Too many ‘flights of fancy’ in constitution debate, says Smith

One of the islands’ most prominent historians says the “fantastical” way the debate on its constitutional future is often presented nationally makes Shetlanders “look like fools”.

Brian Smith told this newspaper there were too many “flights of fancy” about the islands either be­coming a crown dependency or re­turning to rule from Scandinavia.

He detects a deep-seated “fear of change” and an instinctive desire to cling to the status quo.

“There’s no doubt that some of this rings a bell with the Shetland public, this idea that in a time of major change possibly being imminent, Shetlanders can some­how crawl away from the change by wedding themselves more firmly to the crown,” he said.

He said there were historical precedents for this mindset dating as far back as the 16th century, and he feels the argument has taken on an increasingly “bizarre form”.

Udal law campaigner Stuart Hill in 2008 attempted to declare a crown dependency on Forvik, a 2.5 acre island south of Papa Stour. Though that found scant local support, Mr Smith said Mr Hill’s crusade was closely comparable to Tavish Scott’s “cursory” recent call for home rule.

“It’s Stuart Hill that came up with it, and the fact that it’s been swallowed now by the MSP is quite extraordinary,” Mr Smith said. “The basic idea appears to be that if there’s going to be big change, we don’t want anything to do with it. Therefore, we go as supplicants to the crown to save us.”

Mr Smith is a trade unionist and former Labour party member, who says he is minded to vote ‘yes’ in next September’s referendum on Scottish indepen­dence.

Within that context, he is baffled by some national portrayals of a Shetland populace continually hark­ing back to ancient historical ties with Scandinavia.

“I think it makes Shetlanders look like fools, because there’s no reality to this,” he said. “The number of people in Shetland who feel this affinity is minute. When Tavish says all this stuff about Norway, it’s bunkum.

“Obviously the attitude to rural communities in Norway is in some ways admirable, but the question is how you change things to reflect that. Saying ‘let’s go back to Norway’ is meaningless, because there’s absolutely no mechanism whereby that could possibly happen.”

He said there were “various levels of unreality” in the debate on Shet­land’s constitutional future. Some letter-writers have cited academics claiming the islands could negotiate control over re­sources up to a 200-mile limit from its shores.

“What do Shetlanders have to negotiate with in a discussion like that?” he asked. “Tavish says ‘it’s Shetland’s oil’ – how did Shetland acquire that oil? Shetland’s not a nation state. Alex Salmond is running a political campaign to try and alter the situation. Nobody in Shetland is doing that, they’re just fantasising about it.”

Mr Smith said he favoured the more sensible discussion about extra powers being held by the SIC.

“I think that the council should negotiate with the Scottish govern­ment about possibilities,” he said. “That’s likely to bear fruit much more than any amount of jabbering about the crown dependencies.

“It’s when the flights of fancy begin to appear that my heart sinks, because I’m afraid the result of these flights of fancy is nil. Crown dependencies are for rich busines­speople; they cer­tainly won’t benefit people on benefits.”

At a time of massive change in 1577, Mr Smith said Shetlanders had petitioned the crown arguing for a Royal Commission every few years to look after the isles’ interests. That never happened, but it was “very significant that even at that distant date they were looking for that”.

Fast forward 400 years and he believes the same frame of mind allowed the Shetland Movement to briefly flourish during the Thatcher years.

With David Cameron’s coalition “going ten times further than That­cher”, Mr Smith said he believed rule from Edinburgh is more likely to result in political progress. “It may be a counsel of despair, but I’m inclined to think change would be more likely to emerge under a Scottish Govern­ment.”


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • March 31st, 2013 13:51

    There are so many debatable points here I hardly know where to begin so I’ll start with the bit that refers to my own corespondence. From above;-

    “He (Brian) said there were “various levels of unreality” in the debate on Shet­land’s constitutional future. 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 the letter-writers referred to and it appears my letters have been misinterpreted by our “Yes-minded” master historian so let’s clarify.

