On Tuesday, 8th of October, the National Islands Plan was introduced in the Scottish Parliament.
The Islands Plan has developed from the Islands Act which itself was a result of Our Islands Our Future.
Earlier on this summer the Islands Plan Consultation took place.
Paul Wheelhouse, Islands Minister in the Scottish Government said:
“Today marks an important step forward in the historic journey for our islands that began with the passing of the Islands Act last year.
“Since Spring, we have visited 41 of Scotland’s islands, engaged online and consulted with stakeholders with an interest in islands in Scotland.
“I hope this unparalleled level of engagement with islanders and stakeholders is captured in the proposed National Islands Plan and that it reflects the priorities identified by the people who live and work on Scotland’s islands.
“The plan, and the objectives and commitments within it, are only part of the answer. I now look forward to taking the plan forward and translating it into action. Through its development, Scotland is showing the rest of the world – as well as our own island communities – that islands and islanders are very important to our nation and that their voices are strong.”
Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP for the Orkney Constituency is critical of the National Islands Plan, he said:
“Vague promises and warm words are not enough. The National Islands Plan needs to set out firm commitments on the provision in priority areas such as transport, health, education and digital connections.
“In terms of transport links, for example, we now need to see urgent action, both in securing new vessels and sustainable, long term funding for our internal ferry services, as well as additional freight capacity on the Northern Isles routes. The true test of the National Islands Plan and the Islands Act will be whether or not it makes a positive difference to the lives of islanders and to island communities.”
Dr Alasdair Allan SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar was interested in what the Islands Plan will do in tackling depopulation.
Alasdair Allan said:
“Mar a tha fhios aig a’ mhinistear, tha crìonadh na h-àireimh-sluaigh am measg nan dùbhlan as motha a tha ro na h-Eileanan an Iar. Tha “fàs àireamh-sluaigh” air an liosta am measg nan amasan as cudromaiche ann an Achd nan Eilean (Alba) 2018.
“Am faod am ministear fiosrachadh a thoirt seachad ciamar a bhios plana nàiseanta nan eilean a’ tomhas adhartas air seo. Am bidh e dìreach a’ cunntadh nan àireamhan-sluaigh air fad, no a’ cleachdadh slatan-tomhais eile—a’ cùnntadh clann-sgoile, mar eisimpleir.”
Many of the MSPs contributions were on the issue of Transport both ferry and air links with local MSP John Finnie, Scottish Greens commenting that the money being spent on dualling the A9 would be better spent on replacing the ferry fleet.
The Plan sets out 13 Strategic Objectives
The Objectives cover:
- increasing population levels
- improving and promoting sustainable economic development
- improving and promoting environmental wellbeing
- improving and promoting health and wellbeing
- improving and promoting community empowerment
- improving transport services
- improving digital connectivity
- reducing fuel poverty
- ensuring effective management of the Scottish Crown Estate
- enhancing biosecurity.
The Plan is for a 5 year period with annual reports being published. Despite the questions in the Scottish Parliament focusing on Transport (a vital issue for islands) the top priority identified by those who responded to the extensive consultation process was the effect on island communities of depopulation.
Future population projections suggest that islands are at further risk of depopulation with Orkney and Shetland are each projected to lose 2.2% of their population by 2041 and Eileanan Siar 14%. National Islands Plan
An action plan will be developed to encourage repopulation of island communities and for retaining young people and families. There is a demographic time bomb in many islands with an ageing population and fewer workers able to provide the services required.
The thorny issue with many is connectivity. This is actually a reserved power to the UK Government but lack of progress in past years led the Scottish Government to tackle the issue. It may not seem it sometimes but there has been a lot done to try to address connectivity problems. It is very easy to forget how bad it was only a few years ago.
Although this is a National Islands Plan each Island Authority has its own development plan. Anyone who lives in the island communities or has visited them will know how diverse they are from each other and within each other. The National Plan recognises this and embraces the diversity of the islands. The Plan, built upon extensive consultation, is an empowering document encouraging decision making at a local level.
You can watch the Scottish Parliament session here:
Reporter: Fiona Grahame