SIC - Orkney & Shetland valuation joint board

Scottish Independence Debate / History and geography matter

There are some fundamental questions which need to be answered before the Shetland voters can legitimately commit to the Scottish independence debate

  1. Do Shetland voters have a right to participate in a vote on Scottish Independence?

    Doing so would indicate that we are Scottish citizens and by association Shetland must then be considered a county of Scotland.

  2. If this is the case then when did this integration take place and under what conditions?

  3. If such an agreement is in place we need to know what the terms of it are as the detail of this is of fundamental importance to us in deciding what Scottish independence means for us. 

  4. If on the other hand no treaty or agreement is in place to frame the connection between the Shetland Islands and the Scottish parliament then what is our legal status? 

  5. If we have no contractual link to the Scottish parliament do we have one to Westminster?

  6. If there is an existing contractual link with Westminster what are its terms? If not what is our legal position?

The Shetland electorate needs a clear explanation of what Shetland’s current contractual obligations to central government are, so we can make informed decisions about where our future lies.

We must not blindly accept the fact that because the UK government historically placed stewards here to collect taxes and revenue from the people and produce of these islands, that they have actually gained through custom and practice a legitimate legal right to continue to do so.

Establishing the existence and terms of a legally binding contract between the people of these islands and the UK government is central to any decisions we make about Shetland’s future.

If all that exists to support the existence of such a contract is custom and practice based on historical subjugation, bullying and intimidation, that is neither an acceptable or legal basis for maintaining the status quo.
If there proves to be no agreement in place which defines where Shetland stands in relation to the Scottish or Westminster governments then surely we need to negotiate that before the Scottish independence question has any relevance.

We need to clearly understand the strength of Shetland’s position in this and our value to central government, be that Westminster or Holyrood.

Our value lies in the “assumed” access our geographical position gives them to the mineral and fishing resources around us, which should not be underestimated.

Though figures for Shetland’s financial value to central government are not easy to find, some simple calculations based on available government figures for revenue raised from oil/gas leads me to the following conclusions:

  • there are approximately 96 oil/gas fields in what is classed as UK waters, of these at least 24 are in Shetland waters (25%);

  • the average taxation taken by central government over the past 30 years from these fields has been in excess of £5,000 million annually;

  • assuming that 25% of this has come from the fields around Shetland that means we have been and continue to contribute in excess of £1,250 million annually to central government through direct taxation on the oil/gas reserves in Shetland waters.

The revenue raised from the “assumed” access Shetland has given central government to the fishing grounds around these islands I can’t begin to estimate accurately, but I am confident it will be more than the £92.4 million we receive from the Scottish government for the provision of our public services.

To put this in perspective, if oil/gas was our only asset then central government would make a £1,157.6 million profit annually on the taxation of the oil/ gas reserves in Shetland waters after it had made its £92.4 million contribution for the provision of our public services.
In a time when central government is reducing our budget allocation by £1 million annually and we face 25% cuts in our council’s public spending budgets, (with the potential that has to send our islands into economic meltdown) we owe it to ourselves and future generations to take the opportunity the independence referendum gives us to establish clearly Shetland’s status within the UK and secure a fair and prosperous future for these islands.  

Geographic entitlement regarding resources is a fundamental SNP policy which we must ensure is also applied to Shetland!

Robert Williamson