Isles referenda proposal shot down

The Scottish government has blown a raspberry at the idea of holding referenda on island independence.

Earlier this year campaigners behind the movement, Referenda On The Islands (ROTI) mounted a campaign to hold votes over the status of Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles on 25th September – one week after the Scottish independence referendum.

In April it attracted 1,000 signatures from across the three island groups, but failed to gain support from Shetland’s political leaders.

In a response issued this week the Scottish government pointed to talks already held between it and the three island authorities.

The government highlighted proposals, in­cluding bringing forward a bill for an Islands Act upon independence to place a duty on the Scottish government and other public bodies to “island-proof” various functions and decisions.

The government also talked of a pledge to allocate all of the net income from the islands’ sea bed, leasing revenues to island communities rather than central government.

The written submission states: “The Scottish government is clear that Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles are much valued parts of Scotland and have been so for many centuries, including prior to the Treaty of Union in 1707. That would continue in the event of in­dependence.”

Burra man Ali Inkster, a self-professed advocate of the island independence vote, said that comment made no sense.

“The UK government is clear that Scotland is a much valued part of the UK, but the SNP still got the referendum,” he said. “I grew up here. I don’t feel any more Scottish than I do English.”

Picking through the bullet points contained in the government’s submission, Mr Inkster critici­sed the SNP administration for cutting £20 million in grant assistance while “billions and billions” were being spent to recover oil and gas and the council consulted simultaneously on school closures.

Commenting on the proposed “island-proofing” bill he insisted: “They could do that now. They don’t need to wait for independence. So this is just more fake promises.”

Mr Inkster also turned to the promise of a “strategic energy committee upon independence” which would explore ways to mitigate against community impacts from oil and gas.

“We’ve already got the ZCC Act which the SNP are trying to repeal,” he insisted.

Pro-independence MSP, Jean Urquhart said she was not surprised the government had responded in the way that it did.

“I thought it was an extraordinarily bad idea to have it within five days,” she said.

Asked if she thought it was an idea which was never going to get off the ground, Mrs Urquhart said: “Well, I never took it seriously. I understand that people feel passionately about self-governance and local control of their own affairs, which I would say is a very good thing. But I thought this was a bit of a cack-handed way of going about getting it.”

Meanwhile Shetland Islands Council chief executive Mark Boden has praised the Our Islands Our Future campaign as a “remarkable achievement” that had been noted by other councils throughout Scotland.

He said that the campaign involving Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles “bodes well” for future co-operation between the island groups. It could also prove the springboard for future initiatives, irrespective of the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum.

In terms of the Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities prospectus that was launched last month, much waited on the September 18th vote, but some of its provisions could still be of use, even in event of a “no” vote.

The emerging concordat with the UK govern­ment, that is yet to be published, was taking on a different format and its details would be less familiar to councillors who had not been involved in its drafting.

The document should be available by the middle of this month and councillors may be called to a special meeting a couple of weeks later, inside the council’s recess period.

The idea is for councillors to consider the document before the start of the referendum pre-election period.

Lerwick South councillor Jonathan Wills dubbed OIOF a “political triumph” and a “very exceptional thing to achieve – congratulations to all concerned”.

Shetland Central councillor Vaila Wishart asked if there were legal impediments to taking over Crown Estate property and its associated funds, but was assured that there would apparently be no difficulties in this.

Shetland North councillor Drew Ratter said the campaign should have aspired to taking control of the coastline around Shetland. “What can be given can be taken away by governments in terms of the share of money,” he added.

Mr Ratter said “island proofing” had been talked of in the past and nothing had come of it. It was a “real shame” the issue of who owned the oil around Shetland had not been addressed by the campaign.

SIC political leader Gary Robinson said that control of the seabed might only come if Shetland pursued an act for the isles.

On the matter of who owned the oil that had been a bone of contention for 40 years and if the campaign had gone down that route they would still be arguing about it rather than discussing a formal prospectus.

