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Isles surprise diplomat

Verena Grafin von Roedern on Tuesday.

GERMANY’s representative in Scotland declared astonishment at the success of Shetland’s economy during her first visit to the isles this week.

Verena Gräfin von Roedern arrived in Shetland on the day the Scottish islands launched their campaign for greater autonomy, saying it was a debate she was paying close attention to.

During her short visit, von Roedern toured the islands’ biggest industrial hitters – the Shetland Catch and Hjaltland Seafarms fish factories in Lerwick and the Sullom Voe oil terminal.

On Tuesday afternoon she also explored Germany’s historic relationship with Shetland by visiting the Hanseatic Böd on Whalsay.

Based in Edinburgh since August last year, von Roedern said she had heard that the island communities were very different from the rest of Scotland and was keen to see them for herself.

“I was amazed to hear that Shetland has a shortage of labour with an unemployment rate of just 1.5 per cent,” she said.

“You even have to think how to attract people to come and work here, regardless of whether this is in the oil, fisheries or other sectors.”

On independence, the diplomat said: “We take a completely neutral position on the independence debate; it is entirely up to the Scottish people to decide, but we follow the debate with interest.

“I note that the Scottish islands want more devolution to the local level and are less worried about the actual independence question.

“I can understand that the islands, because of their special geographic situation, but also because of the fact that oil and gas industry plays a large role in the economy, want to be able to make more decisions on a local level rather than in London or Edinburgh.”

She added that Scotland continued to be hugely popular as a destination for Germans to move to, not just because of its natural beauty and rich history, but also the job opportunities particularly in academia.

“Relatively young academics can get into responsible and interesting positions, and have access to good research facilities,” she said.