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Letters / Hotchpotch with no mandate

Gary Robinson claims the hotchpotch members of the Our Islands, Our Future campaign have a mandate. A mandate is something given by the electorate, not something given by themselves to themselves (Vote offers chance for grown up debate; SN, 18/09/13).

In the current climate of constitutional navel-gazing as the Scottish referendum approaches, it is important for us to know where we are before we decide where we want to go.

The Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are pursuing a course of asking for more powers from Scotland and the United Kingdom to be delegated to the islands.

Amid a fanfare of publicity and spending of our money, the campaign is dedicated to doing just that.

Before asking for those powers, Orkney and Shetland should first answer the question: ‘Do the powers we are asking for belong to those we are asking?’

There is no evidence that they do.

By asking, we are aiding and abetting a fraud that has been going on for centuries. It has been said: “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it”.

These are questions for Shetland and Orkney, but have no relevance to the Western Isles, which are undeniably part of Scotland.

By making a request based on island identity rather than making a claim based on legal rights, this campaign betrays Orkney and Shetland.

It is almost universally presumed that Orkney and Shetland are part of Scotland. If that is true, it should be easy for those exercising power here to demonstrate the basis of their power.

When exactly did Orkney and Shetland become part of Scotland? How did it happen? Is there a document? All perfectly reasonable questions, but nobody can give an answer to any of them. The reason is simple – it never happened. Historians will write books, ‘interpret’ the facts and come up with a plausible story, but only a court of law can give a legal determination.

On 16 August 2011 the question for Shetland was considered in court for the first time in history and we now have the document on which Scotland and the UK base their authority.

The evidence produced by the Crown at Lerwick Sheriff Court was a magazine article expressing the mere opinion of a non-legal expert – ‘When did Shetland become Part of Scotland?’ by Shetland archivist Brian Smith.

The article does not even pretend to be authoritative – it is subtitled ‘A contribution to the debate’. It would not be admissible evidence in any normal court of law.

I’m sure its author did not intend it to be used as it was, but this was the only straw for the Crown to clutch at in its desperation, such is the lack of evidence.

The sheriff’s decision that he had jurisdiction was supported at appeal by four law lords, so the Crown’s position is now revealed for what it is.

On this pathetic crutch rests the whole authority of Scotland, the UK and even the EU in Orkney and Shetland. Do we want to continue building on sand, or would we rather build on solid rock?

The Our Islands, Our Future campaign concedes the crucial point before it even begins, but that is to be expected when all our elected representatives are bound by their oaths and declarations to work within the existing system, no matter how flawed it may be.

Stuart Hill