Scottish Independence Debate / An opportunity to shape our own future

Jean Urquhart MSP urges everyone to read the Scottish government's white paper for a better understanding of the independence issue.

In the latest of a series of comment pieces on next year’s independence referendum,  highlands and islands MSP Jean Urquhart reflects on the Scottish government’s white paper and the reactions to it.

Last month, the referendum discussion moved up a gear with the publication of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence. 

The most illuminating part of the White Paper launch in Glasgow was nothing said by the First Minister or deputy First Minister, but the immediate dismissal of the 670-page, 170,000 word tome as “a work of fiction…thick with false promises and meaningless assertions” by Alistair Darling, leader of the No campaign, before it was humanly possible for the document to have been even skimmed, never mind digested and analysed.

This knee-jerk, tribal response to what should be a serious debate is so disappointing on so many levels. 

The independence debate is a unique chance for all of us to discuss the type of country we want to live in, and to engage in completely fresh thinking, and the result will reverberate for years to come.


For the No campaign to run such a highly personalised, short-term, negative campaign is not only highly frustrating for those of us who want to elevate the debate; it could, in the long-term, prove counter-productive as voters are turned off by their constant fulminations. 

It’s also proving to be a real missed opportunity for the No campaign, who are failing to provide “the vision thing” for a more equal UK. 

This should be the chance to put the UK in the shop window, to talk in concrete terms about how the devolution settlement can be improved. 

Instead, along with constant speculation about a UK-wide EU referendum, there’s talk from Shetland’s own MP and Secretary for State of Scotland about scrapping the Barnett formula and from the Chancellor that the UK can “no longer afford the welfare state”. 

Become a supporter of Shetland News


The only emotion these statements inspire is angst at what sort of separatist neoliberal nightmare will be pursued by Westminster after September 2014. 

With independence, we can instead fashion a new, symbiotic relationship across and within these islands. 

The constructive engagement shown by the Scottish Government towards the island authorities shows that they are taking the bid for more local control seriously, and halving air passenger duty (a tax currently controlled by Westminster) will help make air travel more affordable for flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen to the islands, helping to boost business links to the mainland.

A written constitution for Scotland would enshrine the basic rights of every citizen, no matter their race, religion, age or gender.

We could move Scotland into the 21st Century; a modern, progressive country with an opportunity to shape our own future. 


It is right that we look to other similar sized countries as examples of how we might improve the health and well-being of folk in Shetland, or Aberdeen or Stranraer. 

We will be able to speak directly in the European parliament, not through a Westminster MP putting forward the case for the crofters, farmers and fishermen- sectors used previously as sacrificial lambs by UK ministers in the very same negotiations. 

We will also be able to remove weapons of mass destruction from Scottish waters that have been a constant drain on our nation’s finances and moral standing, using the money we save to diversify our economy and invest in future generations. 

I like that the White Paper’s pledge is largely centred around the importance of our children; again, when we compare with other similar sized countries we see that nurture and better education are evidenced in more equal societies. 


This starts with a better and universal service of childcare and, I hope, as much influence as possible from some of the Nordic countries in our education system. 

Shetland would be perfectly placed to lead on this; as in other areas, I believe that Shetland has much to teach the rest of Scotland when it comes to fresh thinking.

A YES vote will bring many opportunities for those with real commitment and ambition to “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”. 

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be a number of articles like this from all sides of the debate, making claim and counter-claim about the merits of independence.

I would urge everybody in Shetland and beyond get their own copy of the White Paper by phoning 0300 012 1809 or filling in the form at https://scotgov.theapsgroupinscotland.com to order a hard copy or visiting www.scotreferendum.com to download an electronic copy. 


Read it all in one go, skip to particular sections of interest or to the 650 Frequently Asked Questions, or dip in and out as you please, but whatever you do, read it and draw your own conclusions. 

It’s the most important vote you could cast in your life, and it is incumbent on all of us to scrutinise all of the information on offer to ensure that whatever decision we make on 18 September 2014 we do not wake up the next day and think of what might have been.



Become a supporter of Shetland News

Shetland News is asking its many readers to consider start paying for their dose of the latest local news delivered straight to their PC, tablet or mobile phone.

Journalism comes at a price and because that price is not being paid in today’s rapidly changing media world, most publishers - national and local - struggle financially despite very healthy audience figures.

Most online publishers have started charging for access to their websites, others have chosen a different route. Shetland News currently has  over 600 supporters  who are all making small voluntary financial contributions. All funds go towards covering our cost and improving the service further.

Your contribution will ensure Shetland News can: -

  • Bring you the headlines as they happen;
  • Stay editorially independent;
  • Give a voice to the community;
  • Grow site traffic further;
  • Research and publish more in-depth news, including more Shetland Lives features.

If you appreciate what we do and feel strongly about impartial local journalism, then please become a supporter of Shetland News by either making a single payment or monthly subscription.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.



Subscribe to a selection of different newsletters from Shetland News, varying from breaking news delivered on the minute, to a weekly round-up of the opinion posts. All delivered straight to your inbox.

Daily Briefing Newsletter Weekly Highlights Newsletter Opinion Newsletter Life in Shetland Newsletter

JavaScript Required

We're sorry, but Shetland News isn't fully functional without JavaScript enabled.
Head over to the help page for instructions on how to enable JavaScript on your browser.

Your Privacy

We use cookies on our site to improve your experience.
By using our service, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.

Browser is out-of-date

Shetland News isn't fully functional with this version of .
Head over to the help page for instructions on updating your browser for more security, improved speed and the best overall experience on this site.

Interested in Notifications?

Get notifications from Shetland News for important and breaking news.
You can unsubscribe at any time.

Become a supporter of Shetland News

We're committed to ensuring everyone has equitable access to impartial, open and quality local journalism that benefits all residents.

By supporting Shetland News, you play a vital role in ensuring we remain a pivotal resource in supporting the community.

Support us from as little as £3 per month – it only takes a minute to sign up. Thank you.