Start of talks on further powers Western Isles

Reef Beach, Western Isles.
Reef Beach, Western Isles.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to the Islands has taken a step forward as proposals for additional powers were published.

Ministers have been clear that a future Islands Bill, once passed, would be about equality and empowerment for our island communities.

The consultation will seek views on: Island-Proofing – whether a legal duty should be placed on Ministers and relevant public bodies to ‘island-proof’ their functions and decisions.

· Empowering Island Communities – what additional powers and functions could be passed to island councils to benefit or better protect the island communities they serve

· National Islands Plan – whether a legal duty should be placed on all future Scottish Governments to prepare a ‘National Islands Plan’, setting out on-going commitments across all policy areas of Government to support, promote and empower our island communities

· Statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary

· Local Government Electoral Wards – whether the Local Government Boundary Commission in Scotland should have discretion to recommend wards with less than three councillors so that populated islands are not placed in an electoral ward that contains a significant proportion of mainland population

Since the launch of the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign in 2013, a positive working partnership has been formed between the Scottish Government and island councils to address some of the challenges island communities face.

The establishment of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group, and publication of ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ prospectus in June 2014, set out the most comprehensive package ever put forward by any Government for empowering Scotland’s islands along with the principle of local decision making.

Islands Minister Derek Mackay was on the Isle of Lewis this week to discuss the aspirations of the bill with Higher Modern Studies pupils from the Nicolson Institute, Stonroway before visiting the iconic island attraction of the Standing Stones of Callanish.

Speaking from Lewis, Mr Mackay said: “This is the start of a conversation with our island communities, councils and wider stakeholders about what a future bill may look like – and who better to inform these decisions than the very people who live, work and study there.

“I see the launch of this consultation as the next step in helping inform the Government’s work for a more prosperous and fairer future for our island communities.”

Cllr Angus Campbell, speaking on behalf of the Our Islands Our Future campaign, said: “The launch of this consultation is very significant in securing greater powers for Island areas and is the first islands-specific piece of legislation in over 40 years.

“We have continually lobbied for a fairer deal for islands and I would encourage people to respond to the consultation and share their views on the development of a future Islands’ Bill which comes as a result of the positive work being done on the Our Islands Our Future campaign.

“This is an opportunity for everyone to help shape a more prosperous and fairer future for our Islands”.