As NFU Scotland submits its submission to the consultation on the ‘National Islands Plan’, its crofting policy manager and Argyll and the Islands regional manager, Lucy Sumsion, discusses her findings from island members’ input to her.

"The Scottish Government have said that their aspiration for the new National Islands Plan (NIP) is ‘for it to be a document that builds on what works well on Scottish islands, and addresses the challenges faced by islands and their communities’. It is imperative, therefore, that the Government do listen to what islanders themselves say is needed.

With over 1000 union members living and working on Scotland’s islands it is important also that NFU Scotland listen to their concerns. Our submission to the consultation on the ‘National Islands Plan’ and, snappily titled, ‘Island Communities Impact Assessments’ draws directly on the responses that we received from our island members.

Agricultural activity plays a vital role in the rural economy on many, if not all, of our islands, with farmers and crofters being the backbone of many island communities. We all know that active farming and crofting not only produces food but also supports many other key industries such as tourism and food and drink sector. It is vital therefore in setting out a ‘National Islands Plan’ that agriculture is considered at the forefront.

Our response set out that the main objective should be to make the islands economically and socially viable places to live and work for islanders. This should include shaping an environment that allows farming and crofting to prosper, and underpin a vibrant wider economy, that enjoys the same access to services as the remainder of Scotland.

A common issue for all the islands was the ferry service – it is a no brainer that a good ferry service is vital to the prosperity of our island communities. We only need to look at some of the Scandinavian countries, such as Finland and Norway, where significant investment has been made in connecting their islands either through causeways and tunnels or through a nationally funded, free ferry service.

Scottish Government and Transport Scotland urgently need to accelerate the much needed long-term investment in the vessel and port infrastructure, as identified in the Scottish Ferry Services: Ferries Plan (2013 – 2022). There are significant concerns that the Ferries Plan is failing to deliver the aspirations of the islands communities that it should serve and urgently needs to be reviewed.

There are significant challenges to living on an island, not least the vagaries of the Scottish weather. More frequent, and severe storm events, coupled with the ageing ferry fleet, mean that just getting on and off the islands can often be challenging; particularly when it involves transporting livestock. As with much of rural Scotland, housing provision and investment in the local infrastructure were other key issues that were identified.

What was clear from the responses that we received is that objectives for the new NIP need to be established from the ground up, and those developing policies in relation to these need to have a full understanding of what is going to be good for any particular island.

A ‘one size fits all’ approach will not work for the islands – they are all different and unique in their own way. Removing the barriers to sustainable development on the islands is essential to enable the island communities to flourish."

(This blog was originally published on