Councillors in the Shetland Islands have voted overwhelmingly to pursue ways of gaining independence from Scotland, giving Indy Ref-backing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the dilemma of how to keep her country together while fighting to split the UK apart.
Islanders want to investigate the possibility of being governed as a Crown Dependency, such as Jersey, rather than setting themselves up as an independent nation.
But that would still mean they would keep the revenues from oil in their waters – dealing a blow to the finances of a would-be independent Scotland.
In a debate lasting more than an hour, members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government.
Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’.
Shetland Islands Council has voted overwhelmingly to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent from Scotland
The motion, signed by council leader Steven Coutts and convener Malcolm Bell, said: ‘We are concerned that this ongoing situation is seriously threatening the prosperity and even basic sustainability of Shetland as a community.’
Any move for Shetland to become self-determining would need to be supported by an island-wide referendum across the 23,000-strong population, councillors stressed.
Mr Coutts suggested devolution has not benefited Shetland – famous for its Up Helly Aa fire festivals, in which Viking ships are burned – and said the Scottish parliament feels ‘remote’ to islanders.
He claimed the levels of funding for ferries ‘negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland’, although the Government said it has provided more than £15million for ferry services over the past three years.
The Shetland West councillor referenced the 2013 Lerwick declaration by former First Minister Alex Salmond, when he announced plans to decentralise power to the islands.
Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’. Pictured: Attendees at Shetland’s Up Helly Aa fire festival
Council leader Steven Coutts claimed the levels of funding for ferries ‘negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland’. Pictured: Town of Scalloway and its harbour in the Shetland Islands
Quoting Mr Salmond’s statement ‘we believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about our future’, Mr Coutts said: ‘Replace Scotland with Shetland that’s the motion here today, and I encourage you to support it.’
Ahead of discussions with the UK and Scottish Governments, Mr Coutts said: ‘I hope they recognise the challenges of living in Shetland, like the high cost of living, but also the incredible opportunities political and financial self-determination could bring.’
Responding to the vote, Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse said Shetland had not submitted any request for further powers under new regulations introduced last year.
He said: ‘It is the responsibility of local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities.’
The Shetland West councillor referenced the 2013 Lerwick declaration by former First Minister Alex Salmond, when he announced plans to decentralise power to the islands. Pictured: Incumbent First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Any move for Shetland to become self-determining would need to be supported by an island-wide referendum, councillors stressed
The council is not seeking to form a separate country but is instead hoping to become a self-governing Crown dependency similar to that of the Isle Of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.
It believes that Shetland would thrive on the wealth generated through its flourishing high-tech industries – as Scotland battles the highest public spending deficit in Europe.
Unst, one of the Shetland islands, has been selected as the location of a spaceport as well as the UK’s first commercial rocket launch anticipated for next year.
Hundreds of jobs in the area will be generated as a result if planning permission is given the go ahead.
Similarly the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted the area’s economy, employment and public sector revenues.
Residents in Scotland’s Northern Isles have traditionally been hostile toward a Scottish Independence.
And if Shetland lays claim to the oil in their waters, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s economic case for the second referendum will be delivered a devastating blow.
Council members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government. Pictured: Ceremony at at Shetland’s Up Helly Aa fire festival
The Government said it had provided more than £15million for Shetland’s ferry services over the past three years. Pictured: Fishing boats in the waters around the islands
Before the first independence referendum in 2014 the MPs and MSPs on the Shetland islands demanded that they should be given an opt-out option if the Scottish mainland voted to split from the UK.
Later, in 2017, it was also suggested by the former Tory Chancellor Lord Lamont of Lerwick that the islands could become a British overseas territory if Scotland were to become independent.
It comes as Ms Sturgeon continues her own plans for a second Scottish independence referendum in the wake of Brexit.
Earlier this year she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that she believed the SNP’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had been an example of ‘show don’t tell’ for independence.
She claimed that support for Scotland leaving the UK had increased in recent months.
History of the Shetland Islands
Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, lie 105 miles north of the Scottish mainland.
The total area is just 550 square miles and, in 2019, the population totalled 22,920.
The local authority, Shetland Islands Council, is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland and the islands’ administrative centre is Lerwick – which has been the capital of Shetland since 1708.
Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, lie 105 miles from the Scottish mainland
The islands were initially dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially from Norway, and they later became part of Scotland in the 15th century.
Scotland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 which caused a decrease in trade with northern Europe.
Fishing continues to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day.
The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known animal breeds that originated on the islands
The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland’s economy, employment and public sector revenues.
There are also numerous areas set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important sea bird nesting sites.
The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known animal breeds that originated on the islands.