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National Islands Plan

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Today marks an important step forward in the historic journey for our islands that began with the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Bill on 30 May last year. I am pleased to publish the first-ever draft national plan for Scotland’s islands. Part 2 of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires the development of such a plan and states that it should

“set out the main objectives and strategy of the Scottish Ministers in relation to improving outcomes for island communities that result from, or are contributed to by, the carrying out of functions of a public nature.”

Section 3 of the act sets out what some of the outcomes are, and section 4 sets out how the plan should be developed. There is provision in section 4(3) for the proposed plan to be laid before Parliament for 40 days and for the final plan to be published within a year of that section of the act coming into force. I confirm that we laid “The Proposed National Islands Plan” before Parliament on Thursday 3 October, and that we are on track to meet those statutory requirements.

Just as important is that we have developed a plan that reflects not only the statutory outcomes but the priorities of islands’ inhabitants and communities. I hope that the proposed plan shows that we have listened to and heard their voices.

The extent of our engagement has been significant. Since spring, we have visited 41 of Scotland’s islands, from Arran to Unst and everywhere in between. We held 61 events and meetings on those islands, which were attended by almost 1,000 people of all ages and backgrounds. We have engaged online with more than 400 respondents, and we have specifically consulted local authorities and other agencies and stakeholder bodies that have interests in the islands of Scotland.

I thank everyone who attended an event or responded to the online consultation. In particular, I am grateful to the many people who were involved in helping to organise the logistics of the events, including the islands team in the Scottish Government, the Scottish Islands Federation, our partners at the University of Strathclyde and local authority colleagues.

The Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 recognises areas in which action is needed to improve outcomes for island communities, and the proposed plan’s strategic objectives reflect that. Members will find in it commitments to address sustainable economic development, community empowerment, how to increase population levels, climate change and many other things. There are 13 strategic objectives, which are important to improving the quality of life for island communities. Each objective is underpinned by a series of actions and commitments, of which there are 104 in total.

The plan was drafted to reflect key themes that emerged throughout the consultation. It focuses on what is fair, integrated, green and inclusive. It is a fair plan that aims to promote, deliver and enhance equality for islanders in every aspect of their lives. Its human rights approach will support greater accountability and help to ensure that rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

The plan is an integrated one that promotes joined-up services and focuses on the importance of place to island life, and the need to ensure that service delivery is cohesive and that policy making is holistic. Islanders made it clear that issues and challenges overlap and connect, so the plan seeks to build economic, social and environmental considerations into an integrated approach to policy development and service design.

It is a green plan that aims to harness and unleash the potential of having a green and blue economy. Islanders are acutely aware of not only the fragility and vulnerability of their environments and the need to adapt to climate change, but of the possibilities and opportunities for their communities to help Scotland to drive forward its ambitions on decarbonising our energy system and the wider economy, and to continue to lead the world on climate action. It is therefore entirely fitting that I am delivering this statement to members during Scotland’s climate week.

It is an inclusive plan that promotes community empowerment at local level. We have tried to understand better the desire of islanders to have decisions taken as close as possible to where the impact of those decisions will be experienced, and to reflect that throughout the plan’s commitments.

I hope that the plan reflects one other key finding from the consultation. There is no doubt that Scotland’s islands face, and will continue to face, challenges and issues that are often unique to island life. However, what also came across loud and clear was that although no two islands are the same, Scotland’s island communities and people are hugely resilient, with a willingness to adapt and innovate, and have huge core strengths and talents on which to build.

Scotland’s islands are not a problem for us to solve: they face a variety of challenges, just as any community does, but they are also a success to be celebrated, nurtured and supported so that they can build on current foundations to ensure secure and sustainable futures. In doing so, they will help to show the way for the rest of Scotland.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the attitudes of young people who live on the islands. During the consultation, we held events specifically for young people and heard their views and experiences, and we heard about their hopes and aspirations for the future. A key theme was their desire to stay, or to leave for a while but then return, in order to realise their dreams in the communities that they grew up in. They have a role to play in implementation of the plan.

That is why we committed in the programme for government to creating a new young islanders network. That network will include children of all ages, and it will help to ensure that the actions that are developed to take forward the plan take full account of the interests and priorities of young people on the islands, and connect with young islanders who live on the mainland. We will seek to develop actions that will help to make a positive impact on depopulation, support growing up on Scotland’s islands, and encourage the return of young people and adults to the islands.

I am aware that a plan, and the objectives and commitments within it, are only part of the answer. Island authorities and communities rightly want to be assured that the plan will translate into action. For the national islands plan to be successful, we need national Government, local government and other public agencies to work closely together and to share resources to ensure delivery.

Improving outcomes for our islands’ communities is not just my job, nor is it just that of my islands team. If we are to tackle issues such as fuel poverty, improve transport services and housing, and help to sustain economic development, action will be required across Government. I am pleased that work in that regard is already under way, with island impact assessments being trialled and progress being made on key matters such as ferries, in order to provide increased security of provision for communities.

Work must also be done across all public agencies to harness the widest range of opportunities to improve outcomes in their specific fields, and to help to deliver on the plan’s key themes. Work to develop an implementation strategy is already under way. It will set out clear and measurable actions for each of the strategic objectives. Some of the commitments will be achieved in the short-to-medium term, while others will require longer for delivery, and some of those might go beyond the lifespan of this version of the national plan.

We are also developing indicators so that we can carefully measure our progress in achieving the actions, with clear timescales, budgets and partners having been identified. The implementation strategy needs to be pragmatic and ambitious. That is the approach that is taken in the proposed plan. Parliament now has 40 days to consider it: I will be happy to engage with members and committees to hear their views.

During this period, we should also take some time to reflect on what Scotland is achieving through having the national islands plan. We are one of the very few countries in the world to have dedicated place-based legislation on islands. In Europe, our friends in Croatia have similar legislation, albeit that the circumstances are different, but our act and the plan are unique.

Scotland was one of the first countries to embrace the United Nations sustainable development goals; they are woven throughout the plan. To promote fairness and equality on Scotland’s islands, the plan embeds a strong human rights dimension. Through the development, launch and future implementation of the national islands plan, Scotland is showing the rest of the world, and our own island communities, that islands are important and that their voice is strong.

We should also not lose sight of our purpose. We want more young people to stay on the islands of their birth, to have fulfilling lives there and to contribute to the success of their communities. I would love to see those who have left and new islanders being provided with opportunities to make our islands their home. We want more businesses to start up and to locate on the islands, to create jobs that pay well and to contribute to Scotland’s wider economic ambitions.

We want our islands to build on their cultural and artistic heritage for their own sense of wellbeing, and to attract more people to visit and share in all that they have to offer. We also want the islands’ unique landscapes to be protected and enhanced, so that they can provide a sustainable environment for all animals and humans who live there.

Ultimately, we want our islands to thrive now and in the future, and we want the people who live there to live good lives and to feel valued as an important part of the Scotland of today and tomorrow.

At the risk of murdering it, there is a Gaelic saying, “’S e obair latha tòiseachadh.” It means “This is just the start”. The views, ideas, enthusiasm and experience of islanders have been vital in shaping the work and in bringing “The Proposed National Islands Plan” to life. I am pleased to have laid it before Parliament. I apologise to Dr Allan for my hideous pronunciation, and I hope that he forgives me.