Consultation on Provisions for a Future Islands Bill

 A more prosperous and fairer future for island communities ?

In September 2015, Transport and Islands Minister Derek MacKay MSP  launched a consultation to seek the views of island communities and other interested stakeholders on potential measures that may be included within a future Islands Bill.

Consulting on potential measures for inclusion in such a future bill is part of the work undertaken by the  re-convened Island Areas Ministerial Working Group to implement as many of the commitments from the ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus as possible within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament.

Commitment to the principle of subsidiarity and local decision making are said to be at the heart of this consultation which will help inform the Government’s thinking about what additional measures may be needed to help shape a more prosperous and fairer future for  island communities.

Interested stakeholders are invited to respond with their views on plans for more power and protection for Scotland’s islands.

 Island Proofing

Island proofing is the first topic in the consultation. The Scottish Islands Federation heartily welcomes the introduction of this concept as they have long campaigned for its introduction at all level of government, including the EU.

Empowering the islands

The commitments contained  in the  ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus and in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act have made clear the Scottish Government’s support for the principles of subsidiarity.

However, what form would devolved power to the island take? The Scottish Islands Federation would like to see more power to island development trusts, island community Councils and island community benefit organisations alongside councils.

The SIF would also like parity for councils with islands, as many of its members are situated in the Argyll and Bute Council area, and A&B council, add well as Highland and North Ayrshire have yet to be invited to be part of the discussions which have taken place with the 3 island councils.

Giving islands more powers over the seabed surrounding them would be a great start in any case. More power to protect their fragile environment, marine and otherwise would also be very desirable.

A national plan for islands

One of the proposals for enshrining within a future Islands Act is the possibility of a duty for all future Scottish Governments to prepare a ‘National Islands Plan’, which would set out an on-going range of commitments across all policy areas of Government to support, promote and empower Island communities to build a wealthier and fairer future for themselves.

Linked to this duty, it would also be proposed that Ministers would have the ability to issue statutory guidance on island-proofing, which relevant public bodies would require to have regard to in connection with the exercising of their functions and duties.

The idea of national plan linked to statutory guidance on island proofing is a measure that the Scottish Islands Federation is strongly supporting.  It would ensure that the challenging aspects of island life would be considered in detail and a better understanding of island life would be achieved, to ensure transport, education, health and all other fundamental areas of island life met island rather than mainland targets.

Constituency Protection for Na h-Eileanan an Iar

There is no doubt that the Western isles should enjoy the same status and constituency protection as the Orkney and Shetland councils.

Local Government Electoral Wards – populated Islands

This is a chance to address the thorny  issue of parity of representation with mainland areas. There is no one size fits all solution here, and some flexibility is required to ensure that populated islands have as a good a representation as they can.

Deadline for response: 23 December 2015

Here are links to:

The consultation document

The Scottish Islands Federation Response

Argyll and Bute Council submission

Highland Council submission

Orkney Council submission

Shetland Council submission

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar submission