THE SNP remains fully committed to devolving control over Crown Estate assets and revenue to Scotland’s islands and coastal communities, Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd says.
Todd, who was newly elected in May, was speaking after Shetland MSP Tavish Scott warned against “endless delay and prevarication” on transferring the powers, adding that handing control over the seabed to the islands would be an “acid test” of the forthcoming Islands Bill.
Last week the government advertised for a chairperson for the new Scottish Crown Estate Commission – the same week as islands minister Humza Yousaf announced the Islands Bill would be brought before parliament within the next 12 months.
Control over the seabed, which is expected to create a substantial new income stream for Shetland, was one of a range of powers passed from Westminster to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016.
Scott said it was a “golden opportunity for island councils and harbour authorities to be given the powers we have been asking for”.
“Ministers are currently recruiting an interim chair for the new Crown Estate Scotland,” he said. “That will be a big job. Devolving control of the seabed and its assets to the islands will make it easier. There is no need for endless delay and prevarication.
“The seabed does not need a new tartan Crown Estate commission controlled by the SNP. That is no better than being controlled from London.
“The seabed should be transferred to the islands at the same time as the new Scottish body takes responsibility for the other assets.
Scott added: “The Islands Bill could be a significant piece of legislation for Shetland but only if the SNP decides to give it teeth. If they do not I will promote changes to make this transfer happen to the benefit of Shetland and the other islands.”
Todd, who plans to visit Shetland every other month in her role as list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said she was “absolutely passionate about community empowerment” and saw the Northern Isles’ example as a “beacon” worth replicating across Scotland.
“The Islands Bill is going to come in in the first year [of this parliament], and control over the Crown Estate is going to be part of that,” she said. “The SNP government made really good manifesto commitments to the island communities and they’re delivering them.
“A commitment to reduce ferry fares – we started that process by freezing them. A commitment to an islands bill – we brought the timescale forward.
“We want more of that. I’ve seen no suggestion of putting the brakes on what islanders want to do. As an SNP politician, there’s no point bringing the centre of power from London to Edinburgh – the whole point of being independent is to bring powers closer to home.”
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