The leaders of Scotland’s island councils have agreed an “ambitious workplan” that could see control over seabeds handed over to them following talks with the Scottish Government.
Island leaders and local government minister Derek MacKay considered options for devolving the functions of the Crown Estate, the body which runs land and the seabed owned by the Queen.
The talks were held following a campaign by the Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and the Western Isles for more power to be handed to Scotland’s remote areas so that they have greater influence over their own futures.
While declining to take a position on the independence referendum, the campaign “Our Islands Our Future” has argued that the oncoming period of constitutional change offers a chance for islands to have a greater say in their destiny.
The campaign has called for control of the seabed around the islands, allowing revenues currently paid to the Crown Estate to be channelled into local needs. Islanders also want new grid connections to the Scottish mainland to allow world-class wave, tidal and wind energy resources to generate maximum benefits for the islands.
Devolving Crown Estate functions was discussed at a meeting in Edinburgh yesterday and a remit for a newly established island areas working group was set up along.
Mr Mackay said: “We discussed an ambitious work-plan to look at the potential for further devolution of powers for Scotland’s islands and opportunities independence could open up for our island communities, including energy, renewables and the Crown
Estate. I look forward to agreeing a prospectus for the future of the islands in the context of the referendum.”
Steven Heddle, convener of Orkney Islands Council, said: “I’m pleased that we have taken this first step in an ongoing engagement with the Scottish Government to develop opportunities for our island groups.
“Our agenda and our commitment is substantial, and we hope for significant and tangible benefits for our communities.”
Shetland Islands Council leader Gary Robinson said the talks had been “a welcome opportunity to begin a discussion with ministers on a wide range of issues which are at the heart of the islands’ economies”.
Angus Campbell, leader of the Western Isles Council, said: “I’m pleased this initial meeting with Scottish Government colleagues has been productive as we seek to take forward our continuing commitment to gain a better future for our island groups.”
While both the Scottish Government and council leaders from the three island authorities were positive about the talks, the Liberal Democrat MSPs for Orkney and Shetland accused the SNP of holding out the prospect of extra powers after independence as a “bribe” ahead of next year’s referendum.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: “The Nationalist Government has removed powers from our islands. So, the starting point is to reverse their record. The notion islanders will be conned by the sun always shining after independence is laughable.”
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “Having long argued for our island communities to be given greater say over their own affairs, I welcome moves towards this. It is disappointing, however, that SNP ministers seem intent on treating this as yet another ‘bribe’ ahead of next year’s referendum.”