Argyll and Bute MSP, Michael Russell has welcomed announcements from the Scottish Government including an increase in support for air services made during the “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities” debate this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament.
As the constituency MSP who represents most inhabited islands – the islands of Argyll – he noted that those Islands have not been directly represented in discussions that the Minister has had with the Island authorities. Although this was not the Ministers fault Mr Russell explained: “the refusal of the Islands Councils to include the Argyll islands has been the problem and I do hope that even at this late stage the Island Authorities will re-consider this exclusive attitude which lacks both solidarity and generosity.” He went on to add “I hope the Minister will today not only renew the commitment to ensure that Argyll islands are treated the same way in terms of benefiting from positive outcomes from the Islands Bill but also endeavour to bring them in to formal discussions, starting with the new strategic ferries group”.
Mr Russell then outlined the importance of “connectivity – digital and physical” which he said is “key for the future of the islands.”
“Mobile phone services remain very poor as a result of lack of investment from the providers” he added and whilst “the rollout of high speed broadband is making progress there is still too much confusion about what will be delivered and when”.
He praised the SNP Government for completing the implementation of RET which will take place later this month , recalling that he and others had started arguing for it in the late 1970s, but he also welcomed what he called the “next step – a review of freight charges to introduce a better structure that enables growth is essential”. He also strongly criticised Loganair for disruptions to its island services and asked the Minister to ensure that the company honoured its commitments to islands and especially to Islay.
The consultation on the Future Islands Bill announced by Islands Minister Derek MacKay will run until 23rd December and Mr Russell has encouraged his constituents to make their own representations.
“Islands do need a new vision” he concluded “supported by Government but implemented locally. A vision in which there is a greater degree of island autonomy, where the community is in control of its own destiny and where local organisations and third sector can build capacity and confidence.”