Scottish Independence Debate / ‘I’m a Shetland Islander first’

Speech in full by Tavish Scott, MSP for Shetland to the Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Dundee.  

“The Northern Isles are vibrant, distinctive with our own dialect, language and Norse festivals. Orkney and Shetland both fly their own flags. Our history looks east more than south.

That is our point. Shetland and Orkney want to use this period of intense constitutional navel gazing to decide what we want for our future. We are not going to be told what to do by the SNP. Nor by any other government. This is the time to seize the opportunity of Island Home Rule.

We don’t want more centralising, know it all, top down nationalism. This SNP government couldn’t care less about the outer extremities of the country. Ask Raasay’s crofters who only got their rights back after a huge hue and cry that embarrassed the Nationalists into a u-turn.


This debate is about a simple theme – that those who care most about the future of the Northern Isles are those who live there, and they should decide their future.

If that mantra is good enough for Salmond and Sturgeon it is certainly right for Scott and McArthur.

Ming Campbell’s Home Rule proposals open up a new constitutional route for our Islands. Orkney and Shetland have special claims to further autonomy within this new Home Rule settlement.


“What must not be allowed to happen with Home Rule” thundered a Great Man, “…is for these Northern Isles to be ruled by Glasgow trade unionists and Edinburgh lawyers.”

So spoke Jo Grimond at the adoption meeting for a new Liberal candidate before the 1983 General Election. A young Edinburgh trained advocate looked somewhat sheepish. You will have heard of him. He is Lord Wallace of Tankerness.

Jo Grimond was and remains a beacon of hope, inspiration and brilliance in the annuals of liberalism. Jo’s liberalism is about local people making the right decisions for their community. But this ethos is threatened by an ever growing, all pervasive, statist government.

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Look at the Nationalist record – a record of removing powers and responsibilities from Islanders.

  • police and fire centralisation, controlled by faceless bureaucrats under the political thumb of Nationalist Ministers;
  • a shambles over crofting law where people wanting to build much needed new homes or build a community wind turbine cannot;
  • the removal of support for vital air links to the Islands.

If we don’t fight our corner the Islands Councils will be subsumed into a greater Grampian or Highlands. That is the remorseless pattern of centralisation. The only consistency local councils have had since 2007 is the consistent erosion of their powers and responsibilities.

So a first Glasgow 2014 Gold Medal to the new Local Government President for standing up to this centralising, controlling, do what we say government.


A Government that misleads –

  • Misleading the crofters of Raasay,
  • Misleading patients over hidden waiting lists in hospitals or
  • Misleading everyone on legal advice that didn’t exist over an independent Scotland and the EU.

Shetland can run its own administration. The Northern Isles can be their own government. Shetland is comfortable working out local solutions to Island needs –

  • Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has praised Shetland’s inshore fishing management saying Shetland’s eco-label scalloping should be copied by the Scottish Government. Are you listening Edinburgh?
  • The Islands have negotiated with oil companies for four decades. Jo Grimond piloted a law through Westminster giving the Islands power over the seas and control over oil developments as long ago as 1973.
  • Two thirds of the North Sea and west of Shetland reserves are in Shetland coastal waters. The Northern Isles don’t need Nationalists negotiating Scotland’s oil share. We have plenty of our own leverage.

Anyway, it’s not your oil Alex, its wirs.  Other parts of the world seek our advice. The Falklands have had delegations in Shetland. Fresh from their referendum, they look to island expertise on oil and gas. The Isle of Man looks to help on fisheries.

The Manx Parliament is a good model for Shetland. Speaker Roden is a Scot. He’s a former young liberal. He lit the liberal flame in Moray in the 1979 General Election. But his powers, those of the Tynwald and the powers that the Isle has could be copied in Shetland.

Would the SNP oppose Shetland becoming a crown dependency?

Jo Grimond’s constitutional inheritance for the Northern Isles reminds islanders about the SNP record. Then they opposed and voted against the interests of Orkney and Shetland. When the chips are down, Islanders ask, why would the SNP be any different?


So is the Northern Isles future as a crown dependency?

Or to negotiate additional responsibility over key public sector areas?

Or to follow Faroes relationship with Copenhagen?

In 1468 Orkney and Shetland came to Scotland as security for the dowry of a Danish Princess who married James 3. The deal priced Orkney at 50,000 florins. And Shetland? A mere 18,000. The money was never paid.

That was then. Today we are somewhat more valuable.

Shetland and Orkney may never have a stronger opportunity to negotiate a future for the Islands.

A future that benefits the economy, culture and our identity in the wider world for the advantage of future generations of Islanders.

If we do nothing then the future is clear – schools and local ferries dictated by the central belt and the emasculation of local accountability.

This time can by our time. An Island time.

I’m a Shetland Islander first, a Scot second and a Brit third.

That should be our goal. Island Home Rule.


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