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The SNP/Green Deal: An Islands’ Perspective

It is always to be welcomed when political parties work together hopefully for the betterment of the people. The Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Greens, have announced a Co-operation Agreement that will see two Green MSPs enter government as Ministers.

There are two documents and it’s important to look at them both: The Draft Co-operation Agreement and The Draft Shared Policy Programme where the policies and actions to be pursued by the Scottish Government through this collaboration have been laid out.

Draft Shared Policy Programme

The Co-operation Agreement – the coalition which is not a coalition – but looks very like one – allows the Greens to disagree with the SNP on some matters but to ‘spring no surprises’ either.

The policy document itself contains some very excellent and laudable future policies. I would encourage everyone to read it because that’s the future direction the Government of Scotland wishes to take us in.

The Bute House Agreement is a ‘shared programme to build a greener, fairer, independent Scotland.‘ It states that it is a ‘leap of faith’ for both parties and that it heralds in a new age of doing politics differently. It won’t be ‘the same old politics.

Whilst there is so much of good within the policy document there are also glaring gaps and inconsistencies. For us here in Orkney and in the other two islands authorities, this document fails to deliver on the Islands Act. Where is the Islands Proofing on this document? Islands Impact Assessments are a condition of the Islands Act.

“when you are developing your policy, strategy or service, it is important that you consider the National Islands Plan, its commitment to fairness and its other Strategic Objectives. 

Islands Communities Impact Assessments Guidance

To understand why this document is a huge issue for islanders let’s look at the current make up of the Scottish Government Cabinet. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, has a Cabinet made up of 9 Cabinet Secretaries, and 15 Ministers. Not one of them represents as a MSP a constituency in the Islands Authorities. Some have islands within their constituencies but the Islands Act was developed by Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles so that future policy developments from central government would not impact negatively on their islands. Two Green MSPs will be appointed to the Scottish Cabinet with this co-operation agreement. No Green represents any of the Islands Authorities as a constituency MSP.

This is important because when you read the policy document matters directly pertaining to islands are barely mentioned.

The section on Transport is mostly concerned with roads. There is very little about ferries – our lifeline connections. There’s a commitment to a Fair Ferries review and this:

we will support the delivery of publicly funded lifeline ferry services in cases where essential connectivity cannot be met by the normal operation of the market. We will assess the model of delivery of ferry services in Scotland, to ensure that our approach delivers good outcomes for communities, value for money, accountability and transparency.

Draft Policy Programme p 12

That’s it.

This matters because CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, which is wholly owned by Scottish Ministers.

What about air services to the islands? There is nothing about Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd’s totally discredited project to remove air traffic controllers from our islands and centralise them in Inverness in the policy document. There is this ‘wee paragraph in the Draft Co-operation Agreement:

Recognising that an agreement to collaborate and cooperation on budgets and matters of supply does not prevent us from having different visions for the long-term future of Scotland’s economy and on support for certain sectors, aviation policy (except in respect of island aviation connectivity and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited), the future of green ports, and direct financial support to businesses involved in the aerospace, defence and security sectors are excluded from this agreement.

Draft Cooperation Agreement

The devil is always in the detail – except in respect of island aviation connectivity and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited – so the Greens can disagree on aviation policy but not what is happening with HIAL.

Reminder HIAL is  a private limited company wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers.

The two Green Ministers will be allocated advisers and will be bound by the Ministerial Code.

These Ministers will receive Cabinet papers relevant to their portfolios, and be invited to attend Cabinet as appropriate, when matters within their portfolios are discussed.

Draft Cooperation Agreement

HIAL’s Remote Towers Project was severely criticised by the MSPs from all the political parties in the Highlands and Islands – that included the Greens. But that was then and this is now so it looks like the Greens (their Ministers anyway) will not be objecting to the totally discredited HIAL Remote Towers Project.

Commenting Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands who has been very active in the campaign to put a halt to the Remote Towers Project said:

“Given the ongoing issues with Air Traffic Control management proposals in the Highlands and Islands this exemption would appear to be aimed at ensuring The Scottish Government can force through controversial changes that would see jobs centralised in Inverness and a significant loss of local knowledge.

