SCOTLAND’S islands will receive greater representation in the UK Government in the most comprehensive examination of their priorities in 30 years, the Scottish Secretary has announced.
Legislation will be scrutinised to ensure it takes account of island priorities, the Scotland Office will have a dedicated islands representative and an oil and gas islands forum will assist decision making in the sector.
The UK Government has also committed to establish renewable energy transmission links to the islands.
Island-specific challenges for transport, postal services, digital connectivity and fuel poverty will receive closer consideration, and measures will be taken to strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Crown Estate which manages Scotland’s seas and foreshore.
There will also be a dedicated point of contact within the UK’s representation to the EU.
The UK Government framework is designed to strengthen Scotland’s place in Britain by boosting the power of the islands, but the Scottish Government says “only independence will bring true benefits to Scotland’s islands”.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: “Today’s announcement is a landmark for the relationship between the UK Government and our island communities in Scotland.
“It builds on a great deal of good work in the past and will strengthen the voice of our islands at the heart of government.
“It will mean their unique needs are considered across all UK Government activity and legislation, tailoring our approach to ensure islands issues continue to get the attention they require.
“That is good news for the councils and for the whole country and will improve the economy, connectivity and lives of people on our islands. It shows we are not only listening, but acting - and in doing so we are strengthening Scotland and its place in the UK.”
It is the most comprehensive examination of the islands’ priorities in 30 years, since the 1984 Montgomery Commission, Mr Carmichael said.
Angus Campbell, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “It is to be welcomed that the UK Government has responded to the Our Islands Our Future campaign with this framework agreement and this opens up avenues for much work in the future.
“I particularly welcome the commitment to island-proofing in legislation and to a formal process of dialogue through an annual summit between island councils and the UK Government where strategic matters of importance to island communities will be taken forward.
“Island desks, in Brussels and London, is also very welcome as are the other areas of direct communication with the island councils including the Islands Working Group which will drive forward work on key economic, social and other priorities.
“I am confident that as we approach the referendum, the island groups are in a much stronger position now with both the UK and Scottish governments than we were prior to the launch of Our Islands Our Future.”
Steven Heddle, convener of Orkney Islands Council, said: “Our intention throughout has been to secure a stronger future for our communities, regardless of the outcome of the referendum. I welcome this response to our representations.”
Gary Robinson, leader of Shetland Islands Council, said today’s statement “represents another important output from our campaign”.
Scottish local government minister Derek Mackay said: “We have already set out in ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ why only independence will bring true benefits to Scotland’s islands.
“We recognise the unique nature of Scotland islands, and that their needs are different to mainland Scotland, that’s why the Scottish Government has delivered a special guide to all islanders that sets out how their communities will be empowered.
“At the heart of this is a commitment to bring forward a Bill for an Islands Act upon independence, placing a duty on the Scottish Government and other public bodies to ‘island-proof’ their functions and decisions, and to create a post of minister for island communities, giving the islands an even stronger voice at the heart of government.
“It is only with independence that the unique needs of islands can be recognised in a written constitution or that we will have the opportunity to ensure all island communities receive the net income from the adjacent inshore seabed, which currently passes through the Crown Estate to the Treasury.
“The income could be used for a variety of projects ranging from harbour improvements to community tourism projects and individual councils will be responsible for administering their own fund, including determining how funds are spent, who will benefit and the level of benefit required.
“Our islands have huge potential in energy, tourism and life sciences, and we are determined to work with them to unleash that potential with the powers of independence, and honour the principles of subsidiarity and local decision-making that are at the heart of the Lerwick Declaration.”