    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 Aland all manage their own affairs and seem to be doing “nicely, thank you.”

    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!

  • Derick Tulloch

    • April 1st, 2013 12:04

    I wid suggest John in Arrochar, that Shetland’s future is up ta the people that live there. Not including John, or me.

    Strongly agree that the ‘Crown Dependency’ tosh is indeed making Shelties a laughing stock, plus being a fast track to a 12 mile EEZ and penury.

    There are legitimate questions to be asked regarding the relationship between the ‘periphery’ – not just Shetland but Orkney, the Western Isles, the Highlands (yes even including Arrochar), Dumfries & Galloway, the Borders – and Edinburgh. And I think these questions are best asked, and answered, in the forthcoming discussions regarding a written constitution for Scotland, and via a Senate of the Regions. The outlying areas potentially have a huge voice in Scotland. If we work together

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 1st, 2013 13:02

    Shetland’s future is absolutely up to those who live there, “Derick-in-wherever-you-live” and that may or may not include me when the time comes or at some point in the future.

    The fact that your opening gambit focuses on where I live as opposed to any of the several arguments I have advanced above suggests you are ubanle to counter them.

    As in the case of Mahdi Zahraa’s paper which YOU put up without reading, you have obviously not read my comment above, here, I’ll help;-

    “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 Aland all manage their own affairs and seem to be doing “nicely, thank you.””

    So why are you still “wittering awa” about “crown dependencies”?

    In any case, the dreaded 12-mile EEZ you still insist on trotting out would be 12 nautical miles more than we have at present.

    And the Isle of Man has both viking and Scottish history and is a crown dependency yet I don’t hear anyone Sooth thinking they are a “laughing stock.”

    Orkney, Western Isles, Borders and “Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh” are welcome to discuss their own and/or joint arrangements and The SIC will, doubtless, consider that, too.

    My point is that no-one has enough information yet to take an informed view on what will best for the long term future of Shetland and this may be our only chance.

    No point waiting until after the gate is locked.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 1st, 2013 15:21

    Brian Smith has presented an indisputable bizarre twist to this debate. I have never read such condescending and disingenuous moonshine, since I had a copy of the “Socialist Worker” thrust into my palm on Aberdeen’s Union Street.

    Mr Smith said “he detects a deep seated “fear of change” and an instinctive desire to cling to the status quo.” Just what part of a desire for independence, crown dependency or greater autonomy for Shetland constitutes the status quo? You could not advocate a greater wish for change than this.

    Next he says we look like fools as there is no reality in us harking back to our historical ties with Scandinavia as the amount of Shetlanders who feel this is minute. Wake up Brian we have an annual Viking festival which is held multilaterally throughout Shetland. Lerwick is twinned with Måløy in Norway and a prodigious amount of Shetlanders have Scandinavian surnames, then there is oil, fishing, aquaculture and leisure sailing ties with Norway. You’re right about one thing Brian “all this stuff about Norway, its bunkum,” aye your stuff.

    I am glad that this “prominent trade unionist” is not my union representative. As any fool knows when negotiating an increase in salary you start the bidding by asking twice what you actually want. Then through the bidding process you arrive at the figure you actually need. The same goes for autonomy, if that’s what you ask for you will be allowed to choose the wall paper for the town hall. You ask for independence or a crown dependency, Westminster and Holyrood sit up and listen and hopefully the least we get is greater autonomy.

    Tavish is a politician Brian and he practices politics that’s what all this is about politics, politics, and more politics. Plus a desire to take control of our own destiny and not have what Holyrood think is best for us thrust upon us with no say in the matter. Maybe you have not noticed but the people you would so willingly say “yes” to have given our lifeline ferry contract to a company who put profits before passengers and shareholders before Shetlanders. Not much of a recommendation for those who would govern these islands from Edinburgh.

    Finally Brian, we will always be misgoverned by Westminster, Holyrood and ultimately Brussels, unless, “WE AXE FOR WHAT WE WANT!”

