Islands Bill should ‘undo the damage’ of centralisation
The Islands Bill should herald a change in mindset if it is to be more than a tick-box exercise, opposition MSPs have warned.
Isles MSP Tavish Scott has reiterated Liberal Democrat calls for the Bill to undo damage caused by centralisation.
Meanwhile, the Tory member who chairs Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee says it is vital the priorities of islanders are recognised in a forthcoming national islands plan.
The committee has called on the Scottish government to amend the Bill to allow a “retrospective impact assessment” be carried out if current legislation or policy has a “significantly detrimental impact” on island groups.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and Orkney member Liam McArthur said in a statement: “The immediate test of the Scottish government’s commitment to the principle of ‘island proofing’ comes in their budget next month.
“The Scottish government will not be taken seriously by islanders without delivering their promise of fair funding for internal ferry services in Orkney and Shetland.
“With industrial action now underway on services within Orkney, the future of these genuine lifeline links for some of the most fragile communities in the country are under threat. Ministers cannot ignore the needs of our constituents. They must act now and deliver their promise in their budget.
“All too often communities across Orkney and Shetland have seen decision-making powers stripped away by the SNP government and their one-size-fits-all approach to legislation and policy-making.
“It is therefore welcome that the rural economy and connectivity committee has backed our call on the Scottish government to amend the Islands Bill so it looks not just look at future laws but can also review current policy and legislation.
“An Islands Bill with this provision would have real teeth to undo the damage of centralisation and a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The committee has recommended the general principles of the Islands Bill be agreed by the Scottish Parliament.
But it has called for a wide consultation over the plan, insisting islands impact assessments should not become a “tick-box exercise”.
Committee chairman Edward Mountain said: “This Bill is an enabling piece of legislation that will provide for future action by the Scottish government.
“However, the committee believes that the Scottish government will need to manage the expectations of islanders who may expect more immediate, tangible outcomes to be delivered.
“I am pleased to be part of a committee that sees the importance of engaging directly with rural and island communities. It was vital that our report on the Bill properly reflected the views and experiences of islanders. That is why we visited Mull, Lewis, Harris and Orkney and held video conferences with other islands.
“A key recommendation from us is that the Scottish government must likewise ensure its national islands plan, when brought forward, also properly reflects the actual priorities of islanders.
“To that end, our report recommends that the government adopts the widest possible consultation on the development of the national islands plan, and cautions that island impact assessments should not become a tick box exercise.
“This committee supports the empowerment of island communities and stresses the importance of local decision making. Our report, therefore, calls for local authority level plans to be created that sit under the national islands plan.”
On retrospective island impact assessments Mr Mountain added: “While it is unrealistic to retrospectively assess all current legislation in Scotland, we think there should be a provision in the Bill to carry out an impact assessment where evidence suggests the existing law has a significant detrimental impact on the islands.”
The purpose of the Bill is to create what has been described as a “sustained focus on islands” by the Scottish government and to “improve outcomes” for island communities.
The committee has visited Lewis, Harris, Mull and Orkney. It also carried out video conferences with islanders on Arran as well as with students from a number of locations attending the University of the Highlands and Islands and Herriot Watt University.