Located closer to Norway than Scotland, the Shetland Islands, an archipelago made up of almost a hundred islands, although with only fifteen of them inhabited, are beginning to move to seek independence. The islands council agreed to start exploring options to achieve “financial and political self-determination” after the majority of its councilors, in a vote of 18-2, with two absent, approved a motion on the matter made by three associate councilors. with the movement for autonomy Wir Shetland (“Our Shetland” in the local dialect, the Norn). These representatives demand an investigation into whether greater autonomy would benefit the islands, especially given the uncertainty that looms over the United Kingdom with the final exit from the European Union on December 31, when the Brexit transition period ends, and due to its dissatisfaction with the centralized decisions taken from Edinburgh and the cuts in funds given to the islands by the government of the Scottish Nationalist Party.
The Shetlands were, together with the Western Isles of Scotland, the only ones to vote against joining the EEC in the 1975 referendum. “We believe that Shetland has the means to have a positive future. However, in recent times we have seen that decision making is increasingly centralized and public funding is constantly reduced. We are concerned that this current situation seriously threatens the prosperity, and even the basic sustainability of Shetland as a community, “says the motion passed 45 years after that historic consultation, adding:” In order to seek alternatives to ensure that Shetland can achieve and to maintain its full potential, we the undersigned, decide that the Shetland Islands Council formally begins to explore options to achieve financial and political self-determination.
The example of the Faroe
The residents and councilors thus hope to be able to adopt a path similar to that taken by the Faroe Islands, which have an autonomous status within the Kingdom of Denmark, and since 1948 has had its own parliament, as well as the position of prime minister. According to the Shetland News, council leader Steven Coutts recommended passage of the motion saying that this way of working with decisions being made remotely, “just doesn’t work.” “Continuing with the status quo is not an option,” said Councilman Duncan Anderson.
In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, in which 55% of the population decided to remain part of the UK, the Shetland Islands’ vote in favor of staying was even higher: 63.7%. A local parliamentarian even indicated then that the islands could try to remain part of the United Kingdom if Scotland finally left. Its context is complex, since it belongs to Scotland although geographically and culturally it is closer to Scandinavia while politically it is more aligned with Brussels.
Complaints and demands
Indeed, with the launch of Brexit, Scotland’s Chief Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants a second independence referendum, arguing that the context has changed enough that another consultation is necessary. But the islanders do not agree with her intentions. The story comes from further afield: five years ago, a group of activists from Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles failed in their attempt before the Scottish Parliament to carry out a referendum that could open the door to Scottish independence, further arguing which were historically part of Norway.
With just over 23,000 inhabitants, the archipelago has important resources, such as fertile fishing waters, as well as natural gas and oil. Ironically, they face some of the highest rates of energy poverty in the country. Conservative Jamie Halcro Johnston directly accused Sturgeon and the Scottish Nationalist Party of neglecting the region, adding that “Nicola Sturgeon only appears when there are elections.” For the Tory, the geography and history of Shetland have made it a distinct community within Scotland and the United Kingdom.