Island document hailed by council leaders – criticised by opposition

A prospectus for Scotland’s islands after independence, based on the Our Islands Our Future campaign, was launched by First Minister Alex Salmond in Kirkwall today.

Among the significant proposals for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles is that the islands should keep all monies currently taken for seabed rental by the Crown Estate. This could bring extra millions into the coffers of local authorities.

First Minister Alex Salmond speaking at a Q&A session in Mareel yesterday. Photo: Dave Donaldson

First Minister Alex Salmond.

According to Mr Salmond island communities will have greater control over their local economies, natural environment and be represented at the heart of government in an independent Scotland.

Launching the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus, Mr Salmond outlined the “most comprehensive package of powers for the island communities”.

The post-independence proposals include:

• An Islands Act upon independence to make government decision making “island-proof”, and create a post of “Minister for Island Communities”;

• To support the establishment of Island Innovation Zones;

• To allocate 100 per cent of the net income from the islands’ sea bed leasing revenues to island communities ;

• To ensure Islands Councils’ representation on a new strategic energy committee;

• To develop a “planning brief” approach for aquaculture to underpin further development and growth of the sector;

• To ensure island communities have stronger representation in Europe.

In a joint statement with islands council leaders Mr Salmond said: “Today’s prospectus is the most comprehensive package for empowering Scotland’s island communities that has been put forward by any government. It recognises the unique contribution that island communities make to modern Scotland, and also the distinctive needs and priorities they have.

“Most of all, though, it recognises that Scotland’s islands have huge potential – a wealth of culture and history; stunning landscapes; massive renewable energy resources; and a host of successful businesses in sectors such as food and drink, life sciences and tourism.

“We are determined to work with the islands communities to unleash that potential and to create a sustainable and prosperous future. By doing so, we will honour the principles of subsidiarity and local decision-making at the heart of the Lerwick declaration. And even more importantly, we will help to build wealthier and fairer island communities, as part of a wealthier and fairer Scotland.”

SIC Political Leader Gary Robinson pic 1

SIC political leader Gary Robinson.

SIC leader Gary Robinson said: “By implementing the measures … we can maximise the opportunities presented by fisheries and aquaculture, and realise the full potential of marine renewables, while protecting our pristine environment.

“Crown Estate powers and a share of the income generated from leasing agreements will allow us to support investment in our coastal communities and ensure that this has a lasting and sustainable impact. By strengthening and embedding the County Council Acts’ powers, each of the islands’ councils will be better able to manage the diverse and sometimes conflicting demands on the marine environment.”

Convener of Orkney Islands Council Steven Heddle said the document was a hugely significant milestone.

He added: “The Scottish government has clearly been willing to consider, negotiate and respond positively to the arguments we’ve made. The detailed response to the campaign published today represents a comprehensive commitment to islands in general and our island groups in particular.

“There is now a far greater understanding of the unique nature and needs of our island communities and that in itself bodes well for our future.”

Western Isles leader Angus Campbell dubbed it a historic day for island communities and said the interest the campaign had generated exceeded all expectation. He added that irrespective of the outcome of the independence referendum there was “much that can be achieved for Scotland’s islands”.

Following the launch, Liberal Democrat politicians denounced the paper as offering little and said that it could all be delivered without independence.

MSP Tavish Scott expressed “disappointment” at the lack of powers set to be restored and criticised the SNP for not doing more with the powers already at its disposal, accusing it of “holding issues hostage” in the run up to September’s referendum.

And he launched an attack on the proposals for the Air Discount Scheme, accusing the government of “hypocrisy”.

Mr Scott outlined a history of SNP “centralisation” over the last seven years.

He added: “The Islands councils have worked extremely hard to reverse this centralisation so it is very disappointing to see that only minimal responsibility will be returned to the isles should they back Alex Salmond’s push for independence.

“I recognise that the SIC has always argued that local government responsibilities should not be conditional on an SNP referendum bribe and it is a great shame that Alex Salmond failed to listen to that and has instead attempted to use the island councils for his political objective of independence.”

He said that he had set up the air discount scheme only for the “Nats” to exclude business travel unnecessarily, and said that only the SNP could have the “brass necked hypocrisy” to say that independence was necessary in order to reinstate it.

The people of Shetland would see through the Scottish government’s lies, he added.

Alistair Carmichael said the prospectus offers little.

