‘Historic’ islands bill published
The Scottish government has introduced what it has described as a "historic bill" to create a sustainable future for Scotland’s islands.
The proposed legislation aims to offer greater powers to island local authorities, including the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.
The bill includes giving island councils powers over activities on and around their coastlines.
Orkney Islands Council and Highland Council have welcomed the bill.
Orkney along with Western Isles Council – Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – and Shetland Islands Council have been campaigning for several years for greater powers.
The local authorities ramped up their Our Islands Our Future campaign in the run up to and after 2014’s Scottish independence referendum.
The introduction of the bill marks the first stage in its progress through parliament.
Stage two would involve proposing and voting on any amendments before a third and final consideration stage.
Islands Minister Humza Yousaf said: "This government is committed to promoting islands’ voices, to harnessing islands’ resources and enhancing their well-being.
"The measures in this bill underpin this ambition.
"In particular, the provision to ‘island-proof’ decision-making across the public sector will ensure the interests of islanders are reflected in future legislation and policy from the very outset."
What is proposed in the bill?
Creation of a National Islands Plan
Statutory protection for the Western Isles’ Na h-Eileanan an Iar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary
Greater flexibility around councillor representation within island communities
Extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licensing. This involves the potential extension of the provisions of the Orkney and Zetland County Council Acts of 1974, to enable Scottish minsters to establish a scheme requiring that activities up to 12 nautical miles from an island are licensed by the appropriate local authority
Mr Yousaf added: "The National Islands Plan will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by the Our Islands Our Future campaign and the work of the Islands Strategic Group.
"This is the first ever bill for Scotland’s islands, marking an historic milestone for our island communities.
"I am proud and privileged as islands minister to be guiding the bill through Scotland’s Parliament."
James Stockan, the leader of Orkney Islands Council, welcomed the publication of the bill, and applauded the efforts of the Our Island Our Future campaign.
He said: "But our work is not complete.
"We will be working tirelessly with Scottish government to ensure that there is an objective standard by which decisions over whether to conduct an Islands Communities Assessment are made and also how the legislation will be interpreted.
"The guidance to be issued by Scottish government will be central in determining how this will work in practice.
"We hope to have a meaningful role in the development of this guidance and will be working closely with the Minister for Transport and Islands Humza Yousaf through the Islands Strategic Group to achieve this."
Margaret Davidson, leader of Highland Council, said the introduction of the bill recognised "the importance of island communities" and the "valued contribution they make".
Highland Council has responsibility for public services on several islands, including the Isle of Skye.
Ms Davidson made her comment on the bill while on a visit to Eigg, where islanders are preparing to mark 20 years since a community buyout of the isle.
The council leader said: "I am particularly pleased that the Scottish government is seeking to make provision for the requirement to island-proof future legislation and policies.
"This is an important first step but it should not stop there. We also need rural proofing of government policies as many of our rural communities face the same issues that our islands face."
Roddie MacKay, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said of the bill: "In practical terms, this will benefit our islands as we continue our case for flexibility and empowerment to develop our economies and support our communities and rich cultures.
"It is a significant step forward against depopulation, one of the greatest threats to our Island way of life."