The Island Areas Ministerial Working Group met for the third time on Friday, chaired by Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning. Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & the Environment.
Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism, and Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Environment & Climate Change, also attended, along with the Leaders of the three islands councils and Chief Executives of Shetland and Western Isles Councils.
The Group discussed a number of substantial issues important to Scotland’s island communities, including fishing and aquaculture, and measures to boost the local economies of the islands.
The Group welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to bring forward a Bill for an Islands Act following independence. The Group also discussed the Crown Estate for a second time.
The Group will meet six times in total, and is working towards developing a prospectus outlining opportunities for island communities in the context of the referendum.
The next meeting will take place in January, when it is expected to consider a number of issues including transport, tourism, culture and broadband.
Following today’s discussion, Derek Mackay said: “We are now halfway through this series of meetings to consider opportunities for our island communities in the context of the referendum and today’s discussion continued in a similar fashion of positive engagement on issues that are clearly important to the islands and their local economies.
“Three months in to this process, my sense is that we have commonality and agreement on a number of issues that we would want to bring forward in our prospectus for the islands.
“The best prospect of implementing the outcome of the groups discussion is with the full powers of independence, and in that event we propose to bring forward a bill for an Islands Act.”
Speaking on behalf of the three Council Leaders, Orkney Islands Council Convener Steven Heddle said: “The three islands councils maintain their position that there should be legislation within the lifetime of this parliament regardless of the outcome of the referendum whilst respecting the Scottish Government’s political position.
“This was a positive meeting - an opportunity to discuss in detail with the Scottish Government some of the key topics at the heart of the Our Islands Our Future campaign including economic drivers, fisheries, aquaculture and the crown estate.
“We are conscious that we are at the half – way point of our engagement with ministers and government officials with three of the six scheduled meetings behind us.
“These high level talks will continue into 2014, with the next meeting scheduled to take place in January.
“As a result of our ongoing discussions we know look forward to the development of a prospectus that will help to chart out the opportunities and way forward for Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles, and seek for this to be legislated for within the lifetime of this parliament.”