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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?