  • David Spence

    • April 1st, 2013 19:14

    I would like to see documented prove that Scotland has claim to the islands, Shetland and Orkney, because as far as I know, there is none. The islands were, I believed, pawned to Scotland…….Denmark not saying ‘ Here, have these islands as part of our Wedding Dowry ‘.

    If there is 100% documented prove Scotland has sovereign rights to Shetland as well as Orkney, please give me a web link (if available) to show this and explain how Scotland has such control.

    If it were, so to speak, an unwritten gentlemans agreement, surely this in itself would still have to be documented for legal as well as historical purposes. Again, where is this evidence.

    If Scotland cannot prove it has sovereign rights to Shetland and Orkney, why should it have any say (and presuming Denmark were to get interested again in claiming the islands back due to lack of evidence from Scotland) in how the islands are governed?

    I do agree with Brian, sadly Shetlander’s do not want to rock the boat. As said previously, they are happy with the ‘ Status Quo ‘……..If it isn’t broke, why fix it Attitude……which is a shame as it gives the impression Shetlander’s are ‘ weak minded ‘ when it comes to standing up for their rights etc etc in the political arena.

  • Brian Smith

    • April 1st, 2013 19:33

    O, dat’s cheered me up!

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 1st, 2013 22:14

    Fascinating though it is, and wonderfully entertaining as it was when Stuart Hill kept turning up at the sherriff court in legal costume and rejecting its jurisdiction, in the end, as Stuart discovered to his cost, you will get short shrift from Scottish judiciary with this topic.

    Even if Stuart is subsequently proven to be right, archaic legal technicalities could hardly triumph over the “islanders right to self-determination” so you’d need to convince a solid majority of the population it would be a good idea to swap the UK for Scandinavia.

    The “mechanism” does exist, though – democracy. Had the Falkland Islanders voted to go with Argentina in their recent referendum, it would have been pretty difficult for the UK to refuse.

    That said, notwithstanding Shetlanders’ propensity to don Viking costume, I suspect a return to Scandinavia is a pretty long shot.

    It’s true, of course, no-one is campaigning, the council is the only formal group taking an interest in increased autonomy for Shetland – kudos to them however if there is no apparent demand for change their negotiating hand will be seriously weakened.

    If you dunna AXE, you winna get!

  • David Spence

    • April 1st, 2013 22:42

    I am glad it did Brian lol……..but the main question has not been answered as to who actually has complete sovereign rights to Shetland and Orkney?

    Is there any documented proof residing in the Scottish Parliament that states Scotland has sovereign rights to the islands of Orkney and Shetland?

    Would the evidence, if presented in court, be unquestionable and valid as to who has the land rights to the islands…….and if it wasn’t, would Shetland and Orkney be in a position of self governance or to go back to the sovereignty of Denmark?

    The only playing card Scotland has in its interest in the islands NOW, is purely economic and this of Sullom Voe, now that the fishing has been, literally, decimated. The islands, or to be more precise, Sullom Voe is probably bringing in millions if not billions into the ‘ British economy ‘, and with such a pot of gold, there is no way Scotland or the UK will ever entertain the sovereignty of the islands.

    No doubt, as long as Sullom Voe is bringing in millions into the country, the question of Sovereignty will just go on and on and on and on until people eventually give up trying…… our history has proven…….hence, I think, Scotland will never answer the question as long as it is benefiting from what it can gain from the islands economically.

  • Ali Inkster

    • April 2nd, 2013 10:04

    Brian you were asked to provide proof or even a link to back up your claim, but you resorted to your usual one line. Could this be because you are wrong and you know it?

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 2nd, 2013 11:04

    Well, Brian, you are Shetland’s very own historian and archivist so if you don’t know the answer that sounds like a valuable early project to get started on?

    It’s clearly a subject of considerable interest. Even if it won’t carry any legal weight, it would be a great “seller” at the museum for the tourists.

    I’d love to know the answer, too, just for the record.

