The Scottish Government has said it is willing to bring to Parliament a Bill for an Islands Act, granting partial self-government to three archipelagos in northern Scotland: Orkney, Shetland and Outer Hebrides. Minister for Local Government and Planning Derek Mackay announced this last week after a meeting with representatives of the islands. But Mackay added that the best way to do it would be in the framework of an independent Scotland.
The Scottish executive holds regular meetings with the islands' political leaders after the three island councils demanded greater autonomy in mid-2013. The councils are asking for powers over natural resources and a particular political status. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was quick to respond that his government was in favor of increasing the islands' autonomy, and he added that a ministerial working group to deal with those requests would be created.
It is within this working group that Maclay said last week that the "best prospect of implementing the outcome of the groups discussion is with the full powers of independence, and in that event we propose to bring forward a bill for an Islands Act".
What the Scottish Government is trying to do is to move the three councils to positions that are more favorable to independence. Pro-independence SNP usually achieves modest results in national elections in Shetland and Orkney, which are strongholds of the pro-Union Liberal Democrats.
Island leaders say they want more autonomy whatever the outcome of the referendum is.
"No" leads "yes" by nine points, according to most recent poll
The north islands' policy is yet another example on how the battle for votes is fought ten months ahead of the referendum on Scottish independence. According to the latest Panelbase poll released yesterday by The Sunday Times, support for "yes" is at 38%, while "no" stands at 47%. There are still 15% of voters who do not know what to choose.
The survey was welcomed by the official "yes" campaign Yes Scotland, which stressed that only a five point swing is needed for the pro-independence option to take the lead. But in fact, "yes"/"no" balance is quite the same since March, the difference between both options having been since then between eight and ten percentage points, according to the Panelbase series released by several media.