The Islands (Scotland) Bill was unanimously passed by MSPs in yesterday afternoon’s Stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament.(Wednesday May 30th) and pictured above, just after the vote, are some of those involved in the campaign for the Bill - Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan; Derek Mackay MSP; Humza Yousaf MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Transport and the Islands; CnES CE Malcolm Burr; former Council Leader Angus Campbell; and CnES Convener, Norman A. MacDonald

The Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament last summer and the key provisions of the Bill enjoyed widespread public support.
Alasdair Allan said: “This historic legislation seeks to meet the unique needs of Scotland’s islands now and in the future, helping to create the right environment for sustainable growth and empowering communities.

“The measures included in the Bill, along with the Scottish Government’s existing work in areas like transport, digital, housing and health, will contribute to the right conditions for island communities to grow and thrive.

"The legislation also seeks to “island proof” future policies to make sure that policies are workable in the islands, and to create an islands plan where the government has to set out its priorities for island communities.
“This is the first ever legislation for Scotland’s islands and fulfils a key manifesto pledge the SNP stood on in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.

Key provisions of the Bill include:

  • The development of a National Islands Plan, which would set out the main objectives and strategy of the Scottish Government in relation to improving outcomes for island communities.
  • A requirement to ‘island proof’ future legislation and policies.
  • The protection of the Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary of Na h-Eileanan an Iar from variation.
  • The allowance of exceptions, for inhabited islands, to the standard three or four member ward rule for local government electoral wards.
  • The introduction of a regulation-making power for the Scottish Government to create a licensing scheme, following a request from a local authority, in relation to works in or under the sea in the coastal waters surrounding islands for up to 12 nautical miles.

And as part of the Bill, public authorities are being banned from using maps of Scotland where the Shetland Islands appear in a small box just off the coasts of Caithness or Aberdeenshire.  

Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem MSP for Shetland, says that putting the islands in a box causes people to forget about the challenges they face on account of their remote location.

He said: "The logistics of getting to and from Shetland are all too often forgotten, and this has had an impact on the crucial economies of the islands, for instance the movement of oil, gas and seafood.

"Recognising where Shetland is located would go a long way to understanding the challenges we face as an island."

This isn't just an issue for Shetland, either. Despite being closer to the mainland, Orkney has been affected too, according to MSP Liam McArthur, a Lib Dem colleague of Mr Scott.

He said using boxes is not a superficial issue, but one which "gives rise to a misconception about our islands" - namely that they are "a good deal closer to the mainland than is actually the case".

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has welcomed the progress on the Islands (Scotland) Bill following the Stage 3 Debate and passing of the Bill in Parliament yesterday afternoon.

Comhairle Convener, Cllr Norman A. MacDonald, said: “Yesterday was a historic and significant milestone for Scotland’s islands and represents an excellent outcome for the Our Islands Our Future campaign run by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Councils.

“The Bill itself is an opportunity to embed the principles that “one size does not fit all”, and a recognition of the principle that equity and fairness may, on occasion, only be achieved by the adaptation of legislation, policy, strategy or services.

“We warmly welcome and strongly believe that the commitments given today by the Minister for Transport and Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, and his predecessor, Derek Mackay MSP, which are reflected in Government’s Stage 3 amendments, together with opposition amendments on key points, strengthen this Bill.

“Given the fragile nature of our islands’ economies, the challenges of population retention and growth, and other financial and resource issues which impact disproportionately on islands we believe that the Bill provides an opportunity for islands to “help themselves” by allowing the development of bespoke solutions on governance at the earliest possible opportunity.

“Moving forward from this historic achievement, the three Island authorities and their partners are bringing forward proposals for an ambitious Islands Deal that will be transformational for our economies and communities.

“We are rightly proud of the unique contribution our Islands make to the economic prosperity, cultural diversity and international reputation of Scotland and the United Kingdom but we recognise we can offer so much more with the right level of strategic investment.

“Securing that investment through an Islands Deal is the focus for the next phase of collaboration between our three Island authorities and we look forward to the strong support of the Scottish and UK Governments in that process.”

(This report has been considerably extended since first being posted, with the photogaph added)