Scotland’s islands are special. They are beautiful and diverse, enjoying rich histories, healthy economies and immense prospects for future growth.
In 2013, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Council launched the Our Islands – Our Future campaign. The campaign sought to ensure that:
“…the position and needs of island areas are adequately taken into account and the particular nature of Scotland’s three main islands’ areas acknowledged and recognised.”
In response to this, the Scottish Government, together with the Our Islands – Our Future leaders, formed the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group to consider how Scotland’s Island Areas could be supported and empowered.
In 2014, the Working Group produced a prospectus entitled Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities which set out proposals for increased autonomy for island communities. The Scottish Government recognised that, whilst the three Islands Councils are in a unique position, Scotland has altogether 93 inhabited islands, all of whose communities can benefit from greater empowerment.
In the 2014 Programme for Government statement, the First Minister pledged to re-convene the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group to implement as many of the commitments from the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus as possible within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament. She also committed to consult on potential measures for inclusion in a future Islands Bill.
On 30 September 2015, the Scottish Government published that consultation which sought views of interested stakeholders on plans for more power and protection for Scotland’s islands.
In March 2016, the Scottish Government published Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities – A Progress Update. This set out the work the Scottish Government, its agencies and the Island Councils are taking forward across key areas to help support and sustain all of Scotland’s Island Communities. Alongside this, the Scottish Government also published the independent analysis of the responses received to the Consultation on Provisions for a Future Islands Bill.
In August 2016 it was announced that a new Islands Strategic Group would be established to build on the work of the previous Island Areas Ministerial Working Group and the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus.
The Group is chaired by the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP and its membership includes the Leaders and Chief Executives of Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Argyll & Bute, Highland and North Ayrshire Councils, ensuring a voice for all Scotland’s inhabited island communities round the table. This was followed by the announcement in September 2016 as part of the Programme for Government statement that an Islands Bill would be brought forward in the first session of the new Scottish Parliament.