Tavish - Islands Bill must reverse central government power grab

Shetland MSP, Tavish Scott, has released his response to the Consultation on Provisions for a Future Islands Bill. The consultation could reverse 8 years of centralisation imposed on the three island councils. Tavish Scott has pressed the Scottish Government to ensure that future legislation is ‘island-proofed’. This means proposed government laws and proposals would recognise the particular needs of islands communities. The Scottish Parliament could decide to transfer functions and responsibilities to the islands.

Tavish Scott was part of the Smith Commission all-party talks in 2015. He ensured that the Commission recommended the transfer of the Crown Estate powers over the seabed to the Islands. Tavish Scott said, "If a Islands law is to mean anything it must reverse the removal of power and responsibilities that has been the reality of the Scottish Government since 2007. The Crown Estate is a case in point. The Smith Commission recommended the seabed should be devolved to Shetland. That would help our harbours, our £300 million seafood industry and other marine users. But the Scottish Government have yet to commit to this. They want the powers in Edinburgh."

In his response to the consultation Tavish Scott said:

‘‘All public bodies controlled by the Scottish Government and Parliament should be required to Island-Proof their actions. There are numerous examples of centralised “one-size-fits-all” policies imposed by legislation which damage the interests of the islands. Our circumstances are often very different from the central belt and rural areas of the Scottish Mainland.

‘‘The current Scottish Education Bill will introduce a new head teachers qualification. As the SIC have illustrated this will not work in the majority of island schools, where the head teacher’s primary role is a teaching role. The recent attempts by the Scottish Government to impose Gaelic teaching in Shetland schools is completely inappropriate as our islands have no history of Gaelic-speaking. There is no understanding of the islands in this decision. One size fits all is the Scottish Government's approach to education.

‘‘Police Scotland and one fire and rescue service covering Scotland has created authorities which are driven by policies and targets set by Central Belt based officers. We now have Strathclyde writ large. Budget cuts and centralised targets mean that all Shetland's outlying police stations have closed. A police presence is an occasional event.

‘‘On ferries, the Hebrides have seen a 55 per cent cut in their ferry fares. Shetland and Orkney have had no such cut. Road Equivalent Tariff does not work for us in the same way. But Shetland deserves a fair fares policy. According to the Government’s own figures, Clyde and Hebrides routes have benefited from an increased subsidy of 41% from the Scottish Government since 2013. But the Northern Isles routes have had a 14% cut. This shows that there is no consistency in the Scottish Government's approach to the islands.

‘‘When I introduced the Air Discount Scheme to cut the high cost of air travel it was for every Scottish island. The scheme originally introduced included business travel for island residents. This was endorsed by the first SNP Transport Minister when he continued the scheme. An Islands Plan should be set up so that changes which deprive island businesses of much-needed support cannot be made without consultation, as regrettably happened under the SNP’s second Transport Minister. The recent increase in ADS is a tribute to the community campaign for a better deal.

‘‘Finally, on health, the Future Islands Bill should ensure that the needs of the island health boards are properly represented when decisions are made over funding health. NHS Shetland was underfunded by £900,000 as assessed by the Government’s own formula. Many people have been in touch over long delays in dental and mental health waiting lists. There are big recruitment challenges for our health service. If ever an islands approach was needed it is on this.’’

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