SNP - Tom Wills

Islands unboxed as new law comes into force

SECTIONS of the Scottish Government’s islands act have now come into force – including the requirement for official maps to no longer place Shetland in a box.

Minister for islands Paul Wheelhouse said the act ensures there is a “sustained focus across government and the wider public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future”.

The first Islands (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May and today (4 October) some sections came into force.

It means that Shetland MSP Tavish Scott’s amendment to ensure official publications are compelled to put the islands in their rightful place on maps is now in play.

He said it was “ridiculous that I had to change the law to make this happen, but so be it”.

The act means that a national islands plan will now also be developed, which the government says “aims to increase sustainable economic development and community empowerment”.

Shetland and Orkney - just north of Aberdeen.

“The Scottish islands have contributed and continue to contribute hugely to our culture and heritage and, with this act now starting to take force, will now have the opportunity to contribute even further to their own and our collective futures,” Wheelhouse said.

“They have very distinctive needs so the act introduces a number of measures to ensure there is a sustained focus across government and the wider public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future.

“On a more visual front, it ensures Shetland will no longer be ‘boxed off’ on maps which has been a cause of irritation to those living in Shetland.

“When producing a map of Scotland, the Shetland Islands must therefore be displayed in a way that accurately and proportionately represents their geographical location in relation to the rest of Scotland.”

Other functions of the islands act will include giving local authorities more powers over their coastlines.

Wheelhouse said the act introduces a new duty on Scottish ministers and the wider public sector to “have regard to island communities when exercising their functions and preparing policy, strategies, services and legislation – known as ‘island-proofing’.”

“And the national islands plan will also be produced which, amongst other things, gives us a strategic direction to improve outcomes for our islands by creating the right environment for investment, empowerment and increasing sustainable economic growth,” the MSP added.

Tavish Scott said actions must speak louder than words when it comes to making sure decisions don’t unfairly affect the islands.

“Islands proofing – ensuring the islands are recognised in any law or government regulation – must work,” the Lib Dem said.

“There are too many cases right now where that is not happening, such as the government imposing car parking charges on lifeline airports where there is no public transport alternative.

“For the islands act to be worth the parchment it’s written on, these things must change.”

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