Island leaders challenge political parties over greater autonomy
A challenge has been laid down for Scottish and UK political leaders to recognise the different needs of islanders in the run-up to the independence referendum.
Shetland Islands Council has joined up with its Orkney and Western Isles counterparts to drive forward the Our Islands Our Future campaign for greater control.
Alex Salmond, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have all been asked to respond to questions posed jointly by the three councils.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has also been asked to join the debate on a stronger future for the islands following next year’s historic poll, as have opposition leaders at Holyrood.
The responses will help shape the debate at a September conference due to take place in Orkney.
Although politically the three councils are neutral on Scottish independence, they are working closely in the campaign to secure the best outcome for island communities, whatever the result of the referendum.
They want to see the special position and needs of what are the UK’s three largest island groups fully taken into account in whatever new constitutional arrangements are implemented after the vote.
The move follows a meeting in Orkney this week by political leaders to discuss the next steps of Our Islands Our Future.
SIC political leader Gary Robinson said: “We made good progress, exploring the key themes of the project [and] identifying speakers for the forthcoming conference.
“The timing of this get-together was critical as it allowed us to refine our message ahead of the cabinet meetings in Lerwick next week when we’ll have the opportunity to discuss our aspirations face-to-face with Scottish ministers.”
Orkney Islands Council convener Steven Heddle and
leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Angus Campbell, also welcomed the move.
“We’ve made plain from the start our determination to engage with politicians on both sides of the independence debate,” said Mr Heddle.
Mr Campbell added: “The campaign to win increased powers is crucial for the future of island communities and we will continue to lobby government at a Scottish and UK level.”
The campaign has also secured the unanimous backing of the Islands Commission of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR), which represents 15 million people living in Europe’s island communities.