Consultation on provisions for a future islands bill: analysis of responses

This report presents the findings of an independent analysis of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on provisions for a future islands bill, undertaken by Reid-Howie Consultants Ltd.

5. Statutory Protection; Local Government Electoral Wards; and Other Issues for Consideration

5.1. This section presents the findings for Questions 12-14 covering statutory protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency; local government electoral wards; and any other issues for consideration in a future Islands Bill.

Question 12: Statutory protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency

5.2. Question 12 asked:

"Do you agree that statutory protection should be given to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer."

Overall views

5.3. Almost all (90%) of respondents addressed Question 12. Of these, a large majority (86%) answered "yes" indicating that statutory protection should be given to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency. Only 5% answered "no" while the remainder did not tick "yes" or "no", but made other comments.

Chart 7: Should statutory protection be given to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency?

Chart 7

5.4. Just under half of these respondents provided additional information, with comments focusing on: reasons for giving statutory protection; and issues for the Scottish Government to consider.

Reasons for giving statutory protection

5.5. A number of comments were made on reasons for giving statutory protection. The main reasons were the need for: fairness and equity; and the nature of the Western Isles and the need for provision of a "voice".

5.6. Several respondents, for example, stated generally that it was important for the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency to be given the same statutory protection as Orkney and Shetland. A small number suggested simply that it would be "fair" to do so, while others suggested that the issues faced by the three areas were similar.

5.7. One described the current situation as anomalous, while others suggested that the failure to have done so previously was an "oversight", which could now be remedied.

5.8. Several respondents suggested that nature of the Western Isles provided a justification for providing protection to the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency. Some, for example, identified the specific character of the Western Isles, its geographic isolation, the issues it faced and its cultural heritage.

5.9. A small number of respondents made comments about the need for a "voice" for the Western Isles. These included views that giving statutory protection would:

  • Guarantee the level of MSP representation, fundamental to ensuring island voices are heard.
  • Protect the islands from the "historical indignity" or other negative consequences of being joined with a mainland constituency.
  • Preserve a stronger link with their MSP than if he or she also represented a mainland area.
  • Maintain consistency of coverage between the constituency and the unitary authority.

Issues for the Scottish Government to consider

5.10. Comments were also made on issues for the Scottish Government to consider in relation to giving statutory protection. For example, several respondents suggested that the protection should only be extended to the parliamentary constituency, not to the local authority. A few suggested a need to ensure that any arrangements had scope for future flexibility.

5.11. A small number of respondents suggested that statutory protection should be extended to other islands and remote rural areas, in addition to the Western Isles and one cited Article 174 of EU Lisbon Treaty in support of this view.

5.12. A few additional suggestions were made by a small number of respondents. These included that there should be:

  • Clarification of whether or not this action would disproportionately benefit Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney and Shetland at the expense of other areas in Scotland.
  • Explanation of what "statutory protection" meant.
  • Consideration of whether the Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency was too large and diverse, and whether all communities could be represented appropriately.

5.13. One respondent suggested possible alternative approaches, including island-proofing for all islands, or the development of a Scottish Rural Parliament. Another suggested the creation of an "Inner Hebrides" council, and extending the same level of protection to that area.

Question 13: Amendment of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004

5.14. Question 13 asked:

"Should the Scottish Government consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to allow the LGBCS the power to make an exception to the usual 3 or 4 member ward rule for use with respect to populated islands Yes/No? Please explain the reasons for your answer."

Overall views

5.15. Almost all respondents (90%) addressed Question 13. Of these, a large majority (86%) answered "yes", expressing the view that the Scottish Government should consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004, as described in the question. Only 10% answered "no" and 4% did not answer "yes" or "no", but made other comments at this question. A small number of respondents stated that they did not understand the question.

Chart 8: Should the Scottish Government consider amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004?

Chart 8

5.16. Respondents were asked to explain the reasons for their answer, and most of those who addressed the question (85%) did so.

5.17. Most of these comments focused on respondents' views of the benefits of amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004, or why they saw a need for this. A small number of respondents made comments on perceived drawbacks or concerns and many made further suggestions about the way forward. All of these themes are discussed below.

5.18. One respondent provided detailed information about the current role, responsibilities, and considerations of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland ( LGBCS) and the nature of relevant legislation.

