Islands Bill passes first stage in Scottish Parliament

Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf introduced the Islands Bill to Parliament last year.

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Progress on the new Islands Bill took a step in the right direction last week after the first stage debate discussing a national islands plan took place at Holyrood.

The Islands Bill seeks to ensure that all public body and government policy decisions must ‘have due regard’ to island communities when making decisions and makes it a statutory duty for the Scottish Government to produce a National Islands Plan on a regular basis.

The Bill which is aimed at tackling the issues that island communities face – such as transportation, access to medical facilities, cost of living and delivery charges among others – was proposed to alleviate the burden and disharmonious treatment of islanders.

Speaking at the debate in Holyrood, Mr Jamie Greene MSP – whose West Region includes Arran and Cumbrae – spoke of the importance in recognising the individuality of each island and stressed that a one size fits all approach will not be sufficient when government ministers bring forward their national islands plan.

He pledged to continue to work constructively with the Scottish Government in helping to develop the bill over the coming months and has also set up a video conference link between the Scottish Parliament and community leaders on Arran as part of the official evidence gathering session of the parliament’s scrutiny of the new Bill.

Jamie Greene MSP said: ‘Our islands face a unique set of challenges, whether it’s the cost of living or transport to and from the island, that we must work to mitigate. I often receive requests for help from Arran residents who cannot get a hospital appointment because of issues of ferries and timing for instance, so there is certainly progress that we can make on the current situation. Equally the issue of access to school transport has a hot topic for those on Cumbrae. Island residents accept that being on an island comes with its own issues but also they are income and council tax payers too and deserve an honest assessment of government decisions which may negatively affect their communities.

‘Our 92 islands might only make up two per cent of the population but they are ingrained into our identity. There is still work to do but I believe that if we get this right, islands such as Arran and Cumbrae could benefit enormously, so I look forward to working with the Scottish Government into developing this into a bill fit for modern Scotland. It is one of the finest examples of not letting party politics get in the way of good legislation – this Bill still has some way to go but I will ensure that it is strengthened and is fit for purpose.’

The Bill was introduced by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, during June 2017.  Stage one – which took place on  Thursday February 8, is the first step in getting a law passed. Stage two includes amending the bill while stage three involves the final considerations before the bill is passed and is put into effect. Once the bill receives Royal Assent it becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.