UPDATED; More power for island councils? - Day 2 of conference

Day two of the Our Islands Our Future conference is underway in Orkney with a packed programme of speakers debating more autonomy for the islands.

Negotiations over islands’ place in the EU post referendum was discussed this morning.

Jean-Didier Hache from the Islands Commission of the Conference of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions addressed delegates on the European Perspective.

He explained the current Article in the European Treaty which gives special attention to island areas but said some islands had taken this further.

He used the example of the Aland Islands in Finland who have their own permanent representation on the EU.

He said there was a debate over whether Scotland would have to renegotiate a place in the EU if Scotland voted YES to independence. If that did happen, he said, this would present a ‘unique opportunity for the Scottish Islands’.

He said this would be a good and legal opportunity to strengthen the islands position in Europe.

He said it was important to be able to influence the national authorities if this situation was to arise but added: “I would very much doubt that the UK Government would be keen to include Scottish Islands representation on the permanent UK representation.

Earlier today Fisheries expert John Goodlad, who is Chair of Shetland Catch and heavily involved in the sea fishing industry, spoke of the chance for the Western Isles to take control of their own fisheries.

He said the devolution of fisheries management was a practical example of how more autonomy of the islands would work.

He said: “The sea to many people is a barrier and a difficulty but to Orkney and the Western Isles it is what defines us, it is a huge part of our economic resource.

“The sea delivers much more than the land delivers. To regulate the seas we must have more local control. Management of the fisheries is one practical example of how power can be devolved. We have got a template in the example of the Shetland Regulating Order.”

He spoke of the Shetland example of how there was local control of the shellfish fisheries within a six mile radius.

It hadn’t been easy, he said but added: “Over the last decade it clearly been an enormous success. Instead of sitting in Lerwick complaining about poor management, Shetland went out and did the difficult job themselves.”

He said the scheme was also the first in the UK to attract certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

He said the scheme was a ‘template’ for the Western Isles and Orkney could follow and there was a hope that the Shetland scheme could be extended to a 13 mile radius and include more species.

Colin Mair, COSLA’s Chief Executive of Improvement Service, was discussing Constitutional Status and Public Sector Change at the conference this morning.

He stressed the importance of building constitutions based on outcome and what you want to be acheived.

“Local Government is not the stopping point for decentralisation,” he said. “It’s a starting point.”

He also highlighted the trend over the last few decades, of centralisation and uniformity.

In 1966 there were more than 150 Local Authorities in Scotland, Mr Mair explained. Each had different empowerment, and 50% of local government budgets came from local taxation.

Thirty years later in 1996 the system was more uniform, there was 32 local authorities and only 20% of local government income came from local taxation.

Mr Mair said: “We need a system that is not obsessed with uniformity.” He added the differences between local authorities in Scotland need to be recognised.”

Look out for more updates from the conference on our website today (Friday).