New challenge for council (Ian R Clark)

In the late 1960s, the possibility of oil developments posed an immense threat to Shetland and its “way of life”. The council rose to the challenge and turned the threat into an opportunity. Decades have passed and a new threat has emerged with the current debate on the future of the United Kingdom. I suggest that this threat can be turned into an even greater opportunity.

Since the extent of the threat may not be obvious, I begin by mentioning two factors that indicate its seriousness. The first is the determination shown by the Scottish government to circumvent the powers given to Shetland by the UK government in order to redirect “oil revenues” from Shetland to Scotland. The second is the preferential financial treatment which the Scottish government has accorded to Orkney over Shetland.

However, the opportunity is as real as the threat. All these decades ago, when the prospect of oil in UK waters was beginning to give some credence to the SNP’s ambitions, Shetland answered their slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil” with the simple retort “It’s Shetland’s Oil”, going on to indicate that, in the event of any serious progress on Scottish independence, Shetland would negotiate with both parties (i.e. Scotland and England) as to which would be favoured by Shetland’s allegiance. The media responded to this with some verve but the SNP took the heat out of the situation brilliantly by stating that Shetland’s stance was reasonable and that, in the event, they would be happy to enter into such a negotiation. This was well documented in the national press and, given the SNP’s current protestation that they always honour their word, it would be difficult for them to turn their backs on their previous public promise. Moreover, it is unlikely that they would risk creating a situation in which Shetland was in direct negotiation with the UK government, alone. I am sure that the UK government would welcome such negotiations. Why? Because if the SNP lost Shetland it would lose most of the national oil revenues, without which their economic case would be seriously weakened.

If my assessment is correct, the council needs to take immediate action, to which there would be two parts both of which would have to be addressed almost simultaneously.
The first would be to establish that either or both governments would enter into negotiations. This is unlikely to be achieved by a simple request to both. The case for such negotiations would have to be established and the matters to be negotiated identified. In addition presentations would have to be made to opinion formers. The effort required for this should not be underestimated.

The second part would involve detailed work on the individual matters to be negotiated. This has to be thorough and would demand commitment far in excess of what is expected from either members or officials in normal circumstances. Expert advice of the highest quality would be required from lawyers, financiers and parliamentary agents. This could be costly, but Zetland County Council did this despite its meagre financial resources.

In regard to the matters to be negotiated, these would include matters that lie outside of local government responsibilities. An example of these was raised by councillor W A Smith these many years ago when he identified that it would be important to retain the link with Aberdeen for national health services; another being the legal system that would apply in Shetland should the on-going link be with London.

Needless to say, a pre-requisite of success would be close co-operation between the council and the community.

The opportunity will be lost if early action is not taken.      

Ian R Clark


Add Your Comment
  • Dave Heaney

    • January 11th, 2012 23:13

    Just what planet are you on ? go and get a map, Scotland has been governed from Hollyrood for 12 year’s now. The SNP are doing a great job in running the country and will win total Idependance from all london parties when they decide, not when tories,lib’s and lackies labour

  • Brian Smith

    • January 12th, 2012 7:50

    Fascinating argument: Shetland should negotiate with Edinburgh and Westminster about oil that Shetland doesn’t own …

  • ian tinkler

    • January 12th, 2012 11:34

    The SNP are doing a great job in running the country? The SNP are doing a great job in ruining the country side. The SNP are doing a great job in ruining the country and Union GB. Shetlanders deserve better than this. Never mind, remember Bannockburn, let’s all regress 700 years, and revert to primitive tribal and feudal societies.

  • P. Fraser

    • January 12th, 2012 11:54

    Scotland isn’t a country. It is a region of a country called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is not recognised anywhere as a country; it has no seat at the UN or at NATO or at the EU. Scotland hasn’t been a country since 1707 when it went crawling to England for a bail out after the failure of the Darien Scheme. Scotland is administered (not governed) by a regional assembly in Edinburgh.

    A minority of people in the Scottish region led by the political and economic fantasist Alec Salmond wish to break away from the rest of the UK which is the country we all live in. Salmond wants to hold an illegal referendum in Scotland to give powers to the Scottish regional assembly to break the Scottish region away from the rest of our country. Fortunately for him the government of this country has offered to legislate to give the Scottish assembly powers to legalise his referendum.

    If Scotland had broken away from the UK ten years ago, and followed the Salmond economic model, it would be in sorry bankrupt state much like Eire or Greece. Scotland is indeed fortunate that it remained in the UK and out of the Euro, and had the rest of the UK willing to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland.

    Salmond and his independence cohorts are trying to con the country into believing that somehow most of the oil beneath UK territorial sea-bed belongs to the Scottish region. The oil actually belongs to the oil companies and revenue from extraction goes to the UK government. It is not Scotland’s oil (or Shetland’s oil for that matter). In the unlikely event of Scotland being given leave to break away from the UK there is no guarantee that Salmond could negotiate any share of the oil revenues to which Scotland has no automatic right.

    Salmond is pinning his whole independence project on his twin economic fantasies of getting his hands on vast oil revenues and production of renewable energy (so expensive that no one will want to buy it). Salmond’s independence scheme, should it ever come to pass, will be a 21st century Darien Scheme and in time Scotland will once more have to crawl back to the rest of the UK for another bail out.

  • John Thomson

    • January 12th, 2012 13:48

    I completely agree with the points P.Fraser has put across.

    I for one will be voting NO in any referendum.

  • Steve Poleson

    • January 12th, 2012 13:50

    Shetland’s destiny will decide who has the right to the tax revenue from the oil.

    It if were not for revolutionaries such as Mr Clark overcoming the pessimists of the day in the 1970s Shetland would not have enjoyed its high standard of living.

