There’s a fair amount of media speculation about an early, repeat, Scottish independence referendum and in the event of Scotland voting Yes and Shetland and/or Orkney voting No, it has already been suggested that Shetland and/or Orkney could claim the right to opt out and decide their own political future by holding appropriate local referenda.
That right will not, automatically, accrue; it must be campaigned for.
Orkney are ahead of the game. A senior Orkney councillor, former vice-Convener James Stockan wrote to the Orcadian newspaper (9 October) calling for Orkney to become a Crown Dependency, irrespective of referendum results.
Doubtless, a campaign group will rally around his standard and he’s right, of course, there’s no reason why Orkney and/or Shetland should not start that conversation with government now.
The purpose of Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) was, ostensibly, to campaign for greater local autonomy and the offers from government, to date, have been underwhelming. OIOF has no teeth and no visible popular support for what they are trying to achieve.
Shetland needs a campaign group that, ideally, might collaborate with its Orkney counterpart on issues of mutual interest.
An organised campaign group will have the resources to distil issues into clear, focused points, lobby politicians and if necessary, organise legal action.
It’s existence will also provide backing for the council in negotiations with government and crucially, will encourage sympathetic councillors to speak out and join the organisation, as in the past, bringing democratic credibility to islanders’ aspirations.
As for the case, it’s all there, the booming economy; tax billions flowing to government while local people suffer school closures and other austerity cuts; EU damage to the fishing industry; and the legal – and moral – issues of sovereignty highlighted by Stuart Hill in his treatise The Stolen Isles.
Both Shetland and Orkney voted heavily against Scottish independence, in the face of a powerful local campaign by Yes Shetland, suggesting they will do the same in any early rerun of the referendum.
Islanders are not enthused by the prospect of government from Holyrood because their interests are ignored. Yes Shetland could play a vital role, enlightening their Southern colleagues on the benefits to Scotland of an autonomy deal for the isles.
To take this forward, the first, vital, step is the forming of a campaign group to provide a focal point for public support and exert pressure on politicians.
Without that, local autonomy requests will be met in Holyrood and Westminster with the same ‘straight bat’ as greeted the well-intentioned, but toothless, OIOF.
Sustainable Shetland have fulfilled this role, magnificently (albeit, apolitically), in connection with opposition to the Viking Energy project.
They, CURE, Yes Shetland and Better Together, all capable campaigners, have an interest in Shetland gaining autonomy and bringing a new constitutional arrangement to the isles. Moral support from such groups will be invaluable to an autonomy campaign.
The logical way forward would be the resuscitation of the Shetland Movement. It’s reasonable to assume its constitution still exists, somewhere, so the organisation structure, basic aims and rules should all be there, ready-made. And (from memory) having previously held a majority of council seats in the SIC, it already has credibility and a strong track record.
A group of highly-motivated people, willing to campaign for Shetland’s future, is needed to revive the organisation, provide office-bearers and take it from there.
The former leaders of the Shetland Movement have “done their bit” and it would be a big ask for them to repeat what was achieved in the past.
However, if one or more of them would step forward to, at least, help with getting it re-started and provide some advice and guidance, if necessary, that would be most welcome.
Whoever does it, somebody needs to take the “bull by the horns” and get a campaign moving.