Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
30 May 2018
I thank the councils and communities that worked to shape the bill, which needed to empower rather than protect.
Protection assumes that the Scottish Government knows best, but that is seldom is the case.
The people on the ground know best, and they need to be empowered to make decisions that affect their future.
That was the vision of the three island councils when they brought forward the our islands, our future initiative.
We have strengthened the bill, but much work still needs to be done on the islands plan if it is going to meet expectations.
Colin Smyth said that the bill could have gone further.
That is true, of course, but his amendment 27 and a similar amendment that Liam McArthur lodged allow Scottish Government powers to be devolved to island authorities, which would allow islands to make decisions that suit their needs.
We have too often seen islands being handed down policies and targets that run contrary to their needs.
David Stewart said that powers need to come with resources.
That is very much the case.
If those powers are to be devolved, the resources to make things happen also need to be devolved.
That will allow those policies to make a genuine difference to our island communities.
Amendments to do with retrospection, which are very important to the legislation, have been agreed to.
I do not think that every law should be reviewed to see how it works with regard to islands, but there are policies and legislation in place that damage our island communities.
We have recently seen Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, which is a company that is wholly owned by the Scottish Government, looking to centralise its air traffic control.
That could move those jobs out of islands and, indeed, out of the Highlands and Islands altogether, and that would be a retrograde step.
I hope that the amendments to do with retrospection will make Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd look again at what it is doing.
As Colin Smyth said, other Government bodies and arm’s-length authorities should look at their centralising policies, which have damaged islands by removing jobs from communities that very much need them.
We need to strengthen and build those communities.
The amendment on depopulation is crucial, because the real barometer of the act’s success will be whether the populations of our islands grow and become much more sustainable.
Yes, we need more people in the whole of Scotland, but the need is much more urgent in our island communities.
People want to come back to the islands.
They will do so—and others will relocate there for a better quality of life—but there must be jobs and opportunities to allow them to come back.
David Stewart said that fragile communities lead to the loss of young people, and we have seen that throughout our island communities for many years.
We need to stop that trend, then reverse it in order to make our islands grow and the bill has the potential to do that if the national islands plan is right.
As Jamie Greene said, the plan will be the proof of the pudding.
Many of the powers in the bill will be implemented through the plan, so how that is done will be crucial.
There should be clear outcomes and targets and measurable indicators to track performance, so that we can see whether the plan is working.
The REC Committee must be able to scrutinise the plan and look at the annual reports and the like, with input from stakeholders, in order to ensure that the plan is working.
The plan will make a difference to our island communities if it works right.
The bill has shown how the parliamentary process can improve legislation.
The original bill was timid and, although we know that it could have gone further, the finished article is much stronger.
That is a tribute to my colleague Colin Smyth, who put a lot of work into the bill, and to the communities and councils who worked alongside us to strengthen the bill, especially the three island councils that started the process in the first place with our islands, our future.
I hope that, through the bill, they will have a greater say in that future.