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Key new island council legislation in prospect in Scotland

Words: Roger Milne
Stromness, Orkney

Legislation handing more powers to Scotland’s three island councils is expected to pass through the Scottish Parliament in May, following a four-year campaign for greater recognition of remote communities.

Local authority leaders in Shetland, Orkney and Comhairle nan Eilean Sia expect the legislation to formalise the introduction of ‘island proofing’, which will require ministers to take into account their particular circumstances when introducing legislation at Holyrood.

The Islands Bill is also likely to include a provision for a National Islands Plan, which will offer legal protection to the island constituencies at the Scottish Parliament.

Further devolution could feature so-called ‘island deals’ – similar to the city deals offered by the Westminster government to urban areas across the UK that free up central funds for infrastructure projects.

The bill, which islands minister Humza Yousaf announced in August, would be introduced at Holyrood in the current Scottish Parliamentary year, follows a joint campaign launched by the three islands councils in June 2013.

The local authorities are particularly keen that power over the seabed is transferred to coastal communities from the Crown Estate – as recommended by the Smith Commission.

Scotland’s three island councils cover a vast geographical territory stretching from the Out Stack on Shetland to the southern tip of the Barra isles in the Outer Hebrides. Despite their size, the local authorities are home to around 72,000 people – just 1.5 per cent of the population in Scotland.

Their remoteness – Lerwick is geographically closer to Oslo than London – means their contribution to both the Scottish and UK economy can be overlooked. The seas around Shetland are home to vast oil and gas reserves.

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