“The last thing the Northern Isles want is to be ruled by Glasgow trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers…”

At the Guardian’s Scotland Blog, Severin Carrell notes the independently-minded Shetland and Orkney Lib Dem MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur’s attempt to play Alex Salmond at his own game – with a joint, “at best provocative and, in constitutional terms, at least playful”, submission to the UK government’s consultation on the independence referendum.  Short BBC video report here.  From the Guardian’s Scotland Blog

Scott and McArthur have reinvigorated a long-standing notion that the former Viking earldoms of Shetland and Orkney have their own, quite distinct views on self-determination and identity.

In fact, many islanders don’t really regard themselves as Scots at all and are at times openly hostile to Edinburgh rule, which they regard as remote and uncaring about their particular needs, interests and culture.

Instead, the pair suggest, if the Scottish National party were to win independence in the autumn 2014 referendum the northern isles could refuse to leave the UK, or demand a much greater local take of Scottish oil revenues or even declare independence themselves.

So Scott and McArthur are exhorting their constituents to grasp the opportunity to seize back influence as part of that process, from taking greater local control over the seabed, to scrapping redundant oil and gas rigs, to getting a fatter slice of future oil and marine energy incomes.

And from the accompanying Shetland Times op-ed

The MSPs conclude with three options which the Northern Isles could seek:

  1. To retain their current constitutional position within the UK and as part of Scotland but negotiate additional responsibility over key public sector areas.
  2. Enhanced powers or independence from Scotland if Scotland were to vote for independence but the Northern isles voted no. The SNP’s policy at successive elections conceded the Northern Isles’ right to their own self-determination.
  3. Enhanced constitutional and tax status within the UK. The Faroes provide one model with links to Denmark. Closer to home the Isle of Man and Channel Islands offer various models of island communities that constitute themselves in different ways from the rest of the UK.

And they conclude: “Shetland and Orkney may never have a stronger opportunity to negotiate a future for the islands which can benefit the economy, culture and identity in the wider world for the advantage of future generations of Islanders. There are obvious risks for the Northern Isles from ignoring this opportunity, not least as it will limit our ability to argue against the drift of public policy delivery to the central belt and the consequential loss of local accountability.

“Orkney and Shetland should establish their objectives as island communities in this period of constitutional upheaval and use their inherent advantages as leverage with both the UK and Scottish governments.”

Let’s hope Mr Scott’s and Mr McArthur’s stated aim of getting the debate going here in the isles works; it’s too important to be left to the fantasists in some quarters of the national media.

The Guardian’s Severin Carrell has a great quote from Shetland Lib Dem MSPs Tavish Scott

I’m not in any way prejudging the views of our constituents. It’s for us islanders to decide what we want, and how best use the current bun fight between Westminster and Holyrood to further our islands’ needs.

If we don’t we will be run over by the steamroller of either the UK government or Edinburgh government. When devolution happened in 1999, I thought it would see more powers devolved within Scotland, but has it hell. We’ve seen enormous centralisation of power in Edinburgh.

They’re not apologising for what the Vikings did 1,000 years ago either!

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • dwatch

    Alex Salmond must be jumping for joy.

  • sonofstrongbow

    I have a little place on Shetland that I get to all too infrequently. Lovely place to spend time. There I’ve even been known to use a few words of Norn during up helly aa.

    It’s true that many islanders must certainly don’t think of themselves as Scots and some have a bit of an attitude about folks in Scotland.

    What is it about northerners and their southern neighbours?

  • Drumlins Rock

    What about the Western Isles? do they feel the same?

  • Old Mortality

    DR
    What about the Western Isles? do they feel the same?

    I doubt it. They don’t have the same Scandinavian backbone and they have an elevated status in Scotland as keepers of the Gaelic flame. A bit like the Irish Gaeltacht but in a much more robust state.

  • Turgon

    DR,
    Cannot speak with authority but I spent a summer there when I was a student and they seemed to have a very similar position. They were particularly mistrustful of the “super-Scots” SNP types who went up there.

    The main interests seemed to be Presbyterianism of various sorts and Scots Gaelic. The islands often do vote SNP but there did seem a marked trend of mistrust of both London and Edinburgh.

