24 November 2016

S5M-02686 Island Communities (Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S5M-02686, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on supporting and strengthening Scotland’s island communities.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I rise as a member of the only political party to be represented in the Parliament that owns its own island. That island is Eilean Mòr MhicCharmaig, which is off the coast of Argyll. We were gifted it 30 or 40 years ago, I think. Over many years, members of the party have gone there and started to rebuild the one building that is on it. The island does not count for very much—it is not populated or economically valuable.

I propose that, economically, our islands are the most valuable part of Scotland. I know that that might seem a slightly challenging and interesting thing to say. We think of the islands as soaking up our resources and being subsidised by us but, if we think about them in a different way, the contrary view is true, and the most valuable island of all—uninhabited as it is—is Rockall. Rockall is so valuable because its existence as part of our territory is responsible for our having about a quarter of our offshore economic area. With other islands, it gives us the opportunity to harvest the seas, including the fish, and to access oil.

Andy Wightman: Does Mr Stevenson claim that Scotland should have sovereignty over Rockall? It is a disputed territory, and it was the subject of the last and most recent act of colonialism by the British Government.

Stewart Stevenson: If I recall correctly, Rockall came into the UK in 1955—I will be corrected if necessary. I think that, de facto, it is accepted that it creates that position.

I make the general point that every part of Scotland makes a unique contribution, and we should not forget that the islands make their own unique contributions.

The minister referred to a visit to the sun-kissed island of Raasay. I must say that my greatest memory from my visit there, which was thoroughly enjoyable, is of the midges. The population of Raasay remember with some horror Dr Green, who owned the island and kept it and the economy in thrall. That situation was repeated elsewhere—for example, when Malcolm Potier owned Gigha, the island could not make progress.

Islands have been one of the areas where community buyouts have transformed prospects. South Uist is an example; the island of Gigha is another.

For my part—I have just done some quick arithmetic—I appear to have been to 20 populated islands, which is far from the whole panoply of our islands. My father was born and brought up on Eilean na Muc, which is of course not really an island—in English, we know it as the Black Isle. Indeed, not all things that are called islands are islands; Harris and Lewis are examples of that. Many characteristics of bits of the mainland are also characteristics of islands.

I want to talk a wee bit about transport, because I have hobby-horses that I want to get off my chest, particularly on aviation. Many of our islands are served by small aircraft that use aviation gas, or avgas as it is called in the trade. Avgas is VAT-able, so the island services in the Orkneys and the Shetlands, and those out of Oban to the islands, have to pay VAT on their fuel. That is inherently unfair, because the big aircraft do not pay VAT on aircraft fuel. We should look at that issue.

Similarly, we have restrictions on the aircraft that can serve our islands, which makes it more difficult to expand air services. In Norway, single-engine aircraft can operate full services in instrument conditions and service very small communities, but that is not permitted in the UK, even though the American aviation authority shows that the safety records of single-engine aircraft under a maximum take-off weight of 4,700kg are better than the safety records of multi-engine aircraft in that category.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): I understood that the Civil Aviation Authority was changing the regulations for single-piloted planes, which would benefit the Highlands and Islands.

Stewart Stevenson: The CAA already applies an exemption for single-piloted planes in Orkney and Shetland. That is helpful, but single-engine planes would transform the prospects of some places that are not on the network.

I am conscious of your strictures, Presiding Officer, but let me take a wee bit of an issue with Donald Cameron. On the issue of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, he sees gloom, but I see opportunity. I am the only constituency member to have both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise operating in my constituency. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon; I have been corrected—they both serve Mr Gibson’s constituency, too.

The people who are in the Scottish Enterprise bit want to be in the HIE bit. If we can transfer some of HIE’s culture and practice to Scottish Enterprise, we will end up in a much better place than we have been in. I do not think that it is gloom and doom. I will campaign for the board meetings and the headquarters to be in Inverness and not Glasgow or Edinburgh.


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