By Fiona Grahame
In this battle against the highly infectious Coronavirus (Covid19) pandemic we have given up many of our freedoms. The freedom to gather together; to meet with friends and family; the freedom to travel where we want to.
Millions of us have done this to protect not just ourselves but others and to keep our businesses and local economies going.
But in times of great crisis there are always those who would take advantage of the extraordinary circumstances – be it online scammers pretending to be contact tracers or those who wish to push a particular political agenda for their own personal ambitions.
I’ve watched over the recent few weeks the question of autonomy for Orkney (and Shetland) being raised.
Firstly it’s important to state – loud and clear – that self governance for Orkney is for those living in Orkney to decide and to do this democratically at the ballot box.
So what has been going on?
Our Islands Our Future was an excellent initiative started in Orkney and led by Councillor Steven Heddle, who, in collaboration with the councils in Shetland and the Western Isles worked towards developing an overarching vision for Scotland’s Islands Authorities. That was in June 2013. This led to the Scottish Government putting forward the Islands Bill and extensive consultations took place. I attended many of these.
It was a feature of the Islands Bill which subsequently became the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 that all this consultation and consensus took place before anything was published.
The Islands (Scotland) Act has as its working document the National Islands Plan 2019.
“The Plan sets out 13 Strategic Objectives which are practical, common sense, but will also be critical over the next five years to improving the quality of life for island communities.” Paul Wheelhouse MSP
Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
These objectives were identified by islanders themselves during the consultation process.
Summary of Strategic Objectives
|Population Levels||Strategic Objective 1 To address population decline and ensure a healthy, balanced population profile|
|Sustainable Economic Development||Strategic Objective 2 To improve and promote sustainable economic development|
|Transport||Strategic Objective 3 To improve transport services|
|Housing||Strategic Objective 4 To improve housing|
|Fuel Poverty||Strategic Objective 5 To reduce levels of fuel poverty|
|Digital Connectivity||Strategic Objective 6 To improve digital connectivity|
|Health, Social Care and Well-being||Strategic Objective 7 To improve and promote health, social care and wellbeing|
|Environmental Wellbeing and Biosecurity||Strategic Objective 8 To improve and promote environmental wellbeing and deal with biosecurity|
|Climate Change and Energy||Strategic Objective 9 To contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and promote clean, affordable and secure energy|
|Empowered Island Communities and Strong Local Partnership||Strategic Objective 10 To empower diverse communities and different places|
|Arts, Culture and Language||Strategic Objective 11 To support arts, culture and language|
|Education||Strategic Objective 12 To promote and improve education for all throughout life|
|Implementation||Strategic Objective 13 To support effective implementation of the National Islands Plan|
Now all this has taken a fair bit of time to work out – that is what happens when you keep people involved in decision making and you collaborate.
So it was strange to see this being swept aside by some councillors in Orkney. I must have missed that consultation process somehow.
The National Islands Plan is intended to be reviewed after a 5 year period – obviously with Covid there may some time lag.
There are 4 key values embedded in the Plan: fairness, integration, environmental protection (green) and inclusiveness.
In December 2019 Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for the Islands, said at the launch of the Islands Plan:
“The plan has been created with the input of many islanders and those with a stake in our islands’ future and I am extremely grateful for all their contributions and ideas.”
And he continued:
“The plan is a key milestone, but it cannot be allowed to just sit on a shelf – I now look forward to working with colleagues and partner organisations to put the plan into action. “
I’ve read media reports from commentators on Scotland’s political scene rubbishing the National Islands Plan. These reports encourage councillors with personal political ambitions to push their own agenda which would see a semi-autonomous Orkney become a tax haven for the super rich and their vision of Kirkwall as a Freeport. That’s the vision they have in mind not one with fairness, integration, environmental protection (green) and inclusiveness at its heart.
That’s why there has been no consultation with islanders on the question of autonomy for Orkney; no discussion; no scrutiny of the ‘proposals’; no citizen participation.
This article started with the limitations which have happened to many of our freedoms. These we gave up so that the public health emergency could be managed.
At no time did we give up our rights as islanders to be involved in the decisions which affect the future direction of our communities. We cannot allow a public health crisis to let a few councillors and media commentators (most of whom do not even live in Orkney) by pass the democratic process of citizen participation in decision making. Surely that is what the very term ‘self-governance’ represents.
The National Islands Plan is there to be developed and worked with. It is an opportunity to develop our islands the way we wish to see them progress.
Challenge the lack of progress in the implementation of the strategies laid out in the Plan. At local and national governmental level hold all of those to account who are not working to see its successful implementation.
This is an opportunity to reset Orkney to a sustainable and more equitable future with a National Islands Plan citizens were and are involved in developing.