Island MSPs have clashed over the the way post-Brexit community funding is being used to reinforce UK sovereignty in Scotland.
Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has described what he said were "complaints from SNP politicians about the UK Government investing in the Western Isles" as “grievance politics”.
The Scottish Conservative MSP made his comments after speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament about the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund.
He said: “By working hand-in-glove with the Comhairle and other partners, the UK Government was able to invest over £160,000 in two projects in the Western Isles.
“This was welcomed by practically everyone locally with the sole exception of SNP politicians who, while happy enough in the past to accept funding through the EU, seem to have an ideological objection to receiving support from the UK Government.
“I very much look forward to the Levelling Up Fund delivering even more investment to the Western Isles in the future and hope and expect Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to ignore the grievance politics of the SNP.”
Councillor Ranald Fraser, an outgoing director of Horshader Community Asset Development, which received £71,033 to improve the skills of residents and local development workers, said: “We were delighted to receive this investment and, frankly, why should anyone object to the UK Government investing in our communities?
“My suggestion to the SNP is that they concentrate on sorting out our ferry service which is their responsibility, rather than complaining about this very welcome funding.”
The other project to receive aid was the Port of Ness Harbour Redevelopment scheme where the UK Government is providing £95,243 to Port of Ness Harbour Ltd. to outline operating procedures and governance of the project with a complete outline Business Case for the harbour redevelopment and also employ a Commercialisation Officer.
In the same debate, SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, highlighted the significant impact of EU funding on infrastructure in the Western Isles over the years - which includes multi-million projects like the Scalpay Bridge and the Eriskay and Benereray causeways.
“This support has helped to facilitate major infrastructure projects, transport links and new community facilities in the islands, as well as contributing to the establishment of the University of the Highlands and Islands and delivering wider community benefits through numerous training and social inclusion programmes […]
“Throughout the entirety of the Western Isles, the loss of financial support from the EU will be sorely felt, unless the UK Government fully commits to allocating at least the same levels of investment needed to replace the loss of EU Structural funds, as well as the funding from schemes such as the LEADER programmes and the Common Agricultural Payments for crofters.”
Scheduled to launch in 2022, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is the replacement for EU Structural Funds. EU funding was previously distributed by the Scottish Government, but the new UK Internal Market Bill allows the UK Government to allocate funds in devolved areas.
The Scottish Government says that spending decisions for Scotland being made based on a UK Government agenda simply adds to the complexity of the funding landscape, creating a confused and incoherent policy framework as well as financial inefficiencies.
“The UK Government’s Spending Review plans for Levelling Up and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund are, in their operation, an infringement on the sovereignty of the Scottish Parliament, and do not come close to matching, in real terms, the significant EU funding revenue from which Scotland has benefited for over 40 years [...] If the UK Government continues to attempt to impose its own agenda and undermine the devolution settlement, this raises unavoidable constitutional issues.”
Earlier in the month, UK Secretary of State for Levelling Up Michael Gove said: "As we unite and level up the whole United Kingdom, we are determined to help communities the length and breadth of the country make the most of their talents and create new opportunities in their areas. The funding we are announcing today supports local projects across Scotland, from the Borders to Na h-Eileanan Siar, which will create new jobs and help us to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack said: "It’s great to see the UK Government’s efforts to level up all parts of the United Kingdom continue at pace. This £18 million for 56 projects will help strengthen communities across Scotland. From helping to develop a 21st Century carbon-neutral village, to boosting skills, employment and enterprise, encouraging tourism, supporting performing arts and investment in cyber and digital - this money is being spent on projects that matter most to people.
"This is real devolution in action which will help local areas thrive as we build back better, stronger and greener from the pandemic."