralising policies.
This, he claimed, had conceived the new political grouping Wir Shetland that seeks greater autonomy for the isles.
“It is this endless centralisation, the arrogance of a central belt government, who always know best, that has encouraged the formation of Wir Shetland,” he said.
“They represent a wide group of islanders who want self-determination for Shetland.
“So if the UK withdraws from the EU, and the SNP force a second independence referendum, Shetland should have the right to decide where we want to be.
“The way this country is going that might be back to Norway! But at the very least we want the chance to explore an opt-out of our own.”
Summing up, he said he took “a pragmatic liberal approach to where powers lie – as close to the people they affect as is practical”.
Nations should work together to tackle global problems, while local decisions should be made locally.
“The UK and Scotland are still far too centralised in the way power is shared. Devolution of powers to Holyrood, the Smith Commission blueprint is a step forwards.
“But we need to be more radical. Passing powers to island communities. The islands have their own unique challenges. Islanders know best how to address these.”
Scott’s full conference speech can be read here.
The motion passed at conference can be seen here.
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