A new islands bill has been introduced to Scottish Parliament – hailed as a “historic milestone” for island communities by islands minister Humza Yousaf.
The Scottish government said The Islands (Scotland) Bill will help to create the right environment for “sustainable growth and empowered communities”.
Among its measures is the creation of a “National Islands Plan”. This must be prepared by ministers to show their main goals to help island communities and how they will do it.
When preparing the plan ministers will also have to consult with people they believe represent the interests of island communities and those affected by its proposals.
The first plan must come before Scottish Parliament within 12 months of the act coming into force.
The Scottish government said other measures will include:
• A requirement to ‘island proof’ future legislation and policies
• Greater flexibility around councillor representation within island communities – rather than needing the usual three or four councillors per electoral ward for areas covering largely one or more inhabited islands. This could be one or two.
• Extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing.
Future management of the Crown Estate, which has been a hot topic previously, will “be taken forward through a separate Crown Estate bill,” according to the paperwork attached with the islands bill.
A planning system which “responds to local distinctiveness” will also be covered in a separate planning bill, the Scottish government has said.
Mr Yousaf said: “This government is committed to promoting islands’ voices, to harnessing islands’ resources and enhancing their well-being. The measures in this bill underpin this ambition.”
He said the provision to ‘island-proof’ decision-making across the public sector would mean the interests of islanders were reflected in future legislation and policy.
“The National Islands Plan will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign and the work of the Islands Strategic Group.
“This is the first ever bill for Scotland’s islands, marking an historic milestone for our island communities. I am proud and privileged as Islands Minister to be guiding the bill through Scotland’s Parliament. ”
• More in Friday’s Shetland Times