Alistair Carmichael wants Orkney and Shetland to control their share of the Crown Estates

st Andrews flag saltire scotland Some rights reserved by Fulla TAlistair Carmichael has tabled an amendment to the Scotland Bill which would devolve control of the Crown Estates revenues to local level for Orkney and Shetland and, interestingly, the Western Isles. The Independent has the story:

Mr Carmichael said that the SNP administration is “in practice and instinct a highly centralised government” and did not want “devolution downwards”. Under his plan, the islands would have their own commissioners deciding how Crown Estate land is run.

He added that the Crown Estate owns and manages the seabed, which is of great importance to islands that rely heavily on the fishing industry, with salmon and trout farms. Mr Carmichael said these farms have to pay a percentage of their turnover to lease these areas, which is “a tax by any other name”.

This should present a challenge to Angus Brendan McNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar which includes the Outer Hebrides, because he should support the extra revenue for his local community. He won’t, of course, because the SNP likes to keep everything nice and centralised in Holyrood. Even if he violently disagreed with their policy, he would be forbidden from criticising it in public thanks to particularly draconian standing orders by which nationalist MPs have to abide.

I really can’t see the government backing Alistair’s amendment, but it’s good that he’s making the point that Crown Estate revenues should benefit local communities. That’s something Michael Moore was on a mission to sort out when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. His zeal was apparent back in 2011 when he talked to us:

I’ve wanted to make changes as there’s been a growing dissatisfaction with the way the Crown Estate operates, how it engages with Councils and other Government bodies in Scotland.  I’ve probably had more meetings with Crown Estate representatives than my last 10 predecessors to change things.

Danny as a highland MP knew in spades what the issues were around the prospect of vast renewable resources coming to the Crown Estates because of offshore wind and so on and the danger that communities would be sidelined. There’s been an unsatisfactory set of circumstances for communities affected by onshore wind, and this mustn’t be the same for offshore wind. We will see substantial sums of money available for communities around Scotland and they are very pleased with the way this will work.

The Smith Commission was pretty clear on what they wanted to see in the legislation:

  1. Responsibility for the management of the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland, and the revenue generated from these assets, will be transferred tothe Scottish Parliament. This will include the Crown Estate’s seabed, urban assets, rural estates, mineral and fishing rights, and the Scottish foreshore for whichit is responsible.

  2. Following this transfer, responsibility for the management of those assets will be further devolved to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eilean Siar or other areas who seek such responsibilities. It is recommended that the definition of economic assets in coastal waters recognises the foreshore and economic activity such as aquaculture.

This was pretty much down to Mike Moore and Tavish Scott making the weather on this as they did on most of the Smith Commission decisions. The Tories, from what I can gather, were dragging their feet at every turn. The Bill does not deliver anything like the above, talking in woolly fashion about transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament at some unspecified date in the future.

Alistair is not the only Liberal Democrat MP to have signed up to an amendment. John Pugh has backed a move to devolve abortion law. It was clear from the Smith Commission, as I wrote at the time, that there was something weird about devolution of power to decide about this. All the parties clearly agreed it was a good idea but backed off. It turns out that this was the Labour Party’s doing.  I reckoned this was a pretty poor show:

When every other health related decision is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, there is no reason why abortion should not be. I’m glad that Mike Moore held firm and refused to budge. Mind you, way back in 1997/8 when the original Scotland Act was being discussed, Jim Wallace tried to get it devolved then and Mike backed him, so there’s no great surprise there.

London Labour’s attitude to Scotland having this power, though, speaks volumes about what they think of the Scottish people, even though the evidence does not back them up. No wonder they are in such a mess up here.

There seems to be an assumption that we Scots are so socially conservative that we might roll back women’s rights to choose. In fact, should the power be devolved there might even be scope to change them by getting rid of the requirement that two doctors should sign off independently on any woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. I’m about as pro-choice as they come and I am concerned that all sorts of women’s rights are under threat from a variety of places. I don’t exactly trust a majority of Conservative MPs to keep the law as it is. I am sure that the law will be challenged at some point wherever the power lies and those of us who share my view will have to fight against it. I don’t necessarily see it as being more of a challenge to preserve the law in Scotland as it would be at Westminster, so I’m fairly relaxed about the amendment. It makes sense that the power should lie with Holyrood, but I’m not going to go dying in any ditches over it. The movers of the amendment clearly have a pro-life agenda but that doesn’t mean that their wishes would prevail.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • David McDowell 5th Jul '15 - 11:18pm

    Yes, but will Alistair vote against his own amendment and roar with delight for having voted down himself? I think we should be told.

  • Can’t understand why Carmicheal is still there or allowed to be by the party.

  • David McDowell , sorry but what do you mean? Is it an in-joke??

  • Surely a true federalist would leave it to the Scottish Parliament to decide how the CE should be handled within Scotland once it has been devolved from Westminster?

  • John Tilley 6th Jul '15 - 4:35pm

    “When every other health related decision is devolved to the Scottish Parliament…”

    It is simply not true that “every” other health related decision is devolved.

    Whatever the merits of this particular matter being devolved, the argument is not helped by exaggerating the case. There are a number of health related matters which are not devolved.

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