  • Tearlach

    Ah I wondered when the Unionists would role out the old “the Northern Isles will scupper it all for Alex” argument. Let’s just demolish some of their points.

    The first – and perhaps most trivial – is that Tavish is a busted flush. Humiliated ex leader of a decimated Lib Dem party, who considered the Highlands and Islands their home land. A party now reduced to a rump of the Northern Isles, and if you look at at May 2011, actually quite lucky to get back in. The opposition to Tavish was split between the SNP and a local anti-wind farm candidate, otherwise he might have been on a very sticky wicket, and indeed the SNP won the regional list vote in both Orkney and Shetland by a mile. Orkney and Shetland both voted yes in the 97 devolution referendum BTW.

    There is no organised “Shetland and Orkney movement” political party around in 2012. Apart from Sandy Clunas – stepping down as Shetland convenor in May – no Northern Isles politician I am aware off has said that Shetland and Orkney should go for an enhanced status within Scotland, the current UK, or any former UK (FUK). The last time that a Shetland Movement existed, and fielded candidates was the 70’s – and the SNP carefully never stood a candidate against them, as part of an agreed deal.

    Orkney and Shetland are as part of Scotland as Dumfries and Arran, Caithness and the Western Isles. They are subject to Scottish Law and Education, they worship in Scottish Presbyterian Churches like most of Scotland outwith the West Central belt, and their trade and commence is overwhelmingly with Scotland.

    Maritime law quite clearly shows that if Orkney and Shetland were to decide to sat with the UK after independence, they would be seen as in a similar situation to the Isle of Mann in British water, Isle de France in Canadian waters, and the Channel islands in French waters, ie able to claim out to 12 miles. All the Northern North sea Oil and Gas deposits sit outwith the 12 mile limit of Orkney and Shetland, so makes them sit with the 200 mile limit of a independent Scotland.

    So – as someone who was born in Scotland but brought up in Shetland – and who lives back in Scotland but visits Shetland on a regular basis through his day job (and who knows Tavish’s Mum and Dad, but that’s most of Shetland) guys get real. The idea that a few Lib dems who have been comprehensively thumped in the past 24 months are leading any agenda on the constitutional future of Scotland is pure fantasy.

  • Angus McLellan

    These experts on Orkney and Shetland, they never seem to know much. They know that a skint Danish king pawned them to James III, but apart from that not a clue. So if the Earldom of Orkney was foreign to Scotland before then, how come Earl Magnús Jónsson had his arm twisted to sign up to the Declaration of Arbroath? And how come the next Earl after him had the resoundingly Scandinavian name Maol Íosa?

    Tearlach is right, although the oil is only the start of the bad news. Worrying enough it being 210 miles by air to Inverness and the nearest major hospital to Lerwick – whatever you might have read, Bergen is not the closest city – worse if it’s 360 miles away in Newcastle. And would Westminster be up for subsidising the ferries and the inter-island flights anyway? And if you’re worried about having just 2 MSPs from 129, how can it be better to have 1 of 551?

    The best way to guarantee a massive yes vote in Orkney and Shetland is to tell people they’ll be stuck in the rUK if they vote no and the rest of Scotland votes yes.

  • Mick Fealty

    Welcome to Slugger guys.

    I read this as a backs to the wall defence, though not necessarily a stupid one for Tavish, unless of course it is read locally as just nuts rather than playful.

    In 1997 Dorset was the only county in England not to go blue in any of its Westminster constituencies. The losses came through an election cycle later.

    But a combination of local interest defence (which is as far as this goes, I would think) and incumbency could just work.

  • DougtheDug

    If you actually read Tavish Scott’s and Liam McArthur’s submission they don’t actually say that Shetland should remain as part of the UK if Scotland gains independence. That appears to be something of a media invention.

    This is what the conclusion to their submission actually says about Shetland and Orkney’s options:

    1. To retain their current constitutional position within the UK and as part of Scotland but negotiate additional responsibility over key public sector areas.

    2. Enhanced powers or independence from Scotland if Scotland were to vote for independence but the Northern isles voted no. The SNP’s policy at successive elections conceded the Northern Isles’ right to their own self-determination.

