Sturgeon’s nightmare! Orkney to follow in Shetland in seeking independence from Scotland
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Orkney Islands Council said they would look at options to potentially become independent from Scotland with a number of choices on the table. Council leader James Stockan said that the islands could be governed as a Crown dependency similar to Jersey as among one of the ideas for independence.
He said today: “We want to seek our opportunity as a unique part of the UK that we could do something different if we wished.
“All constitutional matters ultimately rest with Westminster, so the question is, we would need to make sure that is written into any future referendum.”
It comes after Shetland island councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options “for achieving financial and political self-determination”.
In a debate lasting more than an hour at a meeting this week, members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government at Holyrood.
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, councillors stressed.
Mr Coutts suggested devolution has not benefited the area and said the Scottish Parliament feels “remote” to islanders, who face some of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country.
He added the levels of funding for ferries “negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland”, although the Scottish Government said it has provided more than £15 million for ferry services over the last three years.
But on Orkney, Cllr Stocktan said that Shetland was “in a different position” but stressed that they would support them.
“We will work with them and support them and work alongside them because we both have the same historic background and the same challenges from government and there are some unique opportunities in a post-brexit world.
“We have a whole lot of opportunities that probably should have been afforded us in the past.”
More than half of Orkney’s councillors forced through a motion in 2017 which demanded an investigation into “greater autonomy or self-determination” amid the vote to leave the European Union and a possible second independence referendum.
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But his Shetland counterpart Cllr Coutts said the council planned to speak to the UK and Scottish Governments next week about options for Shetland’s self-determination.
Speaking yesterday, he said: “The status quo is not working, Devolution and the Islands Act have not made any tangible difference to the quality of life.
“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.”
Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are to receive £100 million of investment as part of a new growth deal.
The Scottish and UK Governments recently pledged £50 million each to boost the economy of the islands, which will be the last part of Scotland to receive cash under the growth deals.
The Scottish Government said its investment will be made over the next 10 years whilst Westminster’s will be delivered through city region and growth deals.
Mr Johnson also visited Orkney to pledge his support for the Union in a flash one-day visit in July.
Responding to the comments, islands minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP said neither Shetland nor any other island council had submitted any request for further powers under Additional Powers Request (Scotland) Regulations introduced last year.
He said: “It is the responsibility of individual local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them, including on ferry services, on the basis of local needs and priorities.”
On the “profound impact” of coronavirus on island communities, Mr Wheelhouse said: “In order to protect and provide support to our island communities, we have had to reprioritise our efforts to support key areas such as access to lifeline services and maintaining crucial supply chains, while managing the impact the virus has had on the islands economy and preventing transmission.”
The archipelago is home to 22,190 people.
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