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Letters / Improving Shetland’s lot

Wir Shetland’s submission to the Scottish Islands Bill consultation:

Dear Mr MacKay,

Thank you for providing this opportunity to inform the Scottish Government about the hopes and aspirations of Wir Shetland’s members and supporters for their island home.

You may already be aware that the purpose of Wir Shetland’s existence is to achieve self-governing autonomy for Shetland similar to the kind enjoyed in Scandinavian island groups like Aland and the Faroe Islands, as well as in British groups like the overseas territories and Crown Dependencies.

While Shetlanders are independent of spirit they have considerable affinity with Scotland and there is no reason why such an arrangement with an independent Scotland would not be possible in the future.

Unfortunately, the Scottish government does not currently have the power to grant such a constitutional arrangement leaving Wir Shetland but two options;

First, to wait an unknown period for an independent Scotland to transpire, following which negotiations may take place with a party of government that has shown little, if any, commitment to protecting Shetland’s vital interests; and secondly, in the interim, to approach the existing UK authorities who do have the power to grant what Wir Shetland is asking for.

The Islands Bill consultation is a Scottish Government initiative in response to the demands of the “Our Islands, Our Future” (OIOF) island councils campaign which, by attempting to seek a “one size fits all” solution for all Scottish islands, dilutes the special circumstances on which the OIOF campaign is predicated thus blunting and cushioning the impact of its arguments.

Wir Shetland’s position on OIOF is that while Shetland shares some historical and cultural characteristics with Orkney, by participating in that campaign Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has already blunted and cushioned the impact of its own argument that Shetland is a “special case” requiring separate treatment from other Scottish islands.

Our basis for saying this is clear. Even setting aside the distinct historic and cultural differences, Shetland is unique among Scottish islands because of the importance of the oil and fishing industries – both of whose scale the Scottish Government is well aware – to our vital interests.

While Wir Shetland supports the aspirations of other island groups we have no mandate to speak for them and they must make their own representations as they so wish.

Continuing membership of the EU is SNP policy. However, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is immensely damaging to Shetland’s fishing industry.

Despite the enormous size of its fisheries, Shetland has no direct representation at fishery management negotiations. We are dependent on the EU and Shetland fishermen are routinely let down, as in the case of the recent Faroese pelagic fishery debacle.

Alas, both UK and later, Scottish ministers’ stewardship of Shetland’s vital interests in Europe has been found wanting since the CFP’s inception in 1973. Local control of our fishing grounds and associated fisheries is considered imperative for Shetland’s future prosperity.

Over the past forty years, well over a 100 billion (“one hundred thousand million”) pounds have accrued to the UK Treasury from what would have been, with independence, Shetland’s own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Notwithstanding that staggering contribution to the UK and Scottish economies Shetland is being starved of resources, via Scottish Government cuts to the SIC’s annual grant funding, as well as underfunding issues in particular budget areas, to the extent that rural schools have been closed or are under threat of closure.

That this funding shortage results, in part, from Westminster cuts may help to divide responsibility for Shetland’s difficulties between Westminster and Holyrood however it does nothing to address the original injustice described above.

This is unacceptable. Wir Shetland demands that Shetland be awarded local control of Shetland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and a fair share of the associated revenue. It follows that we also require local control of taxation and spending, including control of all transport links and their associated subsidies.

In summary, we require a similar level of local powers to that enjoyed by the autonomous island groups mentioned above.

Of course, Wir Shetland supports the aims of both OIOF and SIC in the negotiations; in particular, relating to allocation of transport subsidies and “needs-based” versus “per pupil”-based funding of education.

We neither wish nor intend to duplicate the work of, nor to tread on the toes of OIOF and SIC in any Islands Bill negotiations with the Scottish Government.

It is clear therefore that, while we support the aims of SIC/OIOF, the Islands Bill and its associated consultation are irrelevant to Wir Shetland’s campaign and we see little of benefit that we can contribute.

That said, we make this submission in the hope that recognition of Shetland’s unique needs and aspirations may be registered and our presence noted.

We are, of course, open to discussions with anyone wishing to improve Shetland’s lot and will be pleased to consider any approaches made in that regard.

Should you require or desire any further information about us and/or our aspirations for Shetland, please contact us, full details are available on our website or alternatively, at the contact details supplied.

Yours sincerely,

John G Tulloch
Wir Shetland