Comhairle Leader - Roddie Mackay

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'. 

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.

Commenting on the introduction of the Islands Bill at the Scottish Parliament today, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader, Cllr Roddie MacKay, said: “We very much welcome this proposed legislation which directly results from the lobbying campaign of the Comhairle and our partners in Shetland and Orkney as part of the Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) campaign. This is the most significant piece of legislation for islands since the Local Government reorganization in 1974 and the establishment of islands councils.

The Bill contains proposals which include:

· A requirement to ‘island proof’ future legislation and policies
· The creation of a National Islands Plan
· Statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary
· Greater flexibility around Councillor representation within island communities
· Extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing

“In practical terms, this will benefit our islands as we continue our case for flexibility and empowerment to develop our economies and support our communities and rich cultures," said Cllr Mackay.

"It is a significant step forward against depopulation, one of the greatest threats to our Island way of life. One of the founding tenets of OIOF was that Scotland’s islands are ‘special’ – this is formal Government recognition confirmation of that fact.

“The Bill requires new legislation to be ‘island proofed’ so that no new legislation discriminates against island communities as has happened in the past where the particular circumstances of island communities was not taken into account. The Comhairle particularly welcomes the protection of the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency which will guarantee the constituency and end any ideas of merging the Outer Hebrides with a neighbouring area. The flexibility around Councillor representation is also welcome as it provides the opportunity for better representation for our communities. Another welcome aspect of the Bill is the extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing. The Comhairle believes that increased local accountability, decision making and control is critical to future management of pressures on the marine environment. This view is shared by the community and especially the fishing industry.

“Of course, this is a beginning of empowering island communities - though a highly significant beginning. However, the work continues to secure greater control, for the benefit of those communities, over the powers which affect our everyday lives. Today is an important landmark in the history of our Islands and Scotland’s Islands."

Cllr Mackay added: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islands Minister, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government, our Island colleagues and all those who have contributed to this historic, empowering and progressive step forward in the futures of island communities."

Alasdair Allan MSP commented: “This is the SNP in Government delivering for the islands and fulfilling our promise to empower island communities.

“Once the Bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, future legislation will have to be “island-proofed” to ensure islands’ circumstances are taken full into account where practicable. It is also welcome that the constituency of Na h-Eileanan an lar will now have the same statutory protection afforded to Orkney and Shetland, meaning it can’t be merged with mainland constituencies.

“I know there has been unhappiness with the large geographic size of some current and proposed council wards and I hope that a change in the law will now allow greater flexibility in the number of councillors in island wards. This will hopefully allow for ward boundaries that more accurately reflect natural communities. I also know the Comhairle will warmly welcome more powers in relation to an area of such importance as marine licensing.

“Future management of the Crown Estate will be taken forward through a separate Crown Estate Bill. I understand a number of individual communities have expressed an interest in direct management of the crown estate revenues and I look forward to seeing how this can be progressed.

“The publication of these measures today by Islands Minister Humza Yousaf shows that the Scottish Government is serious about bringing more powers direct to island communities and making sure that national laws are workable in an island context.”