Scottish Independence Debate / Constitutional reform will carry a cost

Frank Robertson.

STAGING a campaign to gain more powers in a post independence referendum Shetland will come not cheap, councillors have been advised.

On Wednesday Shetland Islands Council agreed that professional lobbying at the heart of government was needed to successfully exploit the opportunities created by the current constitutional debate.

Convener Malcolm Bell said that regardless of the outcome the forthcoming referendum, political structures in the UK would never be the same again.

“This is simply the most important constitutional change that is going to happen in our lifetime,” he said.

SIC executive manager Peter Peterson told councillors that seven “lobbying strands” had been identified by an internal working group.

These were:

  • a greater local role in the management of Shetland’s inshore waters;
  • a greater say in the oil and gas exploration around Shetland;
  • effective development of renewable energy resources;
  • fiscal changes to allow for local taxation;
  • recognition of Shetland’s status at EU level;
  • more influence on internal and external influence; and
  • a more efficient public sector.

He added that the council wanted to encourage more local debate on the issues and was keen to hear what islanders thought.

But councillors warned that unless the campaign was professionally orchestrated and underpinned with proper funding, very little would happen to change the status quo.

Referring to the 1974 Zetland County Council Act, Frank Robertson said Shetland had to focus on “exactly what we are wanting to do” and would have to push for “secondary legislation”.

Alistair Cooper, who has been dealing with the oil industry all his professional life as a council official, said that if the SIC wanted to influence government then a “parliamentary agent who works on our behalf” was needed.

“That’s not coming cheap and we have to prepare for that; and we need to tell that to the people of Shetland,” he said.

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Drew Ratter warned that all shades of government had a tendency to centralise control, regardless of political party.

“We have always heard warm words concerning island status, however the single salient fact is that unless something has been hammered out in legislation, we will have nothing to show for it,” Ratter said.

Mark Burgess floated the idea that Shetland needed to look into whether the isles could stay under Westminster control should Scotland vote for independence in next year’s referendum.

Councillors will meet again to discuss their strategy in more detail behind closed doors on 8 May.

Meanwhile neighbouring Orkney is hosting a conference in the autumn, possibly September, for regional and national figures to contribute towards the constitutional debate and its relevance to the three island local authorities.

Orkney Islands Council chief executive Alistair Buchan said: “All three councils accept that the referendum outcome will create opportunities and challenges to the island communities and that the views of each community should be represented to help ensure the best possible outcome for the island groups.”

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