Exposing a myth (John Tulloch)
Last Friday’s paper contains an interview with Brian Smith. I realise he was talking politics, not history however the article emphasises his authority as an historian yet his reported claims contain sufficient myths and contradictions to fuel several replies.
Brian is quoted as saying “there are various levels of unreality in the debate [about Shetland autonomy]. Some letter-writers have cited academics claiming the islands could negotiate control over resources up to a 200-mile limit from its shores.”
I am one of those letter-writers and it appears my comments have been misinterpreted by our “Yes” sympathising master historian.
The purpose of my letters was to expose a myth being widely propagated by “Yes” supporters, including “Yes Shetland” and Jean Urquhart MSP, namely, that an autonomous Shetland would, automatically, be left with only a 12-mile Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ).
The article which exposed the myth was, ironically, put up by an SNP supporter as evidence to support what, insofar as one can tell is a completely unfounded claim by them about international law relating to the EEZs of autonomous island groups. Christopher Ritch followed up the link provided and the rest, Brian, “is history.”
Key phrases found in Mahdi Zahraa’s European Journal of International Law paper (“Prospective Anglo-Scottish Maritime Boundary Revisited”) are “negotiated between the parties,” “special circumstances” and “equitable principles.”
While there are many “special circumstances” involved I personally would expect Shetland neither to corner all the resources within its theoretical maximum EEZ, nor to aspire to corner all of them. Grabbing the lot would not represent “equitable principles” and would, in my opinion, be simply greedy in a peculiarly “un-Shetland” way.
Shetland will always need support with costly functions like defence and all such things would necessarily be part of the negotiations, along with EEZs and everything else.
As it stands we currently have virtually zero say in any offshore resources, hence the unpopularity of the EU, membership of which has damaged, among other things, Shetland’s fishing industry. It is extremely important, therefore, that we negotiate a say over an “equitable” proportion of those resources and indeed, over whether we should follow the suit of other autonomous island groups and exit the EU (“fear of change”? Pah!).
Brian, in the best Shetland tradition, is embarrassed by “whit da Sooth fokk mebby tinks o’ wis,” however this smacks of what psychologists refer to as “learned helplessness,” relying on the benevolence of our “betters” to give us some of what we hope for but daren’t ask. I can’t accept that.
Why, in any case, must autonomy be linked exclusively to the remaining UK, why can’t Shetland be autonomous and linked to Scotland? Denmark and Finland are small countries yet Faroe, Greenland and Åland all manage their own affairs and seem to be doing “nicely, thank you.”
The most intelligent comment I’ve heard from a local politician to date was from SIC Convener Bell who was quoted as saying “it is incumbent for the SIC to ‘test the water’ and not to ‘sleepwalk’ into whatever outcome the referendum will throw at the islands authorities.”
In any event, considerable constitutional change is likely to ensue, irrespective of the outcome of the referendum and a well-informed public debate covering all main options is imperative. People do have brains and any “ridiculous” non-starters will be swiftly eliminated however they need valid information, not propaganda.
The main options have yet to be properly explored and insufficient public information exists on which to base intelligent conclusions. Deciding our position now would imply resorting to dogmatic belief e.g. anti-monarchism, as opposed to what is actually best for the future of Shetland.
What must never be lost in all the huffing and puffing is that this opportunity is unlikely to be seen again in the lifetime of any Shetlander now living and it behoves us to seize the day.
“Carpe diem”, Shetland!