Islands legislation passes first hurdle at Holyrood


Legislation aimed at strengthening and protecting island communities across Scotland has passed its first stage at Holyrood.

The Islands (Scotland) Bill involves a requirement to "island proof" future laws and policies.

If passed, it will also create a national islands plan which will be reported on each year.

Further measures included in the bill involve statutory protection for the Western Isles Scottish parliamentary constituency against boundary changes, and extending powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing.

Islands Minister Humza Yousaf
Islands Minister Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The legislation was proposed after island councils banded together in the Our Islands Our Future campaign to call on ministers to ensure a better deal for their areas.

It was backed by opposition MSPs, however they raised concerns around the bill's level of ambition and finance.

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: "It is fair to say that the Islands Bill is more evolution than revolution.

"Even if amended I suspect it will not be as ambitious as the island communities themselves that it seeks to deliver for, and managing expectations will be challenging."

He added: "There are amendments that can be made to strengthen the bill and I look forward to working with parties across the chamber as this bill makes its way through the parliamentary process."

Conservative MSP Peter Chapman said his party's biggest concern was finance.

He said: "The costs outlined in the financial memorandum are only related to the delivery of the duties in the bill.

"There is no budget to implement new services on the islands, there is no budget to implement the national islands plan and there is no budget to mitigate any areas for improvement indicated by an island impact assessment."

Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, who represents Orkney, urged the government to look at the retrospective application of "island proofing".

"All too often we have seen a one-size-fits-all approach to legislation and policy-making that simply has not worked for island communities," he said.

"This bill provides an opportunity to do things better in future, but also undo some of the damage already done."

Islands Minister Humza Yousaf said: "I am very proud of course to be the minister who is introducing the first legislation solely for the islands in this Parliament.

"I am looking forward to working with members across the chamber as we get to stage two and stage three of this bill.

"The government will keep an open mind because ultimately we want the same as everybody else in this chamber - the best outcomes possible for our island communities for the future."