My name is Vic Thomas and I have been an active Social & Environmental Justice campaigner for over 30 years here in Shetland, I see it as my role to challenge and raise awareness of poorly constructed legislation and in particular, proposed new regulations or legislation that will present barriers to island communities.
Both the Westminster & Holyrood Governments regularly fail my test of fairness in two areas.
Firstly a lot of new legislation gets drawn up on a one-size-fits-all mindset that may be appropriate for cities & towns but can often cause problems and additional costs to island, remote & rural communities. The second is how often consultation exercises seem designed more for the deliverer of the exercise, than the intended target audience.
Here is good example of this :-
In supporting the SNP Budget recently the Scottish Green Party opened the back door to the proposed Tourist Bedroom Tax that is being sought by the SNP & a number of Local Authorities so they can raise some additional income (from tourists) to tidy up their dirty & smelly streets.
However despite the SNP making aspirational mutterings about Island proofing any new Scottish Legislation, in their Islands (Scotland) Act. They totally fail to recognise how many visits Islanders have to make to mainland towns & cities for medical appointments, meetings, driving tests, car services, training courses and many other necessary reasons due to these things not being available on our respective islands.
I have had good feedback from all MSP’s representing the islands including the Highlands & Islands list MSP’s who all agree. When I raise this issue, without exception everyone just hasn’t seen this or thought out the consequences to folk travelling for appointments , etc. As soon as they are aware the issue is picked up.
For the ones I have been in contact with, it’s not so much the £1- £3 per person per night tax but more to do with who is paying it. If it’s a tourist tax then it shouldn’t even be considered to apply to folk going about business they cannot attend to on their island.
It’s also been flagged up as totally contradictory to any basic notion of Island Proofing and whilst Island Proofing as a Scottish Government policy doesn’t yet exist other than in a consultative process, it nevertheless should be, just to demonstrate the governments commitment to the principle.
So in a way the Tourist Bedroom Tax presents itself as a bit of a test of the Scottish Governments ethics on island proofing.
The other thing as a result of this not being picked up by the general islands community, is when (not if) it goes through and every Scottish Local Authority strapped for cash adopts it, mayhem will erupt as folk checking into a B&B or hotel for a meeting, hospital appointment etc get charged a Tourist Bedroom Tax.
Too late to influence the debate or the consultation and harder to rectify once introduced. For the Scottish Government there are two roads on this, one good and one bad. The good one is to look at it properly to make it island proof i.e. (non tourist tax exemption) or the bad one, to introduce it without island proofing it and risk a islands outcry and an example of legislation that ignores island proofing.
Pretty simple choice in my books if you want to avoid bad PR and an avoidable outcry from the most economically & socially challenged parts of Scotland.