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Viewpoint / Mixed views on prospect of second indyref

NICOLA Sturgeon’s announcement that the SNP government is to seek permission for a second Scottish independence referendum in late 2018 or early 2019 has drawn a mixed response from politicians locally. 

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott voiced his frustration, saying Shetland had made its position “very clear” that it wished to remain in the European Union and part of the UK – both outcomes he wants to see happen. 

But he made clear that he laid the blame for the constitutional “mess” at the door of former Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the EU referendum, rather than Sturgeon. 

Shetland voted 56.5-43.5 in favour of remaining in the EU last year and voted No to Scottish independence in 2014 by a percentage margin of 63.7-36.3.

SNP Highlands and Islands list MSP Maree Todd described Sturgeon’s announcement as “great news” and said it was the right decision given Scotland voted 62-38 to remain in the EU, but has seen no sign of compromise from the UK government in its approach to Brexit negotiations. 

SIC leader Gary Robinson said the Our Islands Our Future (OIOF) campaign had been launched in 2013 to position the islands for greater autonomy amid constitutional uncertainty, and that was more the case now than ever.

Meanwhile Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said:” The focus of the fishing industry is entirely on ensuring we free ourselves from the straitjacket of the common fisheries policy [CFP], which forces us to give away to other EU countries almost 60 per cent of the fish in our waters.

“Any constitutional arrangement under which we would continue to be bound by the CFP would be unacceptable to the industry.”

Scott said: “And so it begins again. Just two years after putting the country through one divisive referendum, the SNP are using the chaos of Brexit to force another one.

“Is Scotland never going to concentrate on standards in our schools, the lack of GPs across the country and the need to lower ferry fares for islanders? Instead Scotland will now be in full campaign mode until the second referendum takes place.

“The person responsible for all this is not Nicola Sturgeon – it is David Cameron. He gambled with the UK’s future to resolve the historical fault lines with the Conservative party.

“He is to blame for the mess of not one but two referendums, perpetual uncertainty and a future where Scotland could leave both the European and UK single markets.”

The Liberal Democrat MSP said Shetland had to consider whether the SNP plans for an independent Scotland to be in or out of the EU, including the implications for the fishing industry if it is still saddled with the much-loathed CFP.

He added that council candidates elected in May would “form a new SIC which will be charged with leadership on this future. I will work with that new council on exploring what is in Shetland’s interests.”

Todd said she welcomed Sturgeon’s decision to seek parliamentary approval to begin discussions with the UK Government on the details of a Section 30 order to enable an independence referendum to take place.

Sturgeon has proposed a referendum takes place between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 when the shape of the UK’s Brexit deal will be clearer.

Todd said it was “vital that the Scottish people are given the opportunity to decide on the future of our relationship with the rest of Europe and with the rest of the UK”.

“I appreciate that not everyone will welcome the announcement this morning,” she said.  “Indeed I did not want Scotland to be pushed into this position – I voted to remain in the EU, as did most Scots.

“We have discovered over the past weeks and months that not only are the UK Government determined to take Scotland out of the EU, but also out of the single market which would be extremely damaging to the Highlands and Islands economy and to communities across the Highlands and Islands.”

She said leaving the EU would be “immensely damaging” and would affect crofting and farming, tourism and health in particular.

“The UK Government either are not thinking about the damage that their hard Brexit will do to Scotland or they don’t care,” Todd continued. “This is clear from their refusal to engage constructively with the Scottish Government to find a compromise which would respect the democratically expressed view of the Scottish people.”

Todd added: “We are going in a different direction from the rest of the UK which is becoming more right wing, more regressive, and more isolationist. I want Scotland to become an outward-looking, progressive, independent country.

“I am sure that the Scottish people will make a good choice, and I think that we will choose to become an independent country.”

Robinson said that back in 2013, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles clubbed together because they “thought that the unlocking of the constitutional position could offer more opportunity for the islands to gain more devolution of powers”.

Some have criticised the OIOF platform for being insufficiently radical, though it has resulted in the drawing up of an Islands Bill and could see devolution of control and income of the seabed to Scotland’s islands.

Robinson said it would now be up to the next council, but he viewed it as “just a case of redoubling our efforts” to secure further devolution of powers.

He said there was undoubtedly a “huge amount of uncertainty”, with a recent meeting at Islesburgh hearing how Brexit might be a good thing for the fishing industry, though Robinson is far from assured that will be the case, and that it is “almost certainly not a good thing for the agricultural industry”.

“Even more worryingly, there appears to be some suggestion that Westminster will decide what’s devolved,” he said. “Clearly that doesn’t abide by the spirit, never mind the letter, of what was in the Scotland Bill.

“We need to make sure Shetland is in a position to capitalise on the uncertainty and hopefully try to get more power devolved to the islands.”

Labour’s Highlands and Islands list MSPs Rhoda Grant and David Stewart said the country was already facing uncertainty and that a second independence referendum would only compound that.

“We firmly oppose a second divisive referendum and will vote against the SNP’s proposals next week,” Grant said.

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