SHETLAND Islands Council’s leadership has joined the Liberal Democrats and SNP in sending out a strong message to EU nationals living in the islands that they remain an important and valued part of the community.
Council convener Malcolm Bell emphasised that Shetland remained a welcoming place for business and individuals – comments echoed by both Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael and SNP Shetland convener Robbie McGregor on Monday.
They were speaking amid major upheaval and uncertainty throughout the UK in the wake of Thursday’s 52-48 vote to leave the European Union. Shetland voted in favour of remaining by a margin of 56.5 per cent to 43.5 per cent.
Bell said: “It’s extremely important that we emphasise that Shetland is – and will remain – a welcoming place for non-UK businesses and individuals to visit and do business in.
“Clearly, the international political landscape is in flux and there is a period of uncertainty ahead, but I would like to reassure EU citizens living and working here that Shetland continues to value their presence and their many contributions to the community.”
SIC chief executive Mark Boden has already arranged to meet Scotland Office civil servants to brief them on issues of significance to Shetland including fishing and aquaculture.
The council says it will also work with Shetland Fishermen’s Association and other key organisations to advance the case for what is in the isles’ best interests directly to the relevant ministers and departments.
Council leader Gary Robinson, meanwhile, was in Orkney to meet Scotland Office undersecretary Lord Dunlop and a team of civil servants on Monday.
“It is, of course, far too early to say what will happen in the months and years to come, and that depends on how the UK government develops its policy for negotiation with the EU,” Robinson said.
He said the meeting with Lord Dunlop had been “very productive” and he found the minister and civil servants “very supportive of involving the island councils and communities in the development of the government’s position”.
Carmichael told Shetland News that, first and foremost, he wanted to send out a “very clear message to EU nationals currently living and working in our community”.
“As far as I’m concerned, and I think I do speak for the overwhelming number of people, they remain a very welcome part of our community and that, however this works out, they will feel able to remain here contribution to our community life as long as they choose to.”
He was “as shocked as anybody else” by the result, but pleased Shetland and Orkney had both voted to remain part of the EU and, though the nationalist result “does present some enormous challenges”, it is essential to “unite our country as soon as possible”.
Carmichael said people were right to be worried about what the future holds with the UK Government effectively rudderless, and “the fact that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been largely invisible all weekend has not been good… nor has been the current convulsions within the official opposition”.
“The truly shocking thing that we’ve learned over the last few days has not been the result, it has been the revelation that nobody within the Leave campaign had done the necessary work to think about how this would be handled if they got their way.”
It is very difficult to know how the Article 50 procedure by which the UK will leave the EU will work in practice, Carmichael continued, with the ramifications likely to be felt far beyond Britain.
The SNP government at Holyrood has already floated the possibility of a second independence referendum given the country voted 62-38 against leaving the EU – with all 32 local authority areas voting to Remain.
Another option mentioned is the “reverse Greenland”, based on how Greenland was able to remain part of EU member state Denmark, but is not part of the EU itself.
“The Scottish Government have spoken about some ideas including what I think is called the ‘reverse Greenland’ option, but I don’t know what is actually proposed there, and I think I would be surprised if that was achievable – but it’s certainly worth exploring,” Carmichael said.
He is not keen on rushing into holding another indyref: “Let’s deal with one constitutional issue at a time, and right at the moment the priority needs to be stabilising our government, stabilising our economy in particular, and this is not a time to rush fences.”
While Labour may well join the Conservatives in seeking a new leader during the fallout from last week’s vote, the diminished Lib Dem presence in parliament – the most consistently pro-EU party down the years – seem content with their contribution to the Remain campaign.
“The party’s input to the campaign was everything I would have expected for and hoped for,” Carmichael said. “The campaign as a whole did have some deficiencies, but you have to be realistic and say that the real damage to the EU case was done for the 40 years leading up to the vote.
“I would also accept some of the damage was done by the various institutions of the EU themselves, that have been remote from the communities that are affected, and often slow to respond, which hasn’t made putting the pro-EU case in British politics always an easy task.”
He accepted the shift in control over fishing could present an opportunity to improve that industry’s fortunes, but only “if the people responsible for fisheries management at the heart of fisheries management”.
“That’s not always been the case from our own governments in Edinburgh and London,” Carmichael added. “Remote management has never been the sole preserve of the EU.”