The launch of the National Islands Plan should be celebrated as a historic moment in island governance, not only in Scotland, but globally. In fact, the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 is only one of a handful of place-based pieces of legislation to focus specifically on islands in the world. The measures it contains, like the island communities impact assessment and the possibility for Local Authorities to request more competences, are progressive provisions that should be welcomed.
The Plan and the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 are particularly important in a European context. Islands have been at the heart of European Union cohesion policy and article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty refers specifically to islands as areas where development needs to be promoted in order to secure equality with other regions. Scotland and its island communities played an important part in raising the profile of islands within the European Union and it is important that this relationship continues. The Islands (Scotland) Act and the Plan demonstrate good practice that Scotland and its island communities need to share widely with other island communities across Europe in order to strengthen existing ties and forge new ones.
This Plan opens new opportunities for policy and knowledge exchange with international partners that share our ambition to empower island communities. The Scottish Government’s commitment to promoting mutual learning to increase rural resilience underpins Scotland’s growing participation in Arctic platforms. “Arctic Connections”, Scotland’s first Arctic policy framework reflects on the challenges we share with our northern neighbours, sets out existing ties and explores avenues for even closer co-operation. This Plan and the lessons we have learnt through the consultation process will help to further strengthen Scotland’s contribution to Arctic dialogue.
However, the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Plan do not showcase just regional and European leadership, but rather they also provide Scotland with leadership at the global level, in all four principles that underpin the Plan:
- A fair Plan with wellbeing at its heart will strive towards fairer, healthier, happier communities across Scotland. Its human rights approach will support greater accountability and help ensure that island communities’ rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- An integrated Plan will promote joined-up services based on a cohesive, place-based and holistic approach to policy and will build economic, social and environmental considerations in an integrated approach to island policy.
- A green Plan will harness the opportunities of a greener, fairer economy while we work toward ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change.
- An inclusive Plan will promote genuine community empowerment at the local level enabling decisions to be taken as close as possible to where their impact will be felt.
By explicitly aligning the Plan with actions designed to further promote human rights in Scotland, and with the new human rights National Outcome in Scotland’s National Performance Framework, the Plan demonstrates decisive human rights leadership. Further work to be taken forward by the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership will proceed in parallel with the Plan, with a view to formally incorporating internationally recognised human rights into domestic law. By developing a Plan that takes a strong human rights approach the intention is to support that longer-term strategic commitment whilst ensuring that more immediate practical actions help support greater accountability and deliver against Scotland’s international human rights obligations.
Scotland has been one of the first countries to commit formally to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Plan are a means for us to demonstrate alignment and commitment of Scottish Government to the Sustainable Development Goals. The latter is at the heart of the indicators we are developing in order to measure our progress in the implementation of the Plan. The Sustainable Development Goals are closely aligned with the National Performance Framework, which will also be used for such purpose.
Scotland has declared a climate emergency and has stepped up its climate action and commitments. These are amongst some of the most ambitious in the world calling for net – zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The Plan is a green one, and it will play its part in delivering on Scotland’s global leadership on climate change. The implementation of the Plan also provides an opportunity to promote islands in Scotland as hubs of innovation when it comes to driving a green and blue economy.
The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Plan provide Scotland with increased recognition globally when it comes to community empowerment. The Plan is an inclusive document that promotes community empowerment at the local level enabling decisions to be taken as close as possible to where the effects of such decisions will be felt. Together with the implementation of the Community Empowerment Act and the Local Governance Review, and in conjunction with the human rights approach already mentioned, the Plan provides islands and island communities with an opportunity to draw lessons and distil good practices for island communities elsewhere.
With the development, launch and the future implementation of the Plan, Scotland shows to the world and to island communities, wherever they are, that islands are important and that their voice is strong.