New ministerial working group to look at further empowerment for island communities.
Increased decision making for islanders will be possible within the framework of an independent Scotland, Finance Secretary John Swinney said today.
Responding to the Our Islands – Our Future (Ar n-Eileanan – Ri teachd) campaign, and following discussions between senior representatives from the three islands councils and Local Government Minister Derek Mackay, a new forum will be established to look at the potential further devolution of powers for Scotland’s islands.
The ministerial working group will include representatives of the Our Islands – Our Future campaign and explore opportunities to continue the decentralisation and further autonomy agenda that has been set by this Government.
Speaking after the Scottish Cabinet met in Shetland and discussed the issue, Mr Swinney said:
“Scotland's island communities are an invaluable source of energy, creativity and talent. They are made up of people with rich and diverse backgrounds who all contribute to making Scotland as a nation flourish. One of the great advantages of the independence debate is the opportunity to reflect on the sort of Scotland we wish to see.
“Shetland, Orkney and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have already taken a lead in doing that. Our Islands – Our Future is an important initiative which we discussed at Cabinet this morning and I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government has agreed in principle, jointly with campaign leaders from the three island authorities, to convene a new ministerial working group to consider the issues it raises.”
The declaration will be set out in a speech in Lerwick by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, in which he will say:
“We believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about our future – the essence of self-determination, therefore we support subsidiarity and local decision making.
“It follows, therefore, that any government committed to that policy should listen to the views expressed across all of Scotland – as we are doing here in Lerwick and as we are doing in supporting greater community land ownership and the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.”
Gary Robinson, Shetland Islands Council’s Leader, says:
“The Scottish Government announcement that they are prepared to set up a working group is most welcome. From the perspective of the three islands, this has to be seen as a positive development as we seek to get the best out of the change that will inevitably happen beyond the referendum in 2014.”
Councillor Steven Heddle, Convener of Orkney Islands Council, said:
"We strongly believe in our arguments and the democratic principles that underlie them. The Ministerial Working Group is a very positive reaction from the Scottish Government, and our opportunity to convince the Government that our island communities can flourish and make a greater contribution to the country if we are suitably empowered."
Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said:
“This demonstrates that the detailed and professional case we have made is recognised at Scottish Government level. It also opens up the opportunity for discussion on what can be embedded in future legislation to ensure the three island groups are given the tools to improve the well being of their areas and contribute more to national prosperity. We now look forward to a similar engagement with the UK Government.”
The ministerial working group remit and working arrangements will be agreed in the coming weeks with a view to holding the first meeting shortly thereafter.