Small is Powerful
Åland Prime Minister, Ms Camilla Gunnell
Sponsored by Mike Mackenzie MSP
Scottish Parliament 6pm November 25th 2014
How does home rule in the tiny Åland Islands work? Almost seven thousand islands (most uninhabited) lie midway between Sweden and Finland in the Baltic Sea. Most of the 28 thousand Ålanders speak Swedish, but their territory is part of Finland. In fact, Åland is the only Finnish province with significant legislative powers granted through the Autonomy Act of 1921. The island group has its own regional assembly and executive with powers over education, health, culture, industry and policing (though not taxation) and elects a single representative to the Parliament in Helsinki. No Finnish parties compete on the islands and most Åland youngsters go to university in Sweden -- closer than the Finnish capital Helsinki. Åland has been demilitarised since 1921, islanders are exempt from compulsory military service, a Peace Institute explores how the Åland Example might apply to other territorial disputes across the world and the islanders are currently revising the Autonomy Act -- their written Constitution – for the fourth time. Åland received a special exemption from EU tax regulations when Finland joined in 1994. Tourism and shipping created prosperity on the islands as a result of their “mini-Jersey” status and long history of shipbuilding. Local rights are fiercely protected -- incomers can only buy the most coveted coastal land after 5 years residency. Ferries have a quota of spaces for local people, cyclists go free and rules require tourists to break journeys overnight as they travel through the island chain. Is this unhealthy protectionism or the best way to protect fragile island societies from depopulation?
Is little Åland showing Scotland how to use non taxation powers creatively – or is there really no comparison because of the islanders special EU status? Above all -- are these the kind of powers envisaged by “Our Islands Our Future” campaigners for Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles – or several steps too far?
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