An islands deal and the “crucial investment” it would bring is needed to help push forward Shetland’s economy.
That was the view of isles MSP Tavish Scott, ahead of a debate on a new Islands Bill in parliament.
Scotland’s first piece of islands specific legislation will be discussed on Thursday with Islands Minister Humza Yousaf hailing the “landmark piece of legislation for Scotland” ahead of the debate.
Mr Yousaf said: “It is designed to build islands awareness into decision making across the public sector, ensuring interests of island communities are firmly at the centre of future legislative, policy and service considerations.
“The Bill builds on our work to enhance island communities and economies, such as our investment of over £1 billion in ferry services, £270 million in airport facilities across the highlands and islands – including over £60 million in the air discount scheme – as well as £5 million in the Islands Housing Fund to deliver affordable homes.
“It also complements our wider policy agenda, which addresses island-specific challenges including depopulation, energy, housing, transport, digital, and supporting sustainable economic development.
“It is greatly encouraging to see the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee support the general principles of this Bill and I look forward to working together to refine it, delivering the best support for our island communities.”
Mr Scott believes for the Bill to help Shetland, a deal would be “the next stage” – similar to city deals elsewhere.
This would mean “crucial investment” in Shetland’s economy, he said.
Last week the Scottish government announced a one-off payment of £5 million would be coming to the SIC to help tackle its inter-island ferry costs as of 2018/19.
Asked if now was a good time to keep the momentum going, Mr Scott replied: “Yes… If nothing else a debate on an Islands Bill in parliament is an opportunity to speed up the pace of necessary investment in aspects of our economy where that investment is desperately needed.
“The two obvious examples… are in superfast broadband for the most outlying areas where our service is still lamentable, and really exploring the capital investment needed for fixed links.
“We can’t go through an annual debate about ferries, we need to move forward.”
Mr Scott said it was important that the government concentrated on the “periphery of the periphery” not just the central belt. He cited broadband as an example where the focus should be turned on areas like Shetland.
The previous council had worked hard on the Our Islands Our Future campaign, he said to make the Islands Bill a priority.
Local decision making needed to be enhanced, said Mr Scott and not reduced.
“Too many local powers have been taken away over the last 10 years and I want to see a reversal of that process and an Islands Bill to be genuinely about the sustainable future of Shetland.”