“The fact that this issue is specified in the document not only indicates that the SNP is very aware of the anger, resentment and damage that HIAL’s proposals are causing to the affected communities, but that they don’t care and have every intention of forcing through the proposals no matter what engagement they get from stakeholders.

“By allowing this as an exemption, the Scottish Greens have indicated that they too are now aware but aren’t particularly concerned with issues affecting the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, but are willing to sell out a huge swathe of the country if it means they can get the SNP’s scraps.

“Of further concern is what this indicates about the Scottish Government’s level of respect for parliamentary process. A petition from local communities asking the Air Traffic Management Scheme to be halted while independent assessments are undertaken is currently before the petitions committee. By including the Highlands and Islands as an exemption whereby the Greens must fall in line, Scottish Government are indicating that they know a contentious decision is on the horizon and want to be able to shepherd it through despite any and all logical and well-informed protests.

“It is clear that the Scottish Greens have no intention of properly vetting policies in relation to the Highlands and Islands and are happy to allow the SNP to run roughshod over the communities there.”

As more comment comes in from other MSPs representing the Highlands and Islands we will publish it in future articles.

There are three other sectors which will have a significant impact on our islands and which are concerning.

There is a considerable section devoted to renewables: the expansion of offshore wind and marine renewables. There will also be an immediate end to public subsidies for Oil and LPG boilers which will affect a great many people in the Highlands and Islands. If Lorna Slater, is selected to be a Minister for the Scottish Greens, she has very strong links with the renewables industry. That’s a powerful voice for the renewables sector in government, if that’s the portfolio she is allocated. A good thing you might add but marine renewables share our seas with our fishing industry. A traditional sector which is vital for the sustainability of our coastal and island communities. Balance is needed and the island and coastal communities need to raise their voices because their concerns are not being heard. The successful lobbying by the renewables sector have clearly been listened to in the policy document.

On Fisheries, such a crucial sector for islands, the document states ‘relocation of some human activity’ will have to take place and that there will be a ‘cap to fishing activity’ in our inshore waters.

What consultation has taken place with Fisheries organisations in the islands before this policy statement has been made?

Will it be another case of retrospective consultation once the policy is enacted?

Aquaculture is in for a time of it – the ‘status quo of aquaculture regulation is not an option’, p46 of the Agreement. The regulation of aquaculture does need serious reform but given this industry is so important to the 3 Islands Authorities, it is another reason why the Islands Impact Assessment should have been done to the whole agreement and not only (if indeed that happens) reform is to take place.

For farming, there’s nothing new being said, most of the sustainable farming initiatives have been well thought out by the farmer led groups over the past few years. Scottish Farming & Food Production Working Group Looks to the Future for the Industry There is caution in this ‘bold’ document about our farming sector because ultimately the powers lie with the UK Government and we have left the EU where our food standards were protected.:

with a view to re-joining the EU, we will, where practicable, stay aligned with new EU measures and policy developments ensuring Scotland prioritises the transition to net zero, the restoration of nature and the sustainable production of high quality food.

Draft Policy Programme p43

There are many very good policies in the policy programme which will benefit people in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. Policies on housing, support for families and to have warmer homes, to name just three. But for islands, the omissions or lack of thought to how policies affect our communities is disappointing – putting it mildly.

The document is strong on human rights and engagement with support for holding citizen’s assembly. The view is one, however, very much from the perspective of decision makers sitting in Edinburgh. It is not one of local decision making or any kind of power devolved to communities – especially islands. It is one of top down decision making – which is why an Islands Impact Assessment is needed for the whole Policy Programme to see in the round how each of these policies taken together will affect our islands.

This is the failure at the heart of the Green/SNP Co-operation Deal and Shared Policy Programme. It claims to be doing politics differently – but at its core it’s very much policy driven from the south, from Edinburgh, not from an Islands’ perspective.

Fiona Grahame

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