    The new Council that is elected in May should consider Shetland’s constitutional status as a priority. Yes there are many other challenges facing Shetland today. But the next 2-3 years offers Shetland a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape Shetland’s relationship with Scotland and the UK. With oil, gas and renewables potential around its coast, Shetland has a lot to offer any country.

    Shetland should not sleepwalk through this period. An appraisal of Shetland’s constitutional options must be commissioned by the new Council without delay.

  • D. Thomson

    • January 12th, 2012 15:58

    Unfortunately Shetland has no more or less constitutional clout than any other local authority area and thus no more right to negotiate anything on oil revenues. The only people who believe Shetland has some special constitutional position are Captain Calamity of Forvik and Councillor Cluness of Cloud Cuckoo Land.

    Please don’t encourage them to waste any more public money on Edinburgh lawyers. Thanks to the crass stupidity of Cluness, Goodlad and Wishart over the Bressay Bridge, the Edinburgh lawyers are already dining well on money that should have benefited Shetland.

  • Fiona Johnston

    • January 12th, 2012 18:16

    Scotland is a country. It is not a region. (see link above)

    Shetland’s role in that country should be addressed and the needs of its population, and the benefits accrued from the various funds over the years must be vigorously defended. The first rule of this defence must be an honest understanding of what Scotland is, what it is trying to achieve and how best to benefit from the developments that are about to take place.

    Denying that Scotland is a country is not a clever or useful place to start with that defence. Clear thought and an understanding of where we are now and where we need to be in the future will be a much better use of Shetland’s undoubted talents and energy.

  • Dave Heaney

    • January 12th, 2012 22:00

    Scotland is derived from the Latin Scoti, ( The land of the Gaels) in the 8th century it was
    called the land of the Pic’s.

    Wars of Independence 1296-1328. Victory at Bannockburnin 1314 proved Scot’s had regained control of their Kingdom. 1320 saw the world’s first documented declaration of Independencer, the Declarstion of Arbroth, lead to the legal recognation of Scottish Sovereignty by the English crown.

  • Gregor Mc Gregor

    • January 12th, 2012 22:29

    To say Scotland is not a country is of course totally wrong, this view could only come from a
    person who is not Scottish. Alba in gallic is made up of 790 islands occupying the northern
    third of the island it share’s a border with England to the south and is bounded by the NORTH SEA to the east. The ATLANTIC ocean to the NORTH and WEST,and the NORTH CHANNEL and IRISH SEA to the Southwest in addition to the mainland. the 790 islands include the NORTHERN ISLES and HEBRIDES.

    EDINBRUGH the country’s capital and second largest is one of EUROPE’S largest financial centres. Edinburgh was the hub of SCOTTISH ENLIGHTMENT of the 18th century which transformed SCOTLAND into one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses
    of Europe.

    The North Sea and North Atlantic contain the largest OIL and GAS reserves in Europe this has given has given Scotland and Aberdeen the title of EUROPES OIL CAPITAL. All Oil and Gas reserves in the North sea belong to Scotland.

  • phili smith

    • January 13th, 2012 16:35

    Quote Gregor Mc Gregor “All oil and gas reserves in the North Sea belong to Scotland”
    Has the SNP informed the oil company’s of this ? LOL !!!
    Only in the Nationalistic dreams of Alex Salmond.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • January 13th, 2012 17:06

    An up to date online dictionary definition of Scotland.
    A constituent country of the United Kingdom comprising the northern part of the island of Great Britain as well as the Hebrides, Shetland Islands, and Orkney Islands. Inhabited by Picts in prehistoric times, the region was invaded but never conquered by the Romans and split into a variety of small kingdoms after the fifth century a.d. In the ninth century most of Scotland was unified into one kingdom, but conflicts with the English to the south soon erupted, leading to a series of bloody wars. When Mary Queen of Scots’s son James VI succeeded to the English throne in 1603, the two kingdoms were united. Scotland became a part of the kingdom of Great Britain by a parliamentary act of 1707. Edinburgh is the capital and Glasgow the largest city.
    I think this says Scotland is not a country in its own right but part of Great Britain.

  • ian tinkler

    • January 13th, 2012 22:04

    When Mary Queen of Scots’ son James VI succeeded to the English throne in 1603, the two kingdoms were united. Please note, England at its greatest and most wealthy, on the death of Elizabeth, chose with Scotland, to unite under a Scottish King. How so, the English oppressed the down trodden Scotts? England at its strongest and most influential united with Scotland, with a Scottish King and under absolute monarchy. Does that not dispel a myth or two and expose the nationalist lie of English dominance and oppression?

  • Colin Hunter

    • January 15th, 2012 19:01

    This Wikipedia article makes interesting reading. Oddly enough, it appears to describe a small country which was also split into several enclaves, it was taken over as part of another country before gaining independence in its own right. It then went on to great prosperity, so much so that it is now recognised as having the highest standard of living anywhere in the world! Not that I’m drawing any parallels you understand! Hmmmmm!

  • Vernon Yarker

    • January 16th, 2012 10:31

    There seems to be an assumption that a free Scotland will have vast amounts of energy to sell, presumably to England, if not then by very expensive cables to to Europe perhaps. England is not short of possible wind and tidal energy locations. Indeed, the worlds largest off shore wind farm is already half completed in the North sea and there are many others planned. Moreover they are coming up like Neptune’s l daffodils off the coast of Holland and Denmark.

    Yes Scotland could conceivably sell home grown power to other countries, but these countries are already producing their own and would only buy if Scotland could offer it cheaper than their own resources could supply. Thus, if you are not in the Union, where wages are controlled pretty much centrally, then the net effect in Scotland of exporting energy would be if they could undercut national suppliers. Or, to put it another way if wages were lower in Scotland !


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