There are plenty of examples that I could give here to counter the persistent claims that the Scottish Government is all about centralisation and ‘one size fits all’.
However, one of the best ways to demonstrate that this mantra is entirely unfounded is the introduction last week of an historic bill to Holyrood to meet the unique needs of Scotland’s islands, now and in the future.
The Islands (Scotland) Bill, published on Monday 12th June, will help create the right environment for sustainable growth and empowered communities. It is the most important signal so far that the SNP Scottish Government is fully committed to supporting, strengthening and protecting island communities, not least Orkney.
And before the ‘box-ticking exercise’ claims start flying, we need to remember that this legislation has its origins in the award-winning Our Islands Our Future. That campaign was launched four years ago this week, on 17th June 2013, by former Orkney Islands Council Convener Steven Heddle, along with his former colleagues at Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Gary Robinson and Angus Campbell.
So the Islands Bill is not something created centrally to pretend the Scottish Government cares about Scotland’s islands, it is legislation with the views of the island communities at its heart. Our Islands Our Future, after all, was aimed at ensuring that the particular nature and needs of the island groups were recognised and taken fully into account.
I have met several times with Islands Minister Humza Yousaf, and in our most recent discussions he insisted the Islands Bill would ‘have teeth’. He was clear that the bill underpins the government ambition to promote islands’ voices, to harnessing islands’ resources and to enhance their well-being.
Furthermore, the National Islands Plan that will emerge from the bill will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by Our Islands Our Future and the work of the Islands Strategic Group. I look forward to being part of this process in the months and years ahead.
As I welcomed the bill, I was also reflecting on the General Election result in Orkney and Shetland, which saw our brilliant young candidate Miriam Brett miss out – for the time being – on becoming the constituency’s first SNP MP. However, I was delighted to see the SNP win more seats in Scotland than all the other parties added together and although it was sad to see high calibre colleagues lose their seats, this was still the second best result the SNP has ever had and we remain the third largest party at Westminster. With the post-election political situation in no way able to be described as ‘strong and stable’, continuing to give Scotland a strong voice at a UK level is more important than ever.
If only the UK Government would listen to Scotland’s voices in the same way that the Scottish Government is now listening to our islands, we might feel more a part of the whole UK political scene. I’m not holding my breath.
This is a fortnightly column by local SNP MSP Maree Todd
You can read more about the Islands Bill in What is the Islands Bill?