    3. Enhanced constitutional and tax status within the UK. The Faroes provide one model with links to Denmark. Closer to home the Isle of Man and Channel Islands offer various models of island communities that constitute themselves in different ways from the rest of the UK.

    They advocate Shetland and Orkney independence only if Scotland becomes independent.

    It can be simply summed up by:
    Shetland and Orkney independence from an independent Scotland good.

    Shetland and Orkney independence from the UK bad.

    If you look back over the years and try and find Tavish Scott advocating independence for the Northern Isles before the SNP had the power to call an independence referendum then you’ll find nothing.

    This paper by Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur is an example of the Lib-Dems at their sleekit worst.

  • Angus McLellan

    Doug, no doubt the lengthy section on devolution of powers to Shetland and Orkney that Tavish meant to have in Calman was lost at the printers. These things do happen.

    It is hypocrisy from a man and a party with a long history of form on that count, but it can serve as useful a reminder: centralisation for the sake of it is a Bad Thing whether it is London or Edinburgh is doing the centralising. Alex Salmond’s speech at the SNP conference last year told us that Billy Wolfe had taught him that the SNP stood for “independence for Scotland and home rule for Bo’ness”. It would surely be reasonable to treat Shetland, Orkney, Na h-Eileanan Siar and other places much the same as Bo’ness.

  • DougtheDug

    Angus:

    This is what it said in the SNP’s 2011 Manifesto so decentralisation seems to have been recognised as a good thing within the party.

    We will also work to build a culture of independence, a culture of responsibility and confidence across our nation. In our approach to government this will see more power devolved to local communities and greater involvement for people in the decisions that most effect the place they live. This theme of empowerment for our communities runs like a thread through our policy platform.

    Back to Tavish.

    Why is he advocating that Shetland and Orkney get devolved powers or independence only if they vote no in the referendum and why does he think these options are off the table if they vote yes?

    Why does Shetland and Orkney voting no and preferring to be British rather than Scottish mean they want to be independent?

    If Shetland and Orkney vote yes to Scottish independence but Scotland overall votes no isn’t that a more powerful call for an independent Shetland and Orkney than a no vote when the rest of Scotland votes yes?

    Does he advocate that all regions of Scotland who vote no when Scotland overall votes yes in an independence referendum should consider independence?

    I’d love to get some answers out of him but we won’t.

  • Angus McLellan

    Tavish has a great opportunity to do some good today, if he’s minded to.

    Today’s the day that the short-term contracts for Emergency Towing Vessels at Lerwick and Stornoway ended. Bad news for Scotland, and indeed for Ireland too. And especially for Shetland, Orkney & Na h-Eileanan Siar. A really stupid way to save 6 million pounds.

    But STV is reporting that just hours after the tug was finally withdrawn from Stornoway a Dutch coaster – fortunately with a cargo of wood and steel aboard rather than anything worse – ran aground off North Uist. Will Messers Scott, Carmichael and MacArthur be saying something about this?

  • HeinzGuderian

    According to a YouGov/Sun report published in May 2011, back in April 2008 around 34 per cent of Scots supported independence, with 51 per cent opposed and 15 per cent undecided.
    Almost a year later the same polling company found 33 per cent would vote yes for Scottish independence, 53 per cent would vote no, 4 per cent would not vote, and 10 per cent did not know.
    The 2011 report found support had declined further, with 29 per cent backing independence, 58 per cent opposed to it, and 13 per cent did not know.

    In Scotland 29% of people support Independence, 58% of people were opposed (this survey asked a generic support or oppose independence question, but the result was almost identical to when we asked questions on how people would vote in a referendum on independence for Scotsman prior to the election).

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/3570

    I realise the fascination for some of the endless speculation and ‘what if’………but it really is becoming mind numbingly boring.
    Akin,if you will allow,to the never ending ‘ui,just around the corner debate’.|
    A hardy perennial,wheeled out every so often,like a merry go round of never ending boredom.

    We al need to look forward to something. I fully understand this………

    Augusta National,ThursdayApril 5th to Sunday April 8th.

    Enjoy 😉

  • PaddyReilly

    In the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum, 67.9% of the electorate rejected the proposed Alternative Vote replacement for the existing First Past the Post system. There was slightly more enthusiasm for AV in the Celtic fringes (where there are generally more parties) but even there rejection of AV swept the board.

