Autonomy could mean millions more for isles coffers
Shetland would be at least £172 million a year better off it gained British overseas territory or similar status – according to the organiser of the new multi-party campaign group.
More than 60 people attended Wir Shetland’s launch night at Lerwick Town Hall on Wednesday evening.
Former Shetland resident John Tulloch set out the vision of the group, which says it wants to protect the long-term interests of Shetlanders by achieving self-governing autonomy, in line with the democratic wishes of residents.
Mr Tulloch explained that the group wants to achieve a status similar to the Falkland Islands and would also leave the EU – as it is damaging to Shetland and its fishing industry and the reasons for remaining a member are weak.
Wir Shetland also aims to secure legal rights for Shetland residents and businesses and develop trade and cultural links between Shetland and her political and geographical neighbours.
Mr Tulloch referred to most recent figures in 2010 and said the full turnover of the Shetland economy was £1.1 billion GDP. Its balance of trade was £131 million.
He claimed self-governing powers for Shetland, similar to British overseas territories, would mean control of taxation, spending, and an exclusive economic zone – potentially of 200 miles around Shetland – that would mean taking control of fishing and oil and gas.
“Shetland on its own would be miles and miles better off financially than it is now and you have control of everything,” Mr Tulloch said.
The £172 million figure was conservative and he had used crude calculations.
The surplus included tax gains from companies and offshore oil and gas workers, as well as a substantial amount of money from expanded fishing grounds.
Mr Tulloch said the group would initially be engaging with parties and candidates for both parliamentary and council seats, but if they could not work together then Wir Shetland may look to create its own party and put forward a political candidate for the Holyrood elections next year.
He criticised the Our Islands Our Future Campaign between the Scottish government, the SIC, Western Isles and Orkney councils and said: “Their approach has been to go with a begging bowl and say ‘please sir can we have some more?’ but there has been no worthwhile movement in the Our Islands Our Future movement.”
The Scottish government, by having a consultation with all islands, was “kicking the can down the road” until after the Holyrood election, Mr Tulloch argued.
Now was the right time to negotiate as the whole “UK political situation is fluid at the moment and it’s malleable” and “if you don’t ask you don’t get”.
He said: “While Scottish independence is a hot issue we have to approach the British government and say: ‘A lot of folk want to go with Scotland. If you want Shetland to stay with Britain you better give us something to vote for’.”
Mr Tulloch spoke passionately about education and the closure of schools being a last resort.
According to his calculations, Shetland education had been underfunded by a minimum of £70 million by the Scottish government since 2008.
“School rolls are falling because the the communities that they are serving are depopulated,” said Mr Tulloch.
If a community was suffering from depopulation then closing a school left communities “on the verge of collapse”.
He argued for reversing depopulation and said that with quality broadband, decent roads and fixed links there was no reason communities could not thrive.
• For full story see tomorrow’s Shetland Times.