Orkney MSP Liam McArthur used a debate in the Scottish Parliament today to warn that island proofing will need to be more than a tick box exercise.
The debate in parliament - Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities – coincided with the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on measures for inclusion in a future islands bill. In amendment to the Scottish Government motion, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur paid tribute to the three island authorities, including Orkney Islands Council, who drove the campaign for island autonomy which led to the consultation process.
Speaking during the debate, Mr McArthur welcomed measures for inclusion in a future islands bill such as the concept of “island-proofing” and the devolution of further powers. However, he warned that a change of mindset from a government which has “relentlessly centralised powers” will be needed to deliver the proposals put forward.
Orkney’s MSP said “island proofing will need to be more than a tick box exercise. It will require a different way of doing things. A recognition that Ministers don’t know best; that one size does not fit all; and that island communities must be allowed both the power and resources to make decisions that directly affect them.”
Mr McArthur highlighted four areas where, regardless of the appointment of a Minister with responsibility for the Islands, no tangible evidence of a change in Scottish Government policy towards the Islands has been made:
- Orkney and Shetland remain the only island communities excluded from the government’s cheaper ferry fares scheme.
- All island businesses still face 40% higher air fares thanks to the SNP government’s cut to the Air Discount Scheme.
- Police in all three island communities continue to grapple with a botched centralisation that undermines accountability and the ethos of community policing.
- Historic underfunding of health boards, including NHS Orkney which has suffered an estimated shortfall of £4.8m.
Commenting after the exchanges, Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur said:
“All my adult life – and for a few years before that - I have been driven by a desire to see powers delivered to our island communities. Sadly, the SNP government’s track record of centralising powers and services in recent years has seen powers removed from, rather devolved to our island communities.
“The First Minister’s Attainment Fund provides a perfect illustration. It aims to provide additional support for those children and young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who need it most. Sadly, because of this government’s broad brush approach, no child in Orkney or the other island groups will benefit from this fund.
“I welcome the appointment of an Islands Minister and the commitment to island proofing. However, this needs to result in a change of mindset and policy. For example, Orkney’s local authority and health board are underfunded in relation to the costs of delivering services in an island setting. This is putting serious strain on those delivering a range of public services.
“Hopefully, through the consultation launched by the Scottish Government, this sort of issue can be highlighted and addressed. ”
Notes to Editors:
S4M-14448 Derek Mackay: Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation paper on measures for inclusion in a future islands bill; notes that the paper seeks views on issues including the concept of “island-proofing”, devolution of further powers, the possibility of a national islands plan, statutory protection for the Western Isles Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary and whether the Local Government Boundary Commission in Scotland should have discretion to recommend wards with fewer than three councillors so that populated islands are not placed in an electoral ward that contains a significant proportion, and often a majority, of mainland population, and recognises that the publication of this paper is a further signal of the Scottish Government’s support for island communities following the creation of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group in 2013, the publication of the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus in 2014, and the creation of a specific ministerial post with responsibility for island issues, giving a voice to all of Scotland’s 93 islands at the heart of government.
S4M-14448.1 Liam McArthur: Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities—As an amendment to motion S4M-14448 in the name of Derek Mackay (Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities), leave out from “and recognises” to end and insert “; recognises that the campaign for greater recognition of local needs by the Scottish Government grew out of public concern in all three island communities at the centralisation of a range of public services and decision-making responsibilities over recent years; endorses the Smith Commission recommendations that are particularly relevant to the islands on such matters as fully devolving management of the seabed to local control, and notes that health, education and other public services are under particular financial pressure in the islands due to the increased costs of delivering services in such communities.