THE TWO Northern Isles Lib Dem MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur are calling on the Scottish government to ensure that the forthcoming Island Bill is more than just “a tick box exercise”.
Islands and transport minister Humza Yousaf introduced the bill to parliament on Monday, describing it as an “historic milestone” that would help empowering island communities.
But both MSPs said they were wondering what a difference an island bill would actually make in a situation where the promise of introducing cheaper ferry fares has long been made but with no sign of these being delivered.
Meanwhile, Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell welcomed the bill saying it would guarantee ‘island-proofing’ for any future legislation and government policies.
Yousaf said on Monday: “This government is committed to promoting islands’ voices, to harnessing islands’ resources and enhancing their well-being. The measures in this bill underpin this ambition.
“In particular, the provision to ‘island-proof’ decision-making across the public sector will ensure the interests of islanders are reflected in future legislation and policy from the very outset.”
Scott said: “An islands law is fine but what will it do in practice? Does it reverse the centralisation of public services that has happened over the last decade?
“Does it cut our ferry fares as SNP Ministers keep promising but have yet to deliver? Does it ease the huge financial pressure the islands councils and health boards are under as a direct result of decisions made in Edinburgh?
“We want an Islands bill that is more than a tick box exercise. It must have teeth and deliver real devolution of decision-making. It must put power in the hands of local people and communities, rather than ever more control being exercised by SNP Ministers in Edinburgh. That is the acid test of these proposals.”
Convener Bell said: “I heartily welcome the introduction of this Bill, which will go a long way towards levelling the playing field for island communities who all too often suffer from a lack of recognition of their special position.
“The introduction of island-proofing will signal a fundamental shift in the way government thinks and works when it comes to island communities.
“We have always said that ‘one size does not fit all’ when it comes to many new laws and regulations – this measure will ensure that our needs are taken into consideration in the future when any new legislation is being drafted.”
Other measures in the bill will include:
• The creation of a National Islands Plan;
• Statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary
• Greater flexibility around councillor representation within island communities
• Extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licencing
The draft bill and associated documents can be found at: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/576.aspx