Alistair Carmichael accused the SNP of “political bribery”.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said the paper was an exercise in “political bribery” and added: “It will not be lost on most people in Orkney and in Shetland that the bulk of suggestions coming from the Scottish government are measures that could already be implemented.

“The Scottish government already has the power to do most of these things. In fact they have done the complete opposite for the last seven years.

“They now come, three months from a referendum, with promises of decentralisation in the event of an independence vote. This looks much like an exercise in political bribery”.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur was also “disappointed” by the paper.

“Over two years ago Tavish Scott and I set out the compelling case for Orkney and Shetland to have a greater say in determining our islands’ future. At the time, these calls were rejected by the SNP, who dismissed us as ‘troublemakers’,” he said.

The Crown Estate issued a response to the proposals, saying in a statement that independence and the remit of The Crown Estate were matters for the Scottish people and government respectively.

“There are various ways in which local authorities can currently control and manage foreshore while benefitting from The Crown Estate’s expertise and, in some instances, capital investment. These include Local Management Agreements, long-term leases and direct ownership,” it said.

The Crown Estate manages leasing of the seabed for fish farming and offshore renewable and last year took revenue from Scottish aquaculture of £2.6 million with a further £0.6 million from offshore renewables.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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16 comments

  1. Carl Pickard

    Anyone else entirely fed up of the political posturing of Tavish Scott and Alistair Carmichael? It’s just a mathmatical equation for them: SNP = BAD. It’s childish, embarassing and patronising.

    I’d also love to know why this is considered “political bribery” yet Liberal Democrat talk of further devolution for Holyrood is a “promise”. (As if they’ll be in a position to promise anything for the next 50 years!)

    Reply
  2. Ali Inkster

    £20 million taken from the revenue grant to be replaced with a few pound after Edinburgh has taken it’s cut from £3.2 million (crown estate revenue for the whole of Scotland) and the SIC thinks this is a success. for the love of god resign NOW before you give any more away in your negotiations. https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/shetland-islands-council-resign

    Reply
  3. Douglas Young

    Good result for all three Island Groups, well done to the Scottish Government and the Council leaders.

    Particularly pleased for the Western Isles whose economy is not booming like ours.

    £66,000 MP’s salary plus £79,000 Scottish Secretary salary plus £198,000 expenses in 2013.

    Would have thought at £7,000 per week for Carmichael he could at least smile and be happy for his electorate in Shetland and Orkney.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      As reported, this amounts to “Free beer tomorrow!”

      Reply
    • Gordon Harmer

      Whenever I post a comment stating that I do not like or believe that an SNP policy or promise will be honoured or good for Scotland / Shetland. I get jumped on by Douglas and others who say the SNP will not exist or will not be elected after independence. Therefore making my claims null and void as we cannot guarantee who will be in power after a yes vote.

      So how can Douglas come on here and say this is a good result for all three island groups because according to him and the Yes brigade we will have a totally different government in power in an independent Scotland. Making this whole pantomime a twinkle in someones wish list and a total waste of the Northern and Western Isles council tax payers money.

      Oops, I can see air tickets being booked for discussions in Edinburgh with the three leaders of the pro UK parties.

      Reply
  4. ian tinkler

    Douglas Young, he whom casts the first stone! the First Minister is entitled to draw a total salary of £129,998, which is composed of a basic MSP salary of £53,091 plus an additional salary of £76,907 for his role as First Minister. Also Salmond in 2008 claimed £116,000 in MP expenses – despite making just six visits to Westminster. That works out to almost £20,000 a day. (http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/alex-salmond-claimed-116k-expenses-972571) Now just have a gander here, (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/10755898/Revealed-The-five-star-suite-Alex-Salmond-enjoyed-at-the-taxpayers-expense.html) Not bad for a golf trip!!!

    Reply
  5. Sandy McMillan

    Salmonds basic is no more than Shetlands Chief Executive, That’s not an excuse to condemn Alex Salmond the First Minister and the SNP PARTY, before they have been giving a chance, the guys who need dealt with is our own Councillors who are making a mess of all that they do for Shetland,

    Reply
  6. Rachel Buchan

    Being dependent on a yes vote, this prospectus is a bit “if ifs and ands were pots and pans”…..

