Foreword by the Chair of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group
The forthcoming referendum on Scotland's constitutional future creates a once in a generation opportunity for democratic renewal.
Should Scotland choose to become an independent country we will see decisions about what happens in Scotland taken by those who care most about Scotland, the people who live and work here. That will see the wealth and resources of Scotland deployed in Scotland's best interests.
That is a hugely exciting opportunity for our nation.
In July 2013, as part of Scotland's journey toward independence, the First Minister set out the Lerwick Declaration.
We believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about our future - the essence of self-determination; therefore we support subsidiarity and local decision making.
The Lerwick Declaration has guided our engagement with Scotland's islands.
Meeting on Shetland, the Scottish Government established the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group to take forward the bold proposals set out as part of the Our Islands Our Future campaign by Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The working group has met six times over the last year and I commend the three Islands Councils on their ambition and their commitment throughout this process.
The Scottish Government recognises 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.
On 16 April 2014 at a Cabinet meeting in Stornoway, we confirmed our support for constitutional protection for our islands.
This prospectus, Empowering Scotland's Island Communities, relates wholly to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, and following my discussion with Highland, Argyll & Bute and North Ayrshire Councils we also propose nearly all of the measures as applying to the other Island Areas in Scotland. This is therefore a prospectus for all of Scotland's islands.
Increased power brings with it increased responsibility and accountability. In proposing this prospectus, both the Scottish Government and representatives from across our Island Areas have ensured that increased autonomy for island communities is the right package to ensure that Scotland's islands can address the challenges they face and seize the opportunities for economic growth that are available.
Twenty-first century technology can help bridge the geographical distance that currently constrains island ambitions. Renewable energy can power island economies and with greater empowerment communities can deliver a more sustainable future with better housing, lower fuel bills and better transport links. Capturing the abundance of natural resources and the ingenuity of island populations will increase employment, improve local services, grow island economies and benefit not just Scotland's islands but our country as a whole.
This prospectus is a package recommended by all members of the Island Areas Ministerial Working Group. It is predicated on the transfer of all powers to the Scottish Parliament that independence would deliver, to ensure decisions best determined by island communities are made by those island communities.
Independence provides a clear opportunity to extend the principle of self-determination and the Scottish Government's commitment to community empowerment. It is an opportunity for Scotland's islands to secure a better and more prosperous future; and it is an opportunity that I hope will be seized across all of our islands.
Derek Mackay MSP
Minister for Local Government & Planning
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