Benefits of, and reasons for a need for amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004

5.19. Many respondents identified perceived benefits of, or reasons for amending the Act, and a number of common themes emerged:

  • Provision of an "island voice" and representation of the diversity of Scottish islands.
  • The need for "local" representation and understanding.
  • Promotion of fairness and democracy.

Provision of an "island voice" and representation of the diversity of Scottish islands

5.20. Many respondents stressed the need for adequate representation of island communities, and the provision of a "voice" for them, including those with small populations.

5.21. It was suggested, for example, that multi-member wards militated against representation from less highly populated areas, and made it less likely that small populated islands would have their voices heard. One respondent stated that this meant that small populated islands would not be properly represented at local authority, Scottish Government, or European level.

5.22. Related to this, several respondents noted the diversity of islands (an issue raised before). Among the points raised were the differences between islands and the mainland, as well as differences between islands, in terms of their population sizes, economic circumstances, communities and challenges. It was suggested that these issues required local representation.

5.23. Without this, it was argued that an island could be disadvantaged ( e.g. through their particular interests not being considered, or their interests conflicting with those of other parts of a ward).

5.24. It was stated that there could be islands (either within island councils or in councils with island responsibilities) without an elected member from that island. There were specific examples where respondents felt they were disadvantaged by factors such as: gaps in current representation from smaller areas; inclusion in a mainland ward; not having a councillor of their "own"; being combined with an area they had little in common with; or having their interests overshadowed by a larger area.

5.25. Some expressed concerns about particular ward boundaries, or what they considered to be inappropriate combinations of communities. It was also suggested that the requirement for wards to have three or four members did not necessarily reflect natural groups of communities, settlement patterns, heritage, geographical or locality boundaries.

5.26. A few respondents stated specifically that a "one size fits all" approach to representation was not appropriate to islands.

The need for "local" representation and understanding

5.27. Many respondents stressed the importance of having a local member of the community representing island views, and some stated specifically that elected members should be residents of the island, and based in the community they served.

5.28. It was suggested that this was important in order to enable elected members to:

  • Focus on local issues and represent views at the most local level.
  • Have a proper understanding of the issues experienced by each island, and the local knowledge needed.
  • Participate fully in community life, attend relevant events and be available to constituents ( e.g. via surgeries).

5.29. Several respondents highlighted practical problems for elected members whose constituencies included islands, but who were based in other areas. It was suggested that this restricted their ability to engage with groups and attend community events on islands (and, related to this, to represent their interests).

5.30. The most common difficulties identified were: the geographical distances for travel; the time required; the cost of travel; logistical issues; and the availability of transport. Some local examples of these problems were provided.

5.31. One respondent stated that there was an assumption that these problems could be overcome through the use of technology, but that (in their case) there was a lack of broadband and mobile coverage.

Promotion of fairness and democracy

5.32. A further very common theme was that having a dedicated elected member in an island community was an important strand of democracy, and that it could strengthen local democracy and accountability.

5.33. Several respondents stated specifically that there was a "democratic deficit" in relation to the representation of individual islands in local government. It was argued that the use of three or four member wards was not consistent with local empowerment, engagement and democracy.

5.34. A small number of respondents suggested that the current situation and the size of three or four member wards could discourage people from standing for local authority election, while amendment of the Act could encourage them to do so. One stated that the three or four member ward model could cause voter confusion, with elected members geographically distant from their constituents.

5.35. One respondent (while stating that the introduction of multi-member wards had meant, in their area, that every ward had a contested election), noted that the benefits of party political proportionality through multi-member wards did not apply in the island councils, where most, or all councillors were usually independents.

5.36. Some respondents also suggested that it was important to ensure fairness in promoting the interests of particular areas, and that the current system did not do so. A few made reference to their concerns about current LGBCS proposals.

Drawbacks or issues with amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004

5.37. A small number of respondents identified drawbacks, or issues with amending the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 (almost, but not all of whom were against this).

5.38. A few respondents stated that there was a lack of need, because, in their view: the democratic issue was not geographic gaps, but certain sectoral gaps in representation; digital communications should enable well-informed representation; and current representation was fair.

5.39. A small number of respondents suggested that such amendment would lead to unfairness ( e.g. if very small islands had greater representation than larger areas). One respondent expressed disagreement with the notion of islands having distinctive interests. Another argued that membership representation must be proportionate.

