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Islands bill passed unanimously by parliament

The islands bill is the culmination of a five year long process that started with the Lerwick Declaration made by then First Minister Alex Salmond during a visit to Shetland in July 2013. He is seen here with SIC council convener Malcolm Bell. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE Scottish islands bill, unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, has been hailed as a “truly historic day” for island communities.

While the bill introduces ‘island proofing’, real consultation and further powers to local island authorities it does not bring any direct additional funding to councils.

The bill, originally proposed by the Our Islands Our Future initiative, requires the Scottish Government to produce a national islands plan.

The bill will also take Shetland “out of the box” and ensure that the islands will be shown accurately in its real location in all official map making, thanks for an amendment put forward by Shetland MSP Tavish Scott.

Islands minister Humza Yousaf hailed the way parliament had worked together in a constructive manner to help empower island communities and further their identity and diversity.

SNP Highlands and Islands list MSP Maree Todd said: “This is a truly historic day for our island communities.

“This is the first piece of legislation in the Scottish Parliament to recognise the unique needs of our island communities.

“I am confident that the bill will have a real and lasting impact and will unlock the economic and social potential of Scotland’s islands.”

Tavish Scott in parliament on Wednesday. Image: Scottish Parliament

Commenting on his success in parliament, Scott said the map issue was important and “fitting given island proofing is intended to show government is conscious of islanders’ needs.

“Shetlanders have long been irritated by the lazy mapping practice of putting the isles in box hovering off the east coast, which confuses visitors, politicians and posties alike,” he said.

Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said he was looking forward to witness the new legislation making an impact on islanders’ lives.

“The Bill is the culmination of many years of hard work by the island councils and island communities themselves, particularly through the Our Islands Our Future campaign.

“There have been a number of positive changes to the Bill since it was introduced, which assured its backing across the political divides.

“In many ways, however, this is just the first step in ensuring that new government policies are ‘island-proofed’ in the future and that the needs of islanders are better taken into account.”

 Leader of Shetland Islands Council, Steven Coutts, also described the bill as an ‘historic achievement” and thanked Humza Yousaf having listened to island communities.

“We recognise that the Bill is enabling legislation and much will depend on the national islands plan and island communities impact assessment process that will now follow. These will be key tests of Scottish Government’s continued support for our islands.

“I was pleased to hear the minister commitments in regard to empowering communities and helping achieve our ambitions.

“I note the minister’s comments and support to develop the islands deal. Securing investment through an islands deal will be the focus for the next phase of collaboration between our three island authorities. We look forward to the strong support of the Scottish and UK Governments in that process.”