‘Strong voice’ from the islands in referendum debate

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Scotland’s three Islands Councils – Shetland, Orkney and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – have laid out their vision for a stronger future following the Independence Referendum of 2014.

The three authorities are working closely together to identify shared opportunities and challenges and today launched their Our Islands - Our Future campaign.

The Councils have published a joint mission statement setting out their intention to engage with political leaders and decision makers on either side of the independence debate.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, the Councils wish to see the special position and needs of the UK’s three largest island groups fully taken into account in the new constitutional arrangements for Scotland.

At a press conference delivered simultaneously from Kirkwall, Lerwick and Stornoway by video link, the leaders of the three Councils said they would be seeking additional powers and resources to give them a greater ability to shape the destinies of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

These could include:

Control of the sea bed around the islands, allowing revenues currently paid to the Crown Estate to be channelled into local needs.

New grid connections to the Scottish mainland to allow world class wave, tidal and wind energy resources to generate maximum benefits for the islands.

New fiscal arrangements to allow the islands to benefit more directly from the harvesting of local resources, including renewable energy and fisheries.

Clear recognition of the status of the three island groups in a new Scottish Constitutional Settlement and within the European Governance Framework.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader Angus Campbell said: “This is one of the most important times for our three Island areas since the inception of the Island Councils in 1975. Indeed, there is currently a once in a generation opportunity.

“The constitutional debate offers the opportunity for the three Island Councils to secure increased powers for our communities to take decisions which will benefit the economies and the lives of those who live in the Islands.

“We look forward to making that happen by working together as Islands with the Scottish and UK Governments.”

Shetland Islands Council Leader Gary Robinson said: “This is a very important moment, as the three Island areas come together to set out our vision. From a Shetland perspective, we feel our use of the Zetland County Council Act over the past 40 years to deliver at a local level has been very effective. We want to strengthen and build on that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

“There’s no doubt that this is an historic opportunity for the islands, which will continue to punch above their weight in terms of their economic and cultural contribution to Scotland.”

Orkney Islands Council Convener, Councillor Steven Heddle, said: “It is a measure of the importance of this to our three communities that we’ve joined forces today to ensure the voice of the islands is heard loud and clear during the pre-referendum debate.

“Islands by their very nature are special places with special requirements. The Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney each have a strong sense of identity. What we share is an abundance of natural resources and a pride in our cultural traditions. What we are calling for is a commitment that whatever the outcome, the needs and status of island areas are clearly recognised in the new era for Scotland that follows the referendum.”

The Island groups have prepared a joint paper which sets out the principles which it is hoped will be examined and discussed during the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future.

More detailed proposals will follow in the weeks and months to come – with a major conference on Our Islands – Our Future (Ar n-Eileanan - Ri teachd) to be staged by the three Councils in Orkney from September 19-20.