Commenting on the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities that was launched today in Orkney, with the expectation of Scotland moving forward to independence and the islands being recognised as a larger and more important part of the new state, Angus MacNeil MP said:
“This document is a good foundation for which to build. In particular the creation of a post of a Minister for Island Communities, which implicitly recognises that island council areas, each contain many communities.
“It will be necessary when improvements occur with independence that any authority delegated is done with the approval of the islanders concerned. Also it should be sought that powers be delegated to community level working with the Minister for the Islands rather than the large council level, particularly in regard to work in marine and fishery environments.
“Furthermore, a Minister for Islands has to be seen as someone who can protect communities from action taken by a local council particularly without mandate. In the Hebrides we have seen the large scale removal of inter-island flights with approximately 200 flights from Stornoway Airport, 450 from Benbecula Airport and 250 from Barra Airport with the only replacement of 30 summer flights, and this only the Barra and Glasgow route. The protection of Scotland’s infrastructure which has previously fallen under the remit of island councils could also be something an islands minister could oversee to protect communities from council actions, especially when there had been core national funding from central government for that transport infrastructure, as communities have until now been unprotected from non-mandated Council actions.
More widely in the community, people will welcome the help for renewable production in the islands with a fairer transmission charging regime being viewed for implementation in the islands, rather than what we have at present, which is working against island renewables. The commitment to Universal Postal Service Obligation and that to be potentially extended to broadband and mobile communication services is a proposal that could be transformative to our communities particularly in retaining young people and young couples, as well as boosting business and job opportunities especially now that we see 4g on the horizon with far faster data speeds.
“In addition to the many welcome steps, perhaps a government of an independent Scotland should look to expand the “Islands Allowance” which is paid to many in the public sector by simplifying this and introducing an “Islands Tax Code” which would be equivalent to the islands allowance but available for all, this would take account of the higher cost of living and help mitigate the highest rates of fuel poverty which are in the island areas.
“While welcoming the additional top up for island beef producers this should be extended to the wider crofting community. The islands on the west coast which mainly have the least favoured land in all of Scotland should cease to be receiving the least in agricultural cash support when it comes to the less favoured areas. This would help take land back into production especially if coupled with a good Crofting Bill with an emphasis on agriculture.
“Finally, independence gives many opportunities for improvement and change this is one good template which can be built upon after we move political power and the necessary purse string from London to Edinburgh.”
Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities is available online at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/06/2708