Why Shetland should stand on its own two feet

Without wishing to pour cold water on the SIC’s efforts in getting together with Orkney and the Western Isles to seek more autonomy in the event of Scottish independence I would ask two questions:

1. What has Scottish independence got to do with Shetland?

2. Apart from the fact that they are islands, how do the Hebrides fit into the picture?

Taking the second question first, I have nothing against the Western Isles, but they have a totally different culture to Orkney and Shetland, regard themselves (as they should) as part of Scotland and already get favourable treatment from the SNP government.

They do not share Orkney and Shetland’s trump card, their unique history – the history that is the key to the future of the Northern Isles.

Turning now to the first question: although Orkney and Shetland have been hoodwinked into thinking they are part of Scotland, there is not a shred of evidence to support that view. It’s just a long-standing presumption fostered by Scottish and UK governments of the day as being in their best interest.

Our near neighbour Scotland can do what it likes in terms of its own independence. If Shetland is not part of it, Scottish independence is a complete irrelevance as far as Shetland is concerned.

If Shetland* is not part of Scotland, we don’t have to ask the Scottish or UK governments for permission to do anything. We don’t have to take part in the austerity measures brought about by the bailout of their greedy bankers. What do they have to do with Shetland?

While the UK as a whole has a massive national debt, Shetland has a positive trade balance with the rest of the world of £131 million and makes a net contribution to the UK Treasury of £82 million (Hutton Institute Report).

With these sorts of figures available (leaving oil out of the equation for the moment), Shetland would be able to continue its high provision of service with its own money, while at the same time increasing the reserves of the Charitable Trust for the future.

As an exercise in efficiency the current cuts may be in our best interest, but will be extremely damaging to our economy if continued.

We are now told that this UK austerity misery could go on for another seven years and that we are to lose EU peripheral area status. Apparently, the rewards for working hard and making a success of our economy are to withdraw funding and drag us back down to some sort of standard level.

Where is the attraction in remaining part of either of these organisations?

If Shetland is not part of Scotland, how does the UK justify licensing oil companies to explore and extract oil and gas from our waters?

If the UK cannot prove any right or title to that seabed (which it can’t), it has been stealing Shetland’s oil since the oil was first discovered and using it to fund its imperialist ambitions in Iraq and other wasteful exercises.

Far from needing support from the UK, Shetland has been supporting the UK for years. It would do us no harm to selectively continue that support in the future, but lets get the boot on the right foot.

To anyone who makes the cry “Of course we are part of Scotland”, I simply ask where is the proof? There is none – only that long-standing presumption which has no legal force.

To get to the bottom of the matter (which has never before been tested in the courts), I intentionally broke the law in order to test the system. When challenged, all the Crown could produce as ‘proof’ that Shetland is part of Scotland was a magazine article.

It was entitled When did Shetland become part of Scotland? A contribution to the debate by Brian Smith, published in The New Orkney Antiquarian Journal.

The article does not even pretend to be an authority and although Brian Smith may have an undoubted reputation as a historian, his is only a lay opinion in a court of law. The article itself would be inadmissible in any normal court.

On this flimsiest of evidence is based the whole authority of Scotland and the UK in Shetland. Of course, if the court does not hear proof of its authority, it has no jurisdiction or power to act.

It is fundamental to any justice system that the courts are backed by proper authority. In the absence of that authority, court officials are nothing more than members of the public.

Nevertheless, the ‘sheriff’ claimed jurisdiction on the basis of the Crown’s evidence without question and was supported by four Appeal Court judges. So, now the sorry mess is exposed – the whole Scottish judiciary is content to accept a magazine article expressing a mere opinion as proof of their authority in Shetland.

I was held in police cells three times on the instructions of ‘sheriffs’ acting without authority. I was jailed by a ‘sheriff’ acting without authority and in contravention of his own Scottish court rules. I was allegedly declared bankrupt by a ‘sheriff’ who even refused to hear any evidence to prove his jurisdiction.

Yet, despite all this, when I declined to carry out the sentence, the court was finally unable to convene a proper hearing and unable to enforce its sentence.

Do we want these rogue elements of the Scottish justice system acting ‘on our behalf’? I have of course reported these crimes to the police in Scotland.

Shetland actually belongs to everybody who owns any land here – in fact, every person who owns land has authority above the Queen in Shetland.

Before we get into the question of inequality of landowners and non-landowners, it would be a simple matter to bring everyone onto an equal footing by donating a small piece of Council land to every non-landowner. Perhaps small squares of the land the Town Hall sits on, bits of the Busta Estate, or even the site of the Anderson High School – anything would do.

Let’s face up to the facts – Shetland’s constitutional position is a mess, but it’s a mess we can take advantage of at this time of flux.

The figures show that Shetland would be immeasurably better off financially if free from Scotland and the UK. We could still continue to support the UK and/or Scottish economies with our oil revenue and expect commensurate benefits in return.

We would have no need to obey stupid EU directives about our crofting and fishing. Notice how both sides in the Scottish independence debate want to continue the myth that we are already part of one or the other. It is not in their interest for us to take our ball and not play with either – except on our own terms.

People often say to me they would be hesitant about putting more power in the hands of our present administration.

There are two sides to this – would you rather place your faith in local incompetents, or in the hands of incompetents in Edinburgh, London or Brussels who definitely do not have Shetland’s interests at heart?

Scottish and UK politicians have consistently proved they regard Shetland as a cash cow. The squabble today is over who gets control of our oil and our taxes.

Shetland could put in place a system that keeps the power in the hands of the people, preventing the abuse of power and waste of money inherent in our present system. A Shetland standing on its own two feet would be a magnet to attract a high quality of administrator.

Would you like more money in your pocket, be able to properly look after our old and infirm, be able (like Faroe) to send a full team to the Island Games and have more say in how we use our own money?

Instead of continuing our dependence on UK and EU grants and subsidies, we should keep our money in our own pockets instead of giving it away , only to receive back the breadcrumbs.

There is no need to think in terms of how much we need Scotland, the UK and the EU – the boot is on the other foot and Shetland needs to realise it. Shetland is a powerhouse. With the right political system in place it could be a beacon for the world.

Stuart Hill
Ocraquoy

* Most of my research also applies to Orkney, but because of important historical differences I have confined my remarks to Shetland.