Shetland should exploit the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future to secure greater autonomy for the Northern Isles, according to MSP Tavish Scott.
He told BBC Scotland’s Politics Show yesterday that more control over local affairs was a necessary antidote to centralisation of powers at Holyrood and Westminster.
Mr Scott was speaking ahead of the publication of a joint submission with Orkney MSP Liam McArthur to the UK government’s consultation on an independence referendum.
Discussion of Sheltand’s constitutional future has been muted in the isles, while the national media has speculated about the possibility of a no vote to independence in Shetland at the same time as a positive endorsement of First Minister Alex Salmond’s plans in the rest of Scotland.
The Liberal Democrat MSP appeared to accept Mr Salmond’s preferred date for a referendum in the autumn of 2014 although the official position of the UK government, which his party is a member of, is for an earlier poll.
Asked if a no/yes result would be accepted in Shetland, Mr Scott said: “Who knows? The real point here is that instead of just waiting to see what happens to us in the islands, I think Liam McArthur and I want to make sure there is a real debate about what we want from the governments of both Scotland and the UK.
“Instead of just being seen as a box off the Moray Firth, we want to make sure that we are the centre and the rest of the UK is the box off our coastline. That’s how we want to frame this debate – an important one for our islands in the coming months and indeed years until we have that vote in 2014.”
He said he was not convinced that people in Shetland or Scotland as a whole would vote for independence, but argued that if the isles waited to have done to it what had happened in the past, “we’ll gain nothing out of this process”.
“I do want to see more autonomy, because what we have seen over the last five years has been the centralising of powers down to Edinburgh, the taking away of responsibilities from local people and I don’t think that’s good for the islands at all.”
He added: “In the past the SNP did articulate a policy position of self-determination for the Northern Isles … I simply want to hold them to that.”
He claimed Shetland and Orkney would have a “pretty big” share geographically of the oil and gas reserves off their coastlines, although he did not make it clear how without advocating outright independence for the isles (or devolution of powers over oil and gas) this fact could be exploited to give the isles leverage with the Scottish government.
Outgoing SIC convener Sandy Cluness told the programme: “It’s time we had a debate again in Shetland about greater autonomy. We learned in the 70s when we took on central government that we could do much better for the islands with our agreements with the oil companies and so on. We have to look at that kind of system again.
“We have to look at a different system of taxation so we can get cheaper fuel and cheaper transport and that’s what will keep these islands alive.”