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Scottish Independence Debate / Independence: Yes Shetland in Burra

Around 15 people, predominantly men, turned up at Hamnavoe public hall to hear Jean Urquhart MSP argue in favour of Scottish independence. Photo Louise Thomason

ON THURSDAY night, pro independence group Yes Shetland held the second of a series of community meetings to debate the biggest subject in Scotland this year. Around 15 people turned up at Hamnavoe public hall, including our reporter Louise Thomason.

Identity, opportunity and above all democracy were the main themes at Thursday night’s Yes Shetland public meeting in the Hamnavoe hall.

A small group gathered to hear independent MSP Jean Urquhart outline her position on the Yes campaign and take part in a general discussion on the issue of Scottish independence.

Following an introduction by Yes Shetland chair Brian Nugent, Urquhart began by stating what a vote for Scottish independence is not.

It is not about Alex Salmond and it is not about hatred of the English, she said.

Neither is it a general election, or an issue of party politics, or of pitting the coalition against the Scottish government, or anyone else.

What it is about, she said, was democracy.

There is no suggestion that an independent Scotland could hope to please everyone, or become “some kind of panacea”.

It would however be an opportunity for Scottish people to elect a government that directly served their needs.

That Scotland could survive economically is now a commonly accepted view, yet the strength of Scotland’s culture is something that is less discussed.

Urquhart insisted that it was self belief that held the key to an independent Scotland, and she said there is a growing self confidence among communities that Scotland can go it alone.

Yet folk – especially the undecided – quite rightly, want answers.

In the Q&A that followed, folk were interested to hear about how a constitution for Scotland could be drawn up, how Scotland’s defences would look, and what assurances there would be that Scotland’s finances would not go the way of many other small European countries?

There are no assurances, Urquhart said. However the opportunity to elect representatives who have Scotland’s interests at heart means more of Scotland’s money staying in Scotland.

While the turnout was less than you would hope for a discussion on such an important issue, the debate was no less healthy.

With both Yes and No voters in the audience, factors such as Scotland’s membership of the EU and why the Scottish government had not already done more to address poverty, health and education were discussed.

Urquhart said that in terms of health and education, Scotland generally does better than England. But even though these issues are devolved, ultimately the choices made at Westminster affect people north of the border.

More choice over who is in government and control over what is spent on these issues would see Scottish people better served, she said.

In a point that will perhaps strike a chord with many Shetlanders, one would-be No voter cited not feeling particularly Scottish as a major factor, saying they felt they were firstly from Shetland, and then British.

In response, Urquhart suggested people might reflect on the fact that Britain is the fourth most unequal country in the west and question how much Westminster, which tends to support the select few, has done for the people of Scotland as a whole.

Summing up, she said her feeling was that Scotland will vote Yes.

She added that given the positive changes in Scotland in the 13 years since devolution, independence will mean Scotland continues to change for the better.

Independence would not be the end point, however. It would be the beginning of more discussion of the issues that matter to the people of Scotland.

More discussion is certainly needed. With a low turnout, and specifically almost no female presence, perhaps Yes Shetland could do more to engage locals.

Nugent said he thought the turnout was “good” and was pleased to hear from both sides of the argument.

“Speaking to your own supporters is OK but having the chance to speak to voters who you could persuade onto your side, or at least give them some food for thought, is even better.”

He said that Yes Shetland plans to hold these types of meetings in as many parts of Shetland as possible and that people with all points of view will be welcome.