The leaders of Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles councils have been putting on a pretty good show at their Our Islands Our Future conference in Kirkwall these last two days, building momentum for the campaign to win more powers.
Orkney's leader Steven Heddle described it thus: "It's a demonstration of the unified commitment and vision from the three island authorities. It gives us the opportunity to present the unique distinctiveness of each of the three island groups and convey why it is entirely reasonable for the islands to ask for devolved powers and direct management of funding."
Certiainly their shared vision and inter-island solidarity has been impressive, but it is not quite 100% complete. There was one island voice raised in protest.
Robin Currie, the estimable councillor from Islay, had reason to feel uncomfortable amidst this growing ride of common purpose. If the islands authorities do win significant new powers, where exactly does that leave Argyll and Bute Council, which is responsible for more islands than any other authority in the land? Some 25 to be precise: Bute, Coll, Colonsay, Danna, Davaar, Easdale, Erraid, Gigha, Gometra, Inchtavannach, Innischonan, Iona, Islay, Jura, Kerrera, Lismore, Luing, Lunga, Mull, Oronsay, Sanda, Seil, Shuna, Tiree and Ulva (2001 census).
This compares to 14 islands in the Western Isles, 19 inhabited Orkney islands, and 16 inhabited Shetland islands. Meanwhile, Highland Council has 15 inhabited islands including Skye and Raasay, and the Small Isles of Eigg Muck, Rum and Canna.
Robin Curie stressed that the Argyll Islands faced the same profound transport problems as those over the Minch or north of the Pentland Firth. He recalled taking five days to get to the island of Colonsay from his home on Islay, which as the seagull flies is pretty close.
It is true that many of the Argyll islands have small populations and the lifeline ferry services to the likes of Iona and Jura require islanders to take two ferries and cross a major island in between - Mull and Islay respectively. Meanwhile, Coll and Tiree are certainly more remote than the Orkney mainland in terms of sailing times.
However Angus Campbell, the Western Isles leader, was not keen to extend membership of the campaign to these islands. He said the island authorities would be more than happy to work with Argyll and Bute, but not to offer full membership of the campaign.
Certainly the inclusion of the Argyll islands would be a bit untidy in presentational terms. It would weaken the integrity of the campaign when less than 20% of Argyll and Bute's population live on islands. Helensburgh (a comparatively recent addition to Argyll and Bute Council, historically speaking) is hardly a symbol of remoteness nor socio-economic fragility. So it is understandable that the island authorities want to maintain their closed shop.
Argyll and Bute does have problems, however, with remote rural areas accounting for over 96% of its land according to the Scottish Government's Urban-Rural Classification of 2009-2010.
It would be profoundly unfair if in the still unlikely event of the island authorities winning control over their seabeds, some government having wrested it from the Crown Estate, that islanders in Argyll could not look forward to the benefits of local control as well. This would be even more unfair with the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal projects heralding green energy windfalls, not to mention fishing.
So, for the time being the islands campaign will remain an exclusive club, which so far has played its cards pretty well. The council leaders saw that the independence referendum offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to enhance their role. Whichever way Scotland votes, they calculated Holyrood would get more powers, and they wanted some of that action. Who would now bet against them winning something more?
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