THE UK Government has responded to Shetland Islands Council (SIC) moving to explore options for financial and political self-determination by saying “we will always be stronger together as one United Kingdom”.
Last week councillors overwhelmingly voted in favour of looking into ways of achieving self-determination amid frustration over centralised decision making and reduced government funding.
Council convener Malcolm Bell said the next step for the SIC was to enter into dialogue on the matter with the UK and Scottish governments.
Councillors have stressed that the motion voted on last week is merely about exploring the options for achieving financial and political self-determination, rather than any sort of independence as referred to by some national media.
In response to a request from Shetland News for reaction to the motion, a spokesperson for the UK Government said:
“We will always be stronger together as one United Kingdom, demonstrated by the announcement of a £100 million investment package as part of the Islands Growth Deal.
“There are no plans to change the current devolution settlement and we will continue to work with the devolved administration in Edinburgh to fulfil the commitments made by all levels of government through the Smith Commission, where it was agreed more powers should be devolved to all local authorities across Scotland.”
The Smith Commission was introduced in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum by the UK Government to look at devolving further powers to Scotland.
The Scottish Government’s islands minister Paul Wheelhouse, meanwhile, said the 2018 islands act introduced a “number of measures ensuring that there is a sustained focus across government and the public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future”.
“This includes the Additional Powers Request (Scotland) Regulations 2019, which is an exciting provision that acknowledges the uniqueness of our island communities, by enabling relevant local authorities to request the transfer of responsibilities from Scottish Ministers to them,” the SNP MSP said.
“No additional powers requests have been submitted thus far.
“It is the responsibility of individual local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them, including on ferry services, on the basis of local needs and priorities.
“Over the past three years, we have provided £32.5 million of support for local authority ferry services, with Shetland receiving more than £15 million over the last three years.
“In order to protect and provide support to our island communities, we have had to re-prioritise our efforts to support key areas such as access to lifeline services and maintaining crucial supply chains, while managing the impact the virus has had on the islands economy and preventing transmission.
“We know that Covid-19 has had and continues to have a profound impact on our island communities.
“In partnership with the Islands Partnership Working Group and Scottish Islands Federation, we have identified key themes and aims within the National Islands Plan that responds to the impact of the pandemic.
“We are working on an Implementation Route Map, informed by our learning of how island communities have responded and adapted to changing circumstances.”
During last week’s full council meeting SIC political leader Steven Coutts, however, said that the Scottish Government’s islands act has failed to provide any tangible improvements for Shetland.
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