  • Brian Smith

    • April 2nd, 2013 13:00

    May I recommend my article ‘‘When did Orkney and Shetland become part of Scotland? a contribution to the debate’, in the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, 5, 2010?

  • Ian tinkler

    • April 2nd, 2013 17:20

    So now we have it, Shetlands own, ultra socialist has given his views on Shetland autonomy. Brian Smiths views on wicked capitalism, are so blinkered, narrow and utterly prejudiced as to be totally absurd. How can a responsible, educated and I assume rational man regard a product of democracy, like capitalism, as evil and wholly malignant yet as a trained historian pass no comment on the products of Marxist socialism. For all its downside Democracy and Capitalism are quite benign when compared to the horrors of the late Soviet and Maoist regimes. Brian, now uses a similar distorted logic under the guise of pseudo historical fact, to advance another distorted view. Little more need be said, his arguments and comments say more about Brian Smith than reality.

  • Brian Smith

    • April 2nd, 2013 18:31

    I am curling my toes with pleasure …

  • David Spence

    • April 2nd, 2013 18:56

    Well Ian, like for like, US Foreign Policy has committed just as much tyranny, death and misery just as, if not more, much as Russia or China. As far as I am aware, the US has been involved in 76 conflicts since 1945 with a total of around 52 million people being killed. Although, in some cases, the US did not take a direct role in the conflict, it was just as culpable by selling, in the name of greed and profit, arms, missiles, tanks, ship, aircraft and many other aspects of military hardware, as well as also taking a direct role in training and and use of weaponry. Even selling chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, chemicals provided by a company owned by Donald Rumsfeld under the Reagan Administration, to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iraq………to which the US was selling weapons and other military hardware to both countries. Put bluntly, if the banks want to make money, they instigate a conflict or war…….as it is quite a lucrative business, war that is.

  • John Tulloch

    • April 2nd, 2013 19:30

    Brian’s not playing so let’s see if we can discern for ourselves whether it’s worth paying £17.50 for his article.

    From Robin Barclay, 22nd, January, 2013;-

    “……“Shetland” was “pawned” to the Scottish Crown in 1469 as part of a dowry from King Christian of Denmark (and Norway) to King James III of Scotland on his marriage to King Christian’s daughter, and the “pawning” was intended to be temporary, and redeemable by payment of the sum of money that was originally promised for the dowry.

    Brian Smith, commenting on Robin’s input on the same thread, 27th, January, 2013;-

    “Robin Barclay’s account is inaccurate from beginning to end. For details see my article in the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, 5, 2010.”

    Now here’s a snippet from the “Promote Shetland” website who give their address as Shetland Museum and Archives, Hay’s Dock, Lerwick;-

    “…In 1469, King Christian I of Norway mortgaged Shetland to the Scottish crown to raise part of the dowry for the marriage of his daughter Margaret to King James III of Scotland…….. Attempts by Denmark to take Shetland back didn’t succeed, nor did Denmark accept offers by Scotland, in the early 16th century, to return the islands in exchange for military support.”

    Robin Barclay’s version of the transaction seems remarkably similar to that put out by Promote Shetland and the latter confirms the temporary nature of the arrangement by noting the various failed attempts to restore the islands to Denmark.

    If Robin Barclay’s version is “inaccurate from beginning to end” as Brian suggests then the one from Promote Shetland, issued from the Shetland Museum and Archives is, presumably, “inaccurate,” too?

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 3rd, 2013 11:59

    Here is a version of history were Shetland was pawned to Scotland, in my understanding if you pawn something you can always get it back.

    Following the Battle of Largs, in 1263, and the loss of the Western Isles as a result of the Treaty of Perth, in 1266, Orkney and Shetland were the only part of what is now Scotland to remain in Norwegian hands.

    But although the islands were still officially under Norse rule, the control Scottish Earls had over Orkney was on the increase.
    This culminated in the appointment of Henry Sinclair, Earl of Roslin to the Earldom in 1379, and heralded changes in the ownership of land and the gradual break-up of the Norse systems of tenure.

    The Earldom of Orkney was held for the Norwegian (and later Danish) Crown until 1468, at which time the impoverished Christian I, King of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, gave Orkney to the Scottish Crown as part of a marriage agreement with King James III.

    The Scottish king was to marry Christian’s daughter, Margaret, and by this agreement Orkney was held as a pledge, redeemable by the payment of 50,000 Rhenish Florins.

    At the end of the first year the payment had not been forthcoming so Shetland was pledged for a further 8,000 Florins.
    Two years later, Christian had still not made the payment so the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Shetland were annexed to the Scottish Crown.

  • Harry Dent

    • April 3rd, 2013 14:23

    I would hardly think capitalism is a “product of democracy”. If it was, surely the spoils would be far more evenly distributed, and billions of people around the world would not be living in abject poverty.

    Capitalism is but the latest in a line of modes of production, one which depends on the extraction of a surplus from people’s labour, rather than upon the extraction of tribute, the ownership of slaves, or the control of peasants through feudal ties.

    Capitalism may have spawned a form of democracy in some countries, eg in western Europe and North America, but relies on vicious dictatorship in many others, including much of the Middle East, Africa, South America and so-called socialist (but actually state capitalist) countries such as China.

    Back to the issue at hand, in the final analysis it must be the people of Shetland who decide the political and economic future of the islands, based on their concrete circumstances, not upon the interperetation of the niceties of legal systems of long-deceased feudal kingdoms.

  • Brian Smith

    • April 3rd, 2013 16:05

    Far too logical, Harry.

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 3rd, 2013 19:13

    Every thing is open to interpretation as it is to negotiation and debate. Edward Thomason and Ian Clark showed that mixed in with a bucket load of tenacity the sky was the limit.

    If we had that kind of leadership in today’s Shetland the only foolish ones would be those prominent in their field who instead of debating their point sarcastically answer with ironical one liners.

  • Michael Garriock

    • April 3rd, 2013 19:49

    “Two years later, Christian had still not made the payment so the Earldom of Orkney and Lordship of Shetland were annexed to the Scottish Crown”.

    Yes, that may, or may not have been the case. But assuming it was, did the Scots Crown act legally in doing so? Copies of the original pawning “agreement” allegedly still exist, did they or did they not contain a clause covering the conditions of redemption and what could and could not occur in the event redemption was not made. The Danes don’t seem to have believed in the legitimacy of the annexation, given their alleged repeated representations to redeem in later years. Or was that just them chancing their luck.

    Its easy to surmise that the Scots believed they could quietly brush any Danish representations aside and no pitched battle would ensue, given that the marriage having taken place the Danes would have been fighting their own flesh and blood as much as Scots blood. Come to that, would it have been worth the Danes bother to fight over us regardless of opponent, two mostly poor quality heather covered rocks stuck in the middle of a frequently extremely inhospitable ocean hundreds of miles away….

    Okay, as has been said history is mostly irrelevant if the current status quo is favoured by the majority affected by it, but loose ends are always best tied up, and what may be unearthed in doing so may influence present day opinions.

    It is not widely known nor easy to find out what exactly the “Lordship of Shetland” of 1469 actually meant in both legal and physical terms, and it is as little known or easy to find out by what process and legitimacy what the “Lordship of Shetland” of 1469 was, went from being an outright possession of the Danish Crown, via a pawning process, to become an outright possession of the Scots Crown. Surely Shetlander’s have a right to know in as minute detail as possible what exactly was involved in the transaction, and by what legitimate and accepted process it occured, of such a monumental event in our history. The “It happened, it is, and that’s that” rhetoric that is usually fed to the great unwashed on the issue, IMHO doesn’t even begin to be adequate for an event of such magnitude.

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 3rd, 2013 20:45

    There’s a photocopy of the original document in which King Christian I of Denmark pledged Shetland to Scotland in 1469 as some form of security for the unpaid dowry of his daughter to James III in the Shetland Archives.

    Alas, Arrochar isn’t all that handy with the archives – any volunteers?

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 3rd, 2013 21:14

    Spot on, Harry, I wouldn’t have it any other way and if anyone tried it, I’d come hame ta man da barrycades!

    This is still, ostensibly, a democracy and the Falkland Islands were freed from Argentinian invaders by a huge military task force several times the number of the entire population, on the basis that “the islanders right to self-determination is paramount.” They recently held a referendum to underline the point.

    That’s why I’m not afraid to ask the question that poor old Stuart Hill was mocked and reviled for trying to answer. Eccentric he undeniably is but no-one can deny he had the courage of his convictions, he even went to prison over it! We need more of the same passion, preferably, from those in power who can see, at least, most of the cards but if not from them, from others who have trod the path before.

    What happened to all the old soldiers of the unfortunately-named Shetland Movement, can none of you get together and kick it off again (with a cooler name!) so younger folk can benefit from your experience and push it forward?

  • John Tulloch

    • April 6th, 2013 17:40

    The document in the Shetland Archives I referred to above turns out not to be copied from the original document but from a translation (by B. E. Crawford) of a transcript of the original document;-

    “Christian, by grace of God king of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Slavs and the Goths…….

    Since in our other letters …we promised and undertook that we would fully pay the sum of ten thousand florins of the Rhine, and give eventual satisfaction thereon in counted money before their (James’s ambassadors – JT) return to the kingdom of Scotland from our kingdom of Denmark ……. we are unable conveniently to pay… therefore,….. we have granted, pledged and mortgaged,….all and sundry our lands of the islands of Schethland…… to be held and had all and whole …….by the most excellent prince James, king of Scots,…..and by his successors, kings of Scots whomsoever; until the aforesaid sum of eight thousand florins of the Rhine outstanding in the aforementioned letters has been faithfully, fully and completely paid in the church of St Magnus in Orkney whensoever in the future, and satisfaction effectually made by us, our heirs or successors, kings of Norway, concerning the same, to the aforesaid most illustrious James, king of Scots, his heirs or successors, kings of Scots; and we, our heirs and successors, kings of Norway, shall warrant and forever defend against all mortals the aforesaid lands of Schethland thus as promised, pledged and mortgaged to the said James, king of Scots, and to his heirs, kings of Scots whomsoever, firmly binding us and our successors, kings of Norway, to this …

    In testimony of this impignoration, our private royal seal is appended; given in our castle of Havn on the twenty eighth day of the month of May in the year of our lord one thousand four hundred and sixty-nine.”

    It doesn’t sound as though they intended to abandon the isles which were annexed by Scotland around 1471-2;-

    “Alsua the samyn day our souverain lorde, with deliverance of his thre estatis, annext and uniit the erledome of Orknay and teh lordship of Sheteland to the croune, nocht t obe gevin away in tyme to cum to na persoune nor persons except anerly til ane the kingis sonnis of lachtfull bed.”

    In politics annexation refers to the attachment of territory to a more powerful entity involving an element of coercion or conquest and subsequently relying on international recognition for legitimacy.

    I doubt it makes a jot of difference in international law but it is fascinating, isn’t it?

  • Brian Smith

    • April 6th, 2013 22:05

    The translation was actually by the late Grace Halcrow, published in an article by Barbara Crawford. The original document isn’t known to exist, but there’s a transcript of it in a letterbook in the British Library. Fore rhoughts about the intentions of both parties in 1469 should have a look at the article I recommended above.

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 7th, 2013 13:40


    Thanks for the clarification re the actual translator who isn’t actually named on the document I have copy of, I’m looking forward to seeing your article when it arrives.

  • Robert Sim

    • April 7th, 2013 16:17

    As a discussion of history, this is indeed fascinating. Meanwhile, back in the present, there is an excellent letter in this week’s paper edition of the Times by Mark Ryan Smith, reminding us that everyone’s energies should be bent on thinking about the question on the ballot paper in 2014, ie should Scotland be an independent country? As Mark says, there is only going to be one question on the ballot paper. There is not going to be a question about whether Shetland should have autonomous status post the referendum.

    There is a big difference between elected members quite rightly saying the case for their area should be strongly argued with national government and the idea that Shetland can achieve some kind of independent status. I guess the elected members in Argyll and Bute (my home area, as it so happens) will be thinking and saying the very same thing.

  • Michael Garriock

    • April 7th, 2013 16:19

    Should the above mentioned document of 1469 not be read in conjunction with the earlier Marriage Contract of James and Margaret, which includes the pawning of Orkney, from 1468. A copy of which is in the Danish State Archives in Copenhagen.

    Or is the existence of that document an urban myth, and photographs claiming to show it all fakes?

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 8th, 2013 11:20

    @robert sim,

    That is precisely where my energies are being directed.

    The way Shetlanders will vote depends on what is on the table for Shetland and we cannot decide what is best for Shetland’s long term future because we are unaware of all the issues, circumstances and consequences associated with a “Yes” or a “No” vote.

    Argyll and Bute will decide what is best for them as will the Western Isles and Orkney.

    A a Shetlander, my vote will go to whichever option is best for Shetland, once I understand what that is.

    We need to know BEFORE the referendum. There’s no point following the herd through the open gate and then COMPLAINING AFTER THE GATE IS LOCKED!

  • Gordon Harmer

    • April 8th, 2013 16:43

    When we were given a vote in a referendum on whether we should join the Common Market, Shetland voted a resounding NO, we were right then and we are right now, we need to look deeply into our options. We have not been given the answers to a lot of very important questions about our future either in an independent Scotland or a continuing union. If we don’t start asking those questions or looking at our options we will just bumble on as we have in the past allowing others to make bad decisions on our behalf. As John so rightly says. “We need to know BEFORE the referendum. There’s no point following the herd through the open gate and then COMPLAINING AFTER THE GATE IS LOCKED!”

    One thing that I find interesting is that there is more substance in the interpretation of the niceties of legal systems of long-deceased feudal kingdoms than there are in the policies of the SNP. With research it is beginning to look like Shetland would have a stronger social, political and financial future making its own decisions than Scotland would. So I think we should keep digging and just maybe we could have a much bigger say in our own future.

  • Robert Sim

    • April 8th, 2013 18:33

    @John Tulloch

    You say that “…we cannot decide what is best for Shetland’s long term future because we are unaware of all the issues, circumstances and consequences associated with a “Yes” or a “No” vote.” And the information to help us with that knotty problem is going to be found in 15th-century documents?

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 8th, 2013 22:21


    Thanks for your argument.

    It’s funny how an arcane piece of medieval history causes such disquiet, if not actual panic, among “Yes Scotlanders” when they argue that 15th century events are irrelevant and have no force in international law?

    I’ve been accused – falsely – of all kinds of nasty anti-Scottish sentiments by some of your “Yes” colleagues so if those judgements are correct, why don’t you just let me get on with wasting my time on it, instead of investigating substantive issues like whether we would be stuck with a 12-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). By that logic it would have been far better for the “yes” campaign if I and others had been concentrating on15th century issues instead of EEZs?

    When a more substantive issue comes along we can address that, meanwhile, I am content to “fritter my time away” on this.

    Here’s something from the 19th century, if that’s not too archaic for you. I’d say it has some bearing on the matter of who owns what in Orkney and Shetland – it’s from the Society of Antiquarians of Scotland, 1887.

    I’m not saying people should vote “No” because of these events, simply that they form part of the background against which I have to make my own decision and I want to know the truth.

    I reserve the right of course, with the good Editor’s acquiescence, to communicate through this thread to help advance my own and others’ awareness of information relating to our ultimate decision.

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 9th, 2013 7:36

    It’s the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, not “Antiquarians,” of course, in my last comment.

  • Brian Smith

    • April 9th, 2013 12:36

    Gilbert Goudie’s remarks on the first page of his article are very sound!

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 9th, 2013 14:31

    Brian, unless something turns up that I am unaware of, I agree there’s no point in swapping rule from, either, London or Edinburgh for rule from Oslo or Copenhagen however several options exist between retaining the status quo and returning to Scandinavian rule and I want to know more about them – even the silly ones, just so that I know they’re silly and I can forget about them.

    Any options on offer would have to be put to Shetlanders in a referendum however direct Scandinavian rule is one I’m content to set aside and would oppose, if necessary.

  • Robert Sim

    • April 9th, 2013 18:13

    John, in my opinion a more substantial issue has come along – the much bigger question of what kind of society we want an independent Scotland to be, assuming a positive vote. I referred above to the letter by Mark Ryan Smith in last Friday’s Times. He echoes points made by Iain McWhirter in a Herald article from last November and which I linked to in a previous post:

    The referendum result could be no – and on present performance will be; but it seems to me to be worth discussing whether we could build a society as socially just as modern Norway.

    Just to be clear, I have absolutely no problem with you or anyone else discussing the ins and outs of the past. It has educational value. And it is a free country!

  • JohnTulloch

    • April 9th, 2013 23:38


    I agree that is a valid topic for a parallel discussion. I”m unsure about outright independence however I would be happy for Scotland to acquire more powers.

    I think that the aspiration for Scotland to emulate Norway’s social justice is a laudable one however one of the things that has struck me since I began looking at the 15th century history associated with the pawning of Shetland and Orkney by Denmark is that Scandinavia has a very long tradition of social justice and Scotland does not – anything but, actually – although it has improved greatly in the last century or so.

    Your link is interesting however I thought McWhirter sounded a bit naive about Norway’s prosperity not being down to oil. They certainly have plenty of other things however the oil does differentiate them from, say, Finland and Denmark, who are only one and two places above the UK, respectively, in the wealth table and I’d prefer to have seen an analysis of one of those which I think would be more directly applicable to Scotland if we are saying the oil is running out. Both, of course, are heathy, democratic countries.

    Even if the vote is “no” to outright independence there is appetite for more Scottish autonomy and there will be scope for making Scotland more like Norway/Scandinavia, so how do we achieve that?

    A good starting point would be to support autonomy for distinctive island groups like Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles and when they are established as visibly successful models, it will be easier to persuade the Scottish doubters that independence is a viable proposition they should vote for in a future referendum if this one falls short of “Yes” campaigners’ hopes.

    If adopted as policy, it might even sway a lot of full independence doubters this time round – “if they can do it, why can’t we?”

  • Robert Sim

    • April 10th, 2013 10:40

    Ok, thanks, John. I do know that Denmark takes the same approach to everyone being in it together and supporting one another rather being greed-driven. You make some interesting points. I will ponder further! 🙂

  • John Tulloch

    • April 18th, 2013 17:20

    I’m surprised we haven’t heard more from the fishing industry regarding their views on what changes to the constitution might benefit their industry, whether on land or at sea.

    At present we have precious little control over the sea and the seabed and having listened to the protestations of fishermen about the idiotic rules and quotas imposed by the EU, I would have thought the prospect of not only gaining local control of the sea and seabed but perhaps, even, of joining the likes of Faroe outside the EU, would a topic of great interest and importance to the fishing industry.

    This will be our best opportunity to make a difference to the lives of any Shetlanders now living and if we all sit on our hands and say nothing that is exactly what we will get.

    So Shetland Fishermen’s Association and Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation, do you have a view on these matters and if so, what is it?

  • John Tulloch

    • April 20th, 2013 21:29

    “If Britain does have sovereignty de jure an historian would like to know – and I think he has a right to know – from what point in time such sovereignty can be dated.” – [Late Professor Gordon Donaldson, Edinburgh University].

    So when exactly did Orkney and Shetland become part of Scotland?


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