Scottish Independence Debate / Oil gives Shetland a say on independence

SIC tugs Shalder and Dunter escort the tanker Bravo out of Sullom Voe on New Year's Day while tanker Thornbury continues to load cargo. Pic. John Bateson

SHETLAND holds a strong bargaining chip in the debate over Scottish independence, according to a London-based economic think tank.

The report by Capital Economics is being raised in the Scottish Parliament by Shetland’s MSP during a debate over the future of the oil and gas industry on Wednesday.

Speaking before the debate, Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said the government’s focus was on maximising recovery of oil and gas from the seabed around the country.

He pointed out that UK recovery rates lag behind those of Norway and increasing them by a mere one per cent would boost tax revenues by £22 billion.

However London-based UK economist Martin Beck, of Capital Economics, believes that the long term future of oil revenues is less rosy and ultimately Scotland could become a fiscal drain on the remaining UK if independence goes ahead.

In his report ‘What would Scottish independence mean for the remaining UK’, Beck also highlighted the Shetland factor, pointing out that “a significant proportion of Scottish oil actually lies in waters surrounding the Shetland Islands”.


He says this fact puts Shetland in a strong position in the event of independence negotiations between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Secession by Scotland could encourage similar aspirations among Shetland Islanders, perhaps resulting in a situation analogous to that between Denmark and the Faroe Islands, where the latter, while being part of the Kingdom of Denmark, has a high degree of self- government,” he writes.

“Or Shetland could conceivably choose to remain as part of the UK, with implications for the balance of gain and loss to (the remaining) UK from Scotland’s departure from the Union.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said he had always believed Shetland had a place at the negotiating table over Scotland’s oil.

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“If this debate is about geography then the talks should be held in Lerwick,” he said.

“Capital Economics are stating the obvious truth – Shetland is in the middle of the North Sea and west of Shetland oil fields and therefore has a geographical right to those fields.

“Winnie Ewing first claimed it was Scotland’s oil. She never had much luck with that argument in Shetland even when she was the MEP for the Highlands and Islands.

“So the SNP had better get used to this aspect of the independence debate. It’s not Scotland’s oil – its Shetland’s.”

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