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!

 John Tulloch




Add Your Comment
  • sean jamieson

    • April 6th, 2013 16:19

    Within this response is the usual underlying xenophobia inherent in some in these isles. The idea that the rest of the country are somehow “others” and not “us”. The use of the term “sympathisers” betrays this nasty parochial side with it’s clumsy attempts to equate those on the other side of the constitutional debate to thr fascist Nazis. It chimes with the opposition campaign’s descriptions of Alex Salmods as a new “Hitler”.

    This distasteful ploy should be called for what it is. Hate.

    This letter also hints at a hypocrisy inherent in some of the arguments used by those who decry the concept of Scots independence, namely that while some belief that Shetland has “virtually no say” in things such as the Common Fisheries Policy, then independence for the islands would allow this. Yet they dismiss the same arguments when made by Scottish Politicians in their independence arguments. You can’t have it both ways.

    Similarly you can’t simply dismiss those “sympathisers” as following the views of their betters in some learned helplessness without coming across as pompous and self important. That those who hold differing opinions do so because they lack the self belief and strength that you clearly do. Must be that Viking blood eh?

    I don’t think many worry what the “sooth” people (yet another derogitary term) think of you. Why? Well I think they are too busy thinking of their own issues and problems and dealing with their own cuts and disasters being perpetrated on them by the UK government. To be honest I hardly think they think very often of us in much the same way they probably don’t thonk of the next county or region.

    And here’s the rub. Such is the parochialism of aome that they simply fail to acknowledge that Shetland is simply one place in a myriad of others. Fantastic yes. Special, of course. But we are but 20 something thousand in a country of millions. A world of billions.

    Lastly you can argue all you want re Shetland’s place. That is our right. But this victimhood. The constant belief that the rest of Scotland is actively stuffin us, breeds unhelpful resentments which have no basis is reality. Scotland I bet feel that Shetland is special but also that it is part of itself. Scotland isn’t, after all, some homogeous blob of people or outlooks. The victimisation begrade, the chip om shoulder lot like to thonk this, but it is not. Scotland is a rich mishash of differing peoples with their own special traditions, just as valuable of ours and a little bit of respect and humility is due.

    Shetland is Scotland. And just as every other part of a country cannot simply declare sucession or just as Peter Spense down the road can’t merely set up The People’s Republic of Vikonia in his house, then Scotland righly could ask why Shetland is diferent. I’m sure the rest of Scotland would have something to say about the partition of their country. And I somehow think they should.

  • John Tulloch

    • April 6th, 2013 18:24

    I live in Argyll and have written in this column several times that I like both the place and the Scots people very much. I have also written here – “for the record” – in rep[ly to Robert Peffers that I consider the SNP government to be broadly more competent, politically and practically, than their predecessors.

    I’m afraid that doesn’t leave very much of your abusive tirade worthy of consideration but let’s see if I can find anything.

    Ah, you say I am against Scottish independence. Since you haven’t managed to read all of my letter before the “red mist” descended, I’ll remind you what I said;-

    “Why, in any case, must autonomy be linked exclusively to the remaining UK, why can’t Shetland be autonomous and linked to Scotland?”

    The point I was making about “da Sooth fokk” among whom I live and work daily, is precisely that they don’t think any derogatory thoughts about Shetlanders, for the most part they think it’s all wonderful.

    Perhaps you condone the spreading of myths to scare people into thinking that an autonomous Shetland would be stuck with only a 12-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as “Yes Shetland” and Jean Urquhart MSP have done?

    The myth was exploded by Christopher Ritch who followed up a link provided by an SNP supporter who hadn’t read it and presumably, had only looked at one picture.

    Not reading what people write and then bursting out with vitreol and bluster seems to be a recurring theme in the “Yes” campaign.

    As I said, people DO HAVE BRAINS and want valid information, not propaganda.

  • John Tulloch

    • April 6th, 2013 18:44

    I would strongly recommend to any interested in Exclusive Economic Zones the splendid Shetland Life article “Shetland: A model for the future” available onlie at


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