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The National Islands Plan: a journey to transformational change for Scotland’s Islands?


Flotta, Orkney


Hello! I am Adele, an Orcadian and in January 2022, I was selected to undertake a PhD programme through the institute for Northern Studies UHI jointly funded by LGiU and the three Island local authorities Shetland, Orkney and Nan Eilean Siar to research the development and impact of the National Islands Plan (The Plan) on Scottish Islands and island communities.

In 2008 I enrolled in the BSc Sustainable Rural Development through Orkney College UHI which allowed me to stay on the Island and gain an education. As I handed in my final dissertation I signed an employment contract with the European Marine Energy Centre working to support the development of renewable technologies in the fight against climate change. I have since worked on numerous hydrogen projects and climate change initiatives, in the private, voluntary and public sector in Orkney. Over lockdown, I juggled full-time work with childcare and completed a masters in Sustainable Rural Development via the UHI.

The Plan

My Island niche has brought a blend of experiences to develop interesting perspectives on the Plan’s efficacy. Borne of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, the Plan enshrines the rights, including the UN right to development, across all 93 of Scotland’s inhabited islands. The Plan aims to create the conditions for sustainable development and empowered Island communities and is ambitious, covering 13 diverse Strategic Outcomes. These include depopulation, poverty, energy, arts and culture with over one hundred indicators to evaluate progress into actionable benefits for communities. The Islands programme has a budget in excess of £30m for capital spend and builds on the social capital developed via the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign launched by Scotland’s three Island Councils in 2013.

The Islands

Rural areas, like the islands, often act as ‘canary’ regions in development terms, experiencing market failures and other difficulties before other regions. This includes impacts of climate change, failing energy systems, fuel poverty, breakdown of transport links and underwhelming access to broadband. Island local authority regions were the worst in a recent broadband coverage assessment of the UK. Until the Scottish Government’s 100% coverage target is reached the most remote regions will remain underserved.

Region Properties over 30Mbts (%) Properties with access to Full Fibre (%) 
Orkney 68.8 2.4
Shetland 75.30 3.9
Outer Hebrides 80 5.60

Source: ThinkBroadband, 2021.

As an islander COVID lockdowns illustrated how far we have come in mitigating issues associated remoteness as we continue to struggle with mainland Scotland transport links and the delicate balance between making a living and enjoying our lives. In August 2022, island grocers in the Outer Hebrides had to ration milk and bread as major disruption to the lifeline ferry service interrupted supply chains and left locals and visitors stranded each side. Ferry and air travel remain severely disrupted, a contested proposal to automate air traffic control provide a test ground for the Islands Impact Assessment Process and a consultation on modernising Scotland ferry fleet is now open for comment.

The Project

It is an exciting time to be researching island governance, particularly as an islander who has lived through significant improvements brought about by European funding.  There is little doubt that rural matters have climbed the political agenda and important areas of research have emerged:

  1. Will the Plan and its delivery mechanisms be enough to support sustainable development in the islands?
  2. Does the Plan adequately address the issues brought forward by the three Scottish island Local Authorities as proposed during the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign?
  3. Have Local Authorities and community groups accepted and integrated the Plan’s strategic objectives?

The three Scottish island Local Authorities collaborating to negotiate with central governments raises an interesting case for enquiries into the nature of rural governance, self-determination and ‘Islandness’.  The Plan has enormous potential to address contemporary development issues in the islands and beyond. I look forward to investigating to how fully this blueprint to decentralising policy can be realised.

Adele Lidderdale



3 thoughts on “The National Islands Plan: a journey to transformational change for Scotland’s Islands?

  1. Fabulous news!
    Thank you for sharing. I am an interested viewer of all things Orcadian and am impressed by the resourcefulness of Island communities more generally.
    I wish you every success and will follow developments with interest.

    Jane Mackay-Clift
    In Australia.

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