5.40. Two respondents raised issues about the expense involved in the suggested change, and two raised concerns about the impact on governance ( e.g. that it could lead to a lack of candidates, or undermine the principles of a single transferable vote).

5.41. A small number of respondents suggested that the same issues may affect other communities in Scotland. One, who did not express an overall view of the potential change, observed that where a ward contained both island and mainland populations, it may be the mainland population in the minority.

Suggestions or issues to consider in the way forward

5.42. Respondents made a number of suggestions or additional points about the way forward, focusing on comments about the nature of changes and the overall principles and approach.

The nature of changes

5.43. Several respondents expressed the view that there should be one or two member wards, and some made specific suggestions about the nature of individual wards. One expressed the view that the definition and size of wards should be under the Islands Bill, with island councils able to adapt this to suit their local circumstances.

5.44. A few respondents made reference to past or current actions by the LGBCS, or expressed disappointment that any proposed amendment could not be implemented within the current review [11] and reflected in the 2017 local government elections. One stated that there should be a retrospective review of authorities and island communities on which there was an adverse impact, to ensure that the benefits of a revision would be implemented in 2017.

5.45. One respondent stated that the LGBCS review had noted that there were occasions where greater flexibility to vary the number of councillors in a ward would have helped the design of proposals for wards to better meet the Schedule 6 criteria. They stated that the Commission did not give consideration to occasions where single member wards may have been used.

5.46. A few respondents noted that amending the 2004 Act to allow for one or two member wards would not in itself ensure that no populated island was part of a ward with mainland or other island communities. A small number stated that the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, requiring that the ratio of electors to councillors in each ward in a council area should, as near as possible, be the same, presented further barriers to the number of elected members meeting the needs of islands. One noted that the Schedule 6 rules would continue to set the framework.

5.47. Two respondents expressed the view that the change and flexibility should extend to other remote rural areas of the mainland.

5.48. A few respondents (with varying overall views of amendment) suggested that it would be better (or better in some cases) to allow the council to vary the ratio of councillors to electors on islands. One stated that the LGBCS should take account of departures when assessing total councillor numbers, to avoid an overall reduction in councillors for any council.

5.49. One respondent suggested that it would be preferable to have an advisory body of representatives of each inhabited island, and noted that Community Councils already did this. The same respondent stated that communication links should be improved.

5.50. One respondent suggested that some administrative functions could remain pooled, to keep costs to a minimum.

Principles and approach

5.51. Several respondents made comments about the principles and approach required. These included the need to recognise the principles of community empowerment (and the intentions of the Community Empowerment Act) and locality planning (aligning the work of councillors and their wards) in determining representation. Other general principles or aspects of the overall approach mentioned included a need for flexibility and equality.

5.52. A small number of respondents commented on population issues, including the views that: there would need to be a definition on population; there should be a minimum population threshold; and both geographical area and population density should be considered.

5.53. One respondent stated that islands themselves should decide on the wards and members. Two argued that each island council should have the power to make the case to the LGBCS for the introduction of single or two member wards, with the LGBCS having a duty to responds positively where it could be demonstrated that it would improve the representation of those living in the proposed smaller wards.

5.54. Two respondents stated that there was no reason to depart from the single transferable vote as a means of electing members.

5.55. One respondent stated that elected members should have a minimum standard of business education and experience.

Question 14: Other issues for consideration

5.56. Question 14 asked:

"Please provide details of any additional issues, not addressed in your other responses, that you think should be considered in relation to the introduction of a future Islands Bill and its potential provisions."

Overall views

5.57. Around two thirds of respondents (67%) addressed Question 14. Among these, some respondents made comments on the consultation itself, or on the proposals overall. Most of the additional comments, however, related to common areas already discussed in responses to other questions. These included comments on current challenges, as well as the overall approach to the Bill and specific actions required.

5.58. A great deal of additional qualitative information was provided, which will be summarised briefly below. The points already discussed, however, will not be repeated in detail.

The consultation

5.59. Comments on the consultation focused on two issues: the nature of the respondent or response; and the consultation overall.

5.60. Information about the nature of respondents or their response included details of their: expertise; area of work; type of organisation; and aims or vision. Some gave details of: whose views were represented; the focus of the response; and how it was generated.