    Yet the YouGov/Sun polls did not predict this at all, and half of them thought AV would be carried:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_Alternative_Vote_referendum,_2011

    Overall the polls were no more accurate predictors than tossing a coin would be. Obviously this means you should never pay attention to opinion polls. Some may have been nobbled, others made up by underpaid pollsters. With 67.9% of the electorate opposed to AV, more than two punters out of three, opinion pollsters could not help but to pick this up, if opinion polls have any worth. They did not. That is why we have elections and referendums. We must wait to see what the electorate say.

  • Angus McLellan

    HeinzGuderian, you should make the most of being bored because it could be worse. And it probably will be as the day gets closer.

    PaddyReilly addressed the polls, but it’s much simpler really. If Tavish Scott had been even half as sure as you are that the result is a dead cert No then he could have had whatever he wanted for Shetland and Orkney – or as much of it as it is within the power of any First Minister to give – if only he’d delivered Lib Dem support for the referendum bill in 2009-2010. But he didn’t. So just what is it that he knows and you don’t?

  • John Anderson

    Spot on Angus. Tavish Scott had ample opportunity to end this debate with support for a referendum bill in the last mandate. In addition, see how quickly Wendy Alexander was reprimanded by Gordon Brown for daring to suggest support for a referendum. If this debate was such a forgone conclusion, why did they not take this massive opportunity to end the debate for a generation?

  • DougtheDug

    Funny isn’t it?

    There’s never been a peep from the Lib-Dems about Shetland and Orkney becoming independent from the UK but now with the independence referendum close they’ve turned into the ShNP, Shetland National Party.

    On the one hand they argue that Scotland and England are better off in a Union because they say we’re so closely linked culturally, economically and socially with economies of scale and so on but as soon as an independent Scotland becomes a possibility then they’re all for splitting Scotland up into smaller units because they’ll be better off independent.

    Sleekit is the perfect word for the Lib-Dems.

  • Mick Fealty

    They are going to be pretty sleekit to actually survive… I’m hearing some private polling is currently telling them that they will come back with no seats (like, anywhere in GB) next Westminster time round…

    I really don’t believe this is in least bit a serious constitutional position… It’s a survival strategy which employs the natural distrust by the periphery of the centre… in this case the central belt…

  • Pete Baker

    “I really don’t believe this is in least bit a serious constitutional position…”

    That’s not really the point, Mick.

    “It’s a survival strategy which employs the natural distrust by the periphery of the centre… in this case the central belt…”

    More than that, it is in many ways a natural progression from the SNP’s own argument for independence.

    Others may not like who it is that is deploying that argument but, again, that’s irrelevant.

  • DougtheDug

    Pete Baker:

    …it is in many ways a natural progression from the SNP’s own argument for independence.

    It in many ways is not. The SNP’s argument for independence is based on the status of Scotland as a nation and the large number of Scots who want independence and who vote for the SNP in order to obtain it.

    As has been pointed out above, there are no parties fighting in Shetland or Orkney on a platform of independence for these island groups. Neither for an independent Orkney nor for an independent Shetland and certainly not for a joint Northern Isles nation. Neither island group has ever been a nation.

    The Lib-Dems don’t believe in the principle of self-determination because they’ve fought tooth and nail over the last five years to try and stop the question of independence being asked in a referendum in Scotland. They’re entitled to campaign against it but instead they don’t want the question asked because they don’t believe in the principle behind it.

    In the case of Orkney and Shetland they’re using them in an attempt to derail the move towards independence and self determination and to try and ensure that any future independent Scotland loses a large chunk of its natural resources in a bitter wrecking strategy if it gains independence.

    They’ve had no interest in Orkney, Shetland or both becoming independent in the past and their interest in the independence of Shetland or Orkney is not based on any support for the principle of self-determination but to try and impoverish a future Scotland.

    The SNP believe in the principle of self-determination but the Lib-Dems don’t.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Dougthedug; “In the case of Orkney and Shetland they’re using them in an attempt to derail the move towards independence and self determination and to try and ensure that any future independent Scotland loses a large chunk of its natural resources in a bitter wrecking strategy if it gains independence.”

    Indeed, where have we seen the UK Unionist cabal use that tactic before…