Shetland South councillor George Smith asked how the campaigners felt when the Scottish government announced at the “last minute” the provisions in the prospectus would apply to all Scottish islands and not just the three island groups which had put the work in.

Mr Robinson said that other authorities had sought to become involved at an early stage, but it was felt important to proceed only as a group of “island authorities” and that there were still things in the prospectus that could only apply to them.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael Inkster

    • July 4th, 2014 13:55

    What a ridiculous article. On the one hand, we have pork-belly local politicians with their tongues hanging out, who think they are the greatest chessplayers ever when they get largely meaningless promises from Edinbugh and London.

    On the other hand, we have a fawning local newspaper which PRAISES the Scottish Government for treating signatories of the petition and Holyrood with utter contempt. They do not even bother to mention the ROTI response to the Scottish Government submission. Why not?

    And why does anyone still get quotes from Jean Urquhart, the unelected representative who is always ready to spit bile but can’t even be bothered to read what she is supposed to be responding to? If she had, she wouldn’t refer to a period of “five days”.

    If things continue on this course, people are going to follow the path taken in Venice and Hong Kong and organise their OWN referendum. That could EASILY be organised for 25 September. And it would make world news.

  • Michael Inkster

    • July 4th, 2014 13:58

    Mrs Urquhart doesn’t take it seriously when islanders say they want a chance to decide the status of our islands. So what? She’s not elected and doesn’t talk for anyone. She is on record as saying the petition should be torn up. Everything for her has to be emphatic, “extradordinarily”, “passionately” – her belief that shes better than the rest of us comes out in everything she says. Meanwhile, the voices of the people get silenced.

    Ali or ROTI should contact the Venetians or Hong Kongers to organise an unofficial referendum on the islands. Let’s do it.

  • John Tulloch

    • July 4th, 2014 14:25

    Perhaps Dr Wills will explain what makes the apparent outcome of the Our Islands Our Future campaign “a political triumph”, as opposed to what many, including myself, consider to be “Our Islands Our Flop”?

    Is there some magical pot ‘at the end of the rainbow’ that we haven’t heard about yet?

    • Brian Smith

      • July 5th, 2014 17:52

      John is right, Jonathan. You should be pursuin dat pot.

  • ian tinkler

    • July 5th, 2014 22:15

    “a political triumph”, my goodness Wills has clearly lost it. What is the triumph here? Just what of any value has Shetland been given, absolutely nothing guaranteed at all , but a few vague possible crumbs of Salmond’s table if the vote referendum goes his way. Strange that would be in line with Wiles’s wish for a YES vote. Maybe Wiles has not lost it, just a political spinner out to promote his own narrow views in his usual disingenuous way. No change there then. Wake up Shetland, feeble pledges from Salmond and the adoration of his sycophants are worthless. Time for real change, Crown Dependency is the way, not some wishy washy pact with Orkney et all. We are not the same, we have to do it alone and now.

  • David Spence

    • July 6th, 2014 17:08

    As long as Shetlander’s stand by the wayside (as they are prone to do) then it will only end up (in reference to OIOF) being the same old same where power and any say in Shetland’s future will be dictated from afar, and Shetlander’s asking ‘ How high should we jump ‘ when Edinburgh or Westminster tell’s them to jump.

    If the Shetland people really want greater control, more say in their future, more say in the fisheries policy then they should be asking questions as to the legitimate right Scotland has over the islands (atleast Mr Hill has the courage and tenacity to look into this, unlike Shetlander’s) and whether or not Scotland has any legal right over these islands.

    I suspect the reaction from most Shetlander’s will be ‘ Scotland has legal and sovereign rights over the islands (believe in anything that is said by Scotland without actually questioning what is said or what feeble evidence is produced, if anything) so we’ll just sit by and do nothing ‘ mentality.

    If Shetlander’s really believe in having greater power, