The leaders of Scotland’s three island councils today agreed that in the run-up to next year’s independence referendum they must ask for greater powers in local decision-making.
Using video-conference technology, leader of SIC Gary Robinson met Orkney Island Council convener Steven Heddle and Western Isles council leader Angus Campbell – with all calling for the UK and Scottish governments to listen to the voice of the island groups.
Chairing the meeting, Mr Heddle said the island groups were today launching a campaign, Our Islands – Our Future, for the principles of “subsidiarity and fairness”.
He said: “We are taking this forward to see what level of commitment both governments have to make the isles sustainable and good places to live.” This was the “time for idealism”, and he asked for “special consideration” for the island groups.
Mr Robinson said that the three authorities were asking for a greater say in how things are done locally, and, in Shetland, the ZCC Act of 1974 and the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation had shown that the isles could use their powers for the benefit of the community.
But, he said, although the EU was committed to subsidiarity, the powers devolved to Scotland in 1999 had stopped at Edinburgh.
He said: “We are asking the UK and Scottish governments to look at what powers could be transferred to the island groups.” This was not new, he said, and had been promised in the past. Decision-making should be done closer to the people affected.
Mr Campbell said the islands want a “level playing field”. As renewables in particular have the power to contribute to the national economy, there should be greater powers locally to control these resources.
There should not be a penalty for remoteness, he said, and with issues such as broadband, transpsort, and renewable connection to the national grid, the islands “should be accorded the same opportunities as anywhere in the UK.”
Mr Robinson said he would invite the national parties to: “tell us how far down the road they would come to meet us”. This was a “very important moment” for the three islands to work together as the response from the two sides of the independence campaign could sway voting in the isles.
He said that in Shetland control of the sea bed and inshore waters could be better managed locally than it has been in the past, and, regarding renewable energy, it was not right that the Scottish government makes the decisions.
He said: “We need the power to decide at local level because it affects people locally.”
Transport, he said, was also a big issue. Subsidies such as the air discount scheme, sanctioned at European level, had been given “grudgingly” and the ferry service, tendered by the Scottish government on Shetland’s behalf, did not always meet the needs of users, such as fish processors.
There will be a major Our Islands – Our Future conference staged by the three councils in Orkney on September 19th and 20th.
More reaction in Friday’s Shetland Times.