Northern Isles MSPs Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart have today written to the newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, John Swinney, to ask that the islands are “front and centre of Scottish Government thinking”, ahead of a cross party steering group due to be meet next week.
The Isles MSPs shared the frustration of many of their constituents who felt that Orkney and Shetland were often seen as an “afterthought” in Scottish Government decision making processes. In the letter, the MSPs pointed to repeated announcements which updated central belt communities while neglecting to mention the differences in restrictions for the islands.
The text of the letter sent to the Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery by Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart reads as follows:
“Firstly, congratulations on your re-appointment as Deputy First Minister and your new role as Cabinet Secretary for the Covid Recovery. We look forward to working with you and other colleagues to ensure that there is a collective focus on this work during the current session of parliament.
“We note from press reports that it is your intention to establish a cross party steering group and hold initial talks next week. This is a move we very much welcome but would ask for assurances that the specific needs of island communities are taken properly into account in any future planning and decisions.
“Throughout the pandemic, there has been a frustration in the communities we represent that island needs have appeared to be an afterthought in Scottish Government decision making processes. Announcements have been made with a wealth of detail about restrictions affecting central belt communities, while failing to include any mention of important differences for island communities working under different rules.
“This has often created confusion, not helped by the recent consultation on the easing of restrictions in the islands which was ill-conceived, poorly constructed and the responses ultimately ignored by the government.
“As we look ahead to dealing with the impacts of the pandemic and shaping the recovery, it is important that this work fully reflects the islands dimension. We seek assurances, therefore, that steps will be taken to ensure that this happens. Close collaboration with locally elected representatives, including the island authorities, will be important but we would encourage you and your officials to look at other ways of making sure this happens from the outset.
“Needless to say, we would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter in more detail. Meantime, we wish you well in the substantial task that lies ahead and stand ready to assist, particularly in ensuring the needs of our islands are front and centre of government thinking.
“We look forward to hearing from you in due course.”