The Scottish Liberal Democrats have today successfully strengthened the Islands Bill with a number of amendments on mapping requirements, additional powers for local authorities and local authorities ability to retrospectively request community impact assessments. They then voted in favour of the “much improved” Islands Bill.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur secured parliamentary backing for an amendment that will ensure so-called ‘island proofing’ is applied to existing as well as future legislation and policy. Then, despite government opposition, Mr McArthur secured a majority in favour of amendments that will enable island authorities to apply for more powers and responsibilities in future, where appropriate. Shetland MSP Tavish Scott secured support for his high profile amendment to stop Shetland being put in a box on Government documents.
In a series of further Lib Dem victories, parliament gave its support to measures that will ensure that the proposed National Islands Plan will include specific reference to the needs of island communities in relation to lifeline transport links, broadband and digital connectively and the need to address fuel poverty.
Commenting after the amended Bill was passed unanimously, Mr McArthur said:
“This Bill finally recognises that the needs and circumstances of our island communities are different. It should now bring an end to a one-size-fits-all approach to policy and law-making that has been so damaging to our islands over the years.
“The commitment to ‘island proofing’ future policy and legislation was always a welcome step, but it could never be the extent of our ambition. I am pleased, therefore, that the parliament backed my amendment ensuring existing policy and legislation can be subjected to the same test.
“It was also encouraging to see parliament support my efforts to enable local authorities to apply for further powers in future. Over time, the appetite and ability of island communities to take on additional responsibilities will change and this legislation needs to allow that to happen. After all, as former First Minister, Donald Dewar once observed, devolution is a process, not an event.
“Through these and other changes, parliament has helped strengthen what is a welcome Bill. We now need to see government and its agencies held to account in respecting not just the letter but the spirit of the law. Island communities will expect nothing less”.
Commenting on his Shetland mapping amendment, Mr Scott said:
“Shetlanders have long been irritated by the lazy mapping practice of putting the isles in box hovering off the east coast, which confuses visitors, politicians and posties alike.
“The logistics of getting to and from Shetland are all too often overlooked, and this has a serious impact on the economies of the islands.
"Depicting Shetland’s geographical position accurately is important, and it’s a fitting amendment given "island proofing" is intended to show the government is conscious of islanders’ needs."