5.61. A small number of respondents made comments on the consultation overall, and most welcomed the opportunity to respond. One respondent welcomed the collaborative approach to consideration of the proposals. Another noted that the process of responding to this consultation had prompted them to seek the views of local organisations in relation to their own area of work.

5.62. A few respondents raised issues with the nature or focus of the consultation. A small number, for example, made comments on the design or wording of questions. One stated that some members of the community may be unable to participate in a consultation process such as this ( e.g. through being unaware of it, or lacking time to respond). The same respondent suggested the use of a simple questionnaire, distributed widely at a local level.

The proposals overall

5.63. Several respondents made comments on the proposals overall (both identifying general benefits, or raising general issues or concerns)

5.64. For example, a few respondents made comments welcoming the proposals overall. Some welcomed specific elements of the proposals, such as island-proofing; an Islands Plan; the recognition of islands; community empowerment; and the potential for change.

5.65. A small number of respondents expressed their general view that there should not be a Bill, expressed disagreement with the principle or this, or stated that there was not a need for the Bill. A few expressed concerns about local decision-making or potential negative consequences of the Bill.

5.66. A small number of respondents raised other general issues with the proposals (although not all of these respondents expressed overall opposition to the Bill). A few, for example, suggested that the proposals did not focus on all of the areas in Scotland experiencing challenges ( e.g. other remote or isolated areas), or did not focus on all of the Scottish islands.

5.67. One respondent stated that, although the Scottish Government had shown some commitment to subsidiarity, the consultation was based on the principle of power remaining at the centre, with those at the centre deciding whether or not to devolve powers (while requiring to take account of local circumstances in doing so).

5.68. One respondent stated that the proposals did not mention the Smith Commission's [12] recommendations. Another stated that the proposals did not provide the option of the type of constitutional change they sought (and that the Scottish Government did not currently have the power to grant this).

Common areas already discussed

5.69. Many respondents identified current challenges facing Scottish island communities and the consequences of these (as discussed in Section 2).

5.70. Many commented on the overall approach to the Bill, and specific actions seen to be required. A common theme was the need to take account of previous and existing commitments, as well as other provisions and local work. Reference was made to the findings and principles of the Montgomery Committee; Articles 170 and 174 of the Lisbon Treaty; Empowering Scotland's Island Communities; the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015; the European Charter of Local Self-Government; and the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy.

5.71. One respondent stated that there should be a clear recognition of the status of the three island groups in the new Scottish Constitutional Settlement and within the European Governance framework.

5.72. A further common theme was the importance of increased local powers and subsidiarity (discussed in Section 3).

5.73. One respondent stated that it would be helpful for the Bill to clarify whether the provisions would allow for future action through secondary legislation.

5.74. Comments were also made about the potential to extend the coverage of the Bill to other remote and rural areas (an issue raised at various points). It was also argued that the Bill should cover all Scottish islands, and all councils with island responsibilities.

5.75. Other issues raised (and recurrent themes) were the need for:

  • Recognition of: the uniqueness of islands; the nature and reality of island issues; diversity among islands; and the need for flexibility in solutions and actions.
  • Empowerment and representation of local communities (including: the improved representation of specific areas; representation on particular bodies; and the improved representation of specific groups, such as women and young people).
  • Equality and fairness.
  • Monitoring, review and opportunity for challenge.
  • Resources.

5.76. Many respondents made additional comments on actions in particular policy areas which should be addressed through the Bill. The areas mentioned reflected those which respondents stated that the statutory guidance should cover, and those for inclusion in an Islands Plan.

5.77. Some respondents made very specific (and in some cases very detailed) suggestions for particular actions in these policy areas. While it would be inappropriate to describe these in a summary report, they are available to view in the full responses on the Scottish Government website [13] .

5.78. A few respondents provided additional examples of their own practice, or what they saw as positive developments (existing or planned). These included: the development of innovative solutions in marine spatial planning and inshore fisheries management; the development of innovation zones; financial support to local island-based organisations; the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act; a pilot community empowerment project; and joint working to address employment issues.

5.79. A small number of respondents commented further on ways of taking the proposals forward. Suggestions included, for example, that the Convention of the Highlands and Islands could be used to progress the agenda. A few respondents stated that a Parliamentary Islands Committee could be established for first consideration of a Bill. Some respondents expressed their own willingness to continue to be involved.

5.80. All of these findings, along with the detailed material within the responses, will help to inform the Scottish Government's consideration of the way forward.


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