Island MSPs call for Crown Estate assets to be transferred in SNP's proposed Islands Bill

Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs welcome Bill but insist it must have “real powers”

MSPs representing Scotland’s island communities have called for a “radical” transfer of powers to island communities in the SNP’s proposed Islands Bill, including control over Crown Estate assets and the ability to create new taxes. 

The comments came following the announcement of plans for such a Bill on Tuesday. Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, made the announcement on a visit to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, at an event with Community Land Scotland.

The Bill is yet to be drafted, but a new Islands Strategic Group has been announced, which will include representatives from all six local authorities which represent Scotland’s 93 inhabited island communities. Yousaf said: “With the forthcoming Islands Bill now confirmed as a year one priority for the Scottish Government, the Islands Strategic Group will be crucial in shaping the content of the legislation.”

“It needs to ensure that ‘island proofing’ is more than simply a tick box exercise.” Liam McArthur MSP

He continued: “Our islands make a significant contribution to Scottish life from both a cultural and economic perspective. As such, I am immensely proud to be able to announce that I am bringing forward an Islands Bill. We have placed the aspirations and needs of our island communities at the centre of our empowerment agenda.”

Responding to the proposed Bill, chairperson of Community Land Scotland, Lorne Macleod, said: “We very much welcome the proposed Islands Bill. We think that there should be a requirement for a National Islands Plan. There should also be a specific requirement for any new Scottish legislation to be 'island proofed' to ensure the specific needs of islands are accounted for.”

He added: “We are concerned that most of the discussion about the Islands Bill has been centred on references to the local authority areas in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles. Community Land Scotland also has island members in Argyll & Bute, Highland and North Ayrshire, and we are keen to see that the Islands Bill reflects all islands in Scotland.”

“Giving island councils control over the sea bed would allow them to unlock the huge marine energy potential and the jobs and revenues that come with it.” John Finnie MSP

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, John Finnie, said: “It’s great news that we’ll be able to move forward quickly with the Islands Bill. I’m looking forward to making it a genuinely radical and transformative event for Scotland’s islands, to fulfil the vision of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, whose hard work and ambition has brought us to this point.

“Power in Scotland is incredibly centralised, so the priority for Greens is to bring powers from Edinburgh back to island communities. For example, giving island councils control over the sea bed (currently in the hands of the Crown Estate) and flexible powers to decide their own taxes and raise more of their own funds would allow them to unlock the huge marine energy potential and the jobs and revenues that come with it.”

Echoing comments made by Lorne Macleod about excluding mainland communities, he added: “I’ll also want to make sure that the Bill recognises the similarity between island communities and many of our more remote mainland communities, especially on the western peninsulas of the Highlands and Argyll and Bute. It’s likely that many of the Bill’s provisions would also benefit these communities, and I’ll be arguing to have them included.”

  “It needs to deliver access for Orkney and Shetland to the cheaper ferry fares, already in place on west coast routes for years.” Liam McArthur MSP

Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney, also welcomed the Bill, but insisted that it needed to have substance. “Islanders ultimately know how best to address the issues they face, but they have suffered most from the SNP government’s remorseless centralisation over the last nine years,” he said.

“The success of the government’s ‘Islands Bill’ will depend on what it actually delivers in practice.  It needs to transfer real powers, including control over Crown Estate assets and the seabed;  it needs to deliver access for Orkney and Shetland to the cheaper ferry fares, already in place on west coast routes for years;  and it needs to ensure that ‘island proofing’ is more than simply a tick box exercise.”

The proposal follows a Scottish Government consultation on the issue. A majority of respondents to the consultation supported the inclusion of ‘island proofing’ into the Scottish law-making process, whereby public bodies are legally required to consider the implication on islands before making decisions.

They also supported the establishment of a National Islands Plan, and the more extensive local government powers held by Orkney and Shetland to be extended to the Western Isles, and statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an Iar parliamentary constituency.

Picture courtesy of Neil Wilkie

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