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The Islands Bill: New Steps towards Empowering Communities



On Monday 12 June the Scottish Government introduced the Islands Bill, intended to speak to the specific needs of island communities. Over the years, the CSPP has taken a special interest in the provision of good public services and better governance for the islands, and this event is a good opportunity to look back on the progress accomplished in this area.

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This bill’, the ‘first ever for Scotland’s islands’ as Islands Minister Humza Yousaf declared, will include the ‘island-proofing’ of future legislation and policies amongst its key measures. This will come with the creation of a National Islands Plan, a statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary, greater flexibility around Councillor representation within island communities, and extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing.

The Islands minister said, ‘The National Islands Plan will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign and the work of the Islands Strategic Group.’

As a third-sector organisation, the CSPP provided expertise during ‘Our Islands Our Future’, and our contribution to this debate predates the launch of the campaign.

As early as 2011, the CSPP took an interest in island-specific forms of governance and advocated the implementation of a Single Public Authority across the Islands in ‘A Report into Future Public Service Provision’ written by CSPP’s former Policy Director, Ross Martin.

The CSPP was critical of the tendency of successive governments to privilege uniformity of output and short-term projects over local innovation and in-depth reform. The same report recommended that the geographic, social, economic, and infrastructural challenges specific to the islands be taken into account in order to develop more democratic, accountable public services. This work has fuelled some of the questions at the heart of the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services (Christie Commission 2011).

 Following the launch of the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign in the build-up to the 2014 independence Referendum, the CSPP carried out further research into the appropriate means to conduce reforms and strengthen local powers in the islands, gathered in a 2016 report for the  three councils working together in the OIOF campaign.  The report explored several possibilities that could be implemented to enhance specific forms of Islands governance , including the possibility of island autonomy, the integration of public services functions, and the creation of presumed powers for the island councils. Island proofing was an essential feature of this report. We examined the ways island proofing could best be implemented to improve present and future legislation, but also to address weaknesses  in past legislation. The new Islands Bill raises questions as to how this will be solved.

We look forward to presenting this study, which encompassed interviews with local stakeholders and suggested ways forward inspired by political experiments in other European countries. 

By Marine Furet and Professor Richard Kerley.

Image source: BBC.

       
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