    Reply
  7. Chris Mackie

    Expenses are not wages. They are recompense for out of pocket expenses the employee has had to pay to do their job. Despite the Westminster abuses, for most people this is not a perk or additional income and should not be lumped in with someone’s pay.

    Reply
    • Ali Inkster

      1 year £116,000 in expenses and only went to work 6 times, seems like a perk to me. I’m spent 20+ years travelling the world with my work and never come close to an expense claim like that.

      Reply
  8. Michael Garriock

    “To allocate 100 per cent of the net income from the islands’ sea bed leasing revenues to island communities.”

    Not good enough, by a long shot. Such a promise, as stated, is so riddled with flaws its worthless.

    Total control over the seabed will still be exercised by the Crown Estate Commissioners, in plain language, they’ll still be dictating to us what we have to let others put on our seabed, and hindering us to put what we want on it.

    “Net income” in and of itself is meaningless and worthless, something as simple as increasing investment or reducing charges in Shetland waters (which I will admit would be of benefit to the those who are foreshore/seabed users – but would give “Shetland” virtually nothing), so that income equals expenditure, and there is no “net income” for anyone to have.

    As a “blind ‘em with ££££ signs” exercise, this has merit, but as a sincere gesture its sadly lacking. You have to ask yourself why they are so keen to retain the work of decision taking, managing, admin etc of the seabed apparently indefinitely for no return whatsoever, when they could have opted for the meaningful “no strings” option of transferring ownership and all responsibility for Shetland’s seabed to Shetland. Having done so, its difficult to not conclude that something about this offer is not entirely what it may at first seem.

    That is, of course, *if* the state actually does hold title to any Shetland seabed at all in the first place, but that, of course, is a whole other argument.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Absolutely, Michael.

      No control of fishing or oil. Oil stays with Scotland/UK and fishing, effectively, with the EU.

      These are the bits that count.

      As you say, the title of the seabed (and seas) is another argument however we have yet to see any convincing evidence that Scotland/UK has legal ownership.

      Reply
  9. David Spence

    Correct me if I am wrong here, but was it not the case that Her Majesty’s Treasury were wanting, I believe, around £55,000 a year (rent……want for a better word) for the proposed fibre-optic cable going from Shetland to mainland Scotland a year.? This would be a staggering £1,058 a week for the cable laying on the sea bed. I believe, and correct me if I am wrong again, local businesses here in Shetland, quite rightly, refused to pay this and subsequently took the cable going via the Faroes?

    Any way, my point being, if the Viking Energy Project goes ahead and is up and running, how much will a) Her Majesty’s Treasury be wanting for the Interconnector Cable and b) How much will an Independent Scotland be asking for? Going by the fibre-optic cable, I would think it would be a lot more than £55,000 a year.

    Anybody got any thoughts on this?

    Reply
  10. Robert Sim

    Imagine a political party promising things to the electorate dependent on which way they vote in the referendum! Disgraceful!

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/leaders-in-pledge-on-powers-following-a-no-vote.24506167.

    I think most folk will realise that in the world of practical politics this is an important step in the right direction.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      It is, indeed, a very important step in the right direction, Robert.

      Proof, if proof were needed that, as in the case of the rural schools, Shetlanders must be prepared to stand up and fight for what they want.

      It’s said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” and never a truer word spoken as regards ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ (OIOF). Even Salmond recognised their lack of ambition and stunned them – in a kind of upside-down ‘Mr Bumble’ way – by saying, “No, no, I insist, you must have SOME MORE!”

      OIOF has won so little that Mike Russell SNP MSP for Argyll is already promising parity for the Argyll islands without them doing any negotiating at all:

      (http://forargyll.com/2014/06/michael-russell-asserts-that-islands-empowerment-will-extend-to-argyll-isles/)

      The nearest Shetlanders will get to a referendum on schools, autonomy or that vexed issue, Viking Energy, is by signing Ali Inkster’s “No confidence in SIC” petition, either in local shops or online at:

      https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/shetland-islands-council-resign

      Reply
  11. James Howitt

    There is nothing to stop the Scottish government from creating a minister for Island communities now. In fact, there was nothing ot stop it creating one from when Holyrood was created. Strange that it has only crossed the ministerial mind now. It is also difficult to ensure that the Islands will have greater representation within Europe when post independence there is no garantee that Scotland will walk straight into Europe.

    Still lets give it 3/10 for Cynical posturing.

    Reply

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