Tavish Scott: Manx islanders have created an enviable blueprint for success
What are you doing on this plane? The Sumburgh flight is there,” said Charlene, gesticulating to the neighbouring aircraft parked on the Edinburgh Airport runway.
Loganair, under the Flybe franchise, is my “bus” home every Friday. A full 13 years of the commuting means that pilots and cabin crew have become familiar friends.
But on Sunday, and not just to avoid the truly hellish scenario of a three-year-old’s Halloween party, I flew south to the Isle of Man. Landing at Castletown is similar to landing at Sumburgh. The runway has sea at both ends. The airport is similar to many across the Scottish Islands and the first industrial building on the outskirts of the capital, Douglas, is a Tesco. Ditto Lerwick.
Manx history flows from the spread of the Norse vikings as they marauded and settled from the Northern Isles, through the Hebrides to the Irish Sea. The Tynwald has been the Manx parliament for a millennium. “Thing” assembly sites – as they are known from the Norse – are found right across Northern Europe. Shetland’s assembly was on a rocky outcrop in the Tingwall loch, where the island’s parliament sat until the late 16th century. Hence the name.
Walking into the House of Keys on Monday to meet speaker Roden, a Glaswegian who now chairs the Isle of Man parliament, I spotted a mosaic of Manx history. The first symbol was a familiar one. A raven. The bird that symbolises the flight of the vikings and flies in flag-form, aloft over Lerwick’s Town Hall, on Up Helly Aa day every January.
The island connections came thick and fast. Transport, goods to market, the importance of a meat plant to support local farmers, the need for agreement on fisheries management in the Irish Sea, and energy – should the island allow on-shore wind turbines or keep them at sea?
All of these decisions are taken locally. The Isle of Man is a crown dependency. That allows the Tynwald to set tax rates, design and implement island policies. Full fiscal powers were ceded by the UK treasury to the Isle of Man in 1958. The island is now governed by international financial regulation. Personal and corporation tax rates are lower than the UK. And Douglas has built an enviable reputation on shipping and aircraft registration.
Companies and individuals could chose anywhere in the globe to register but the Isle of Man wins much of this global work by being good at it. That was the big lesson. Concentrate on your strengths and specialisms.
The island hosted the Youth Commonwealth Games last year. A 3,000 seat all-weather sports stadium was built for the event. It is magnificent. So on taking local decisions for islanders, on promoting sport, and on building a competitive economy the Isle of Man offers a blueprint that many in Scotland’s islands find attractive.
• Tavish Scott is the Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland
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Friday 24 May 2013
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