Shetland, Orkney and the Outer Hebrides demand independence referendums of their own if Scotland votes 'yes'

Calls for a vote on breaking links with Edinburgh are growing among the island communities

After spending more than half a millennium under Norse rule, it is little surprise the people of Shetland and Orkney might not consider themselves to be British in the same way as the good folk of Surrey.

So too the islanders of the Outer Hebrides, who offered sanctuary to a fleeing Bonnie Prince Charlie after his defeat by loyalist forces at Culloden.

But an unexpected question has crept into the narrowing independence referendum campaign – exactly how Scottish do they feel?

Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, for example, is 18 hours by road and boat from Edinburgh – more than double the journey time from the Scottish capital to Westminster.

Now members of these storm-lashed, fiercely independent and unique communities are being asked to put their name to a demand that could see both Northern and Western Islands separate from an independent Scotland – should it decide to go it alone in September.

Shetland’s Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott, far left, said the SNP were acting like colonial governors Shetland’s Lib Dem MSP Tavish Scott, far left, said the SNP were acting like colonial governors (Getty)

A petition currently before the Scottish Parliament is seeking referendums to be held on all three islands exactly a week after the rest of the nation votes on the future of the union with Westminster.

In the event it should get the go-ahead, the 70,000 inhabitants will be given the choice of either staying in Scotland or seeking independence of their own. A third question following a successful yes vote will offer the possibility of staying within the UK while seceding from control of Holyrood.

So far nearly 800 people have put their name to the call, and the suggestion has been generating interest all over the world – not least in other small islands, and even in Venice.

Catriona Murray of "Referenda on the Islands", which organised the petition, denied claims that the group was a front for the unionist campaign or merely some kind of diversion tactic from the main debate.

She said supporters straddled all points of view although the petition had deliberately not included an option of reunification with Norway which, although sometimes discussed, did not garner serious support.

“We exist only to bring about a referendum to give islanders the chance to decide. What unites us is the view that islanders should have that right. We are certainly not making mischief,” retiree Ms Murray told The Independent by email from her home in Stornoway.

“Monaco, Liechtenstein and San Marino all thrive well as independent members of the United Nations. Any of the three island groups currently in Scotland could easily fit on to a list including those countries. Not as rich as the first two, but with more resources than the third,” she added.

It is estimated that up to 67 per cent of Scotland’s oil and gas reserves lie within the waters off Shetland and Orkney. All the islands have lucrative off shore renewable energy potential although bringing it down to population areas remains contentious.

Steve Heddle, Convenor of the Orkney Islands Council, and part of the non-partisan umbrella group "Our Islands, Our Future" said there was an urgent case for the communities to be given greater control over their destinies.

“My personal opinion is that this [petition] is mischief-making here. There is obviously an appetite among some people for this but I don’t know exactly how well thought out this is,” he said. “We need to keep things realistic and reasonable and keep arguing and then we have a chance of winning,” he added.

Since last summer, the councils of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles have been negotiating with the SNP government in Edinburgh and Westminster and the Labour Party to see what extra powers they might gain. There have already been successes.

Last July, First Minister Alex Salmond held a Scottish cabinet meeting in Shetland, where he issued the Lerwick Declaration, agreeing in principle to greater autonomy for the islands. Since then island leaders have met ministers five times.

The Scottish Labour Devolution Commission has agreed to grant the islands greater control over energy, transport and fishing policy as well as a bigger say in health and economic planning. Talks have also been held with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

But Shetland’s Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said demands for referendums within the islands were “entirely understandable”.

“The SNP is holding a gun to the islanders’ heads and saying 'I will not do anything for you unless you vote yes'. It is like the proverbial English colonial governor telling the natives what to do. People in the islands are very independent minded and they do not like being treated like this,” he said.

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said post-referendum issues were a matter for the Scottish Government.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible