We want constitutional recognition of local government in each of the island groups with powers to secure the economic, social, and cultural wellbeing of our communities.
The powers pledged by the political parties will lay bare their commitment to the country’s most peripheral areas. The need for this is clear when we consider just one example – the development of wave and tidal energy generation in our local waters.
Presently planning is controlled by Marine Scotland and leasing by the Crown Estate Commission, which collects all revenues for the Crown and Treasury. So we in the islands could find our coastlines industrialised against our wishes, to the detriment of our key industries of tourism and inshore fishing, with all the revenues and benefits heading south along with the electricity.
Clearly this would be unacceptable, and an affront to natural justice, so we want the powers to sustainably manage such development through planning, and to be able to collect revenues for the benefit of our entire community.
Our aspirations are justified, and have been so for more than 30 years, by independent studies such as the Montgomery committee and articles of the European Union that state decision making should be as local as possible and special provision made for the islands.
We are standing up for local democracy in general, while reasonably asking that particular difficulties arising from remoteness and maintaining services for dispersed communities are recognised and addressed.
But we are going further and asking for the powers to address such difficulties ourselves. There is a precedent and our track record is good.
In the 1970s, Orkney Islands Council gained the power of a harbour authority, helping development of the North Sea Oil terminal in Flotta and enabling revenues to be generated from it for the next 25 years. Since then we have bucked the trend of rural depopulation, increasing our population by more than 20 per cent by investing the oil fund revenues in local economic development, maintaining services and protecting our culture. In doing so we have contributed to the success and diversity of the whole country, and to its economy.
We are at our “Flotta moment” for this century, and at a time when the whole framework of government in Scotland is under consideration.
All three islands councils believe our case is sound, and can be backed by all political parties if they believe in local democracy and wish to support their remotest communities. • Steven Heddle, convener Orkney Islands Council