We are back into Holyrood after a recess period, so it seems an age ago that the landmark Islands (Scotland) Bill pass its first stage vote.
As a representative of the area covering Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, who linked so successfully for the award-winning Our Islands Our Future campaign, I was delighted to see this bill progress earlier this month.
It is central to the SNP government’s aim to empower island communities and I know very well what a tangible difference it will make.
In particular, I am really pleased to see the provision of ‘island proofing’, which will ensure all future legislation and government policies take into account the distinct interests and needs of islanders.
No government has done more to devolve power to the people of Scotland, with policies such as land reform, community buy-outs, commitment on Crown Estate revenues and now the Islands Bill. I look forward to the positive impacts it will no doubt enable.
In contrast to this, if you are struggling to get a signal on your mobile phone in Orkney then you are certainly not alone in Scotland. Across the country, 4G coverage is around 17%, compared to 60% in England.
The Scottish Government has published the UK’s first Mobile Action Plan and we’re taking forward a programme to tackle ‘not-spots’ – areas with no or little internet coverage.
But, although there has been a fair bit of misinformation about who is responsible, the reality is that mobile connectivity laws are reserved to Westminster.
For that reason, we’re calling for the UK government to do a number of things. We want them to match Scottish Government funding to address gaps in 4G coverage;deliver a ‘rural areas first’ policy for new 5G licensing; support our ambition for Scotland to be a testbed for new technologies and business models; and to set a new UK-wide target for mobile internet coverage to match the best in Europe and publish an Action Plan to achieve it – backed up with adequate funding.
The SNP has launched a petition to force the UK Government to take action. This can be found at www.snp.org/signal and I’d encourage you to join over 7000 others who have already signed it, keeping the pressure on the Westminster Tories.
So, although telecommunications is a reserved matter, the Scottish Government has taken action to ensure Scotland is better connected.
Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) have connected more than 870,000 premises so far, with more homes and business to come through 2018. According to Ofcom, ‘Superfast broadband availability in Scotland has increased at a faster rate than other UK nations’.
We will now go further and ensure that all homes and businesses across Scotland have access to superfast broadband by 2021, committing £600 million to the programme ‘Reaching 100%’.
In the coming year the Scottish Government will launch the first phase of the project, focusing on delivering superfast broadband access to Scotland’s rural and island communities, to provide a truly national fibre network.
This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP. The Orkney News has offered similar space to Highlands and Islands List MSPs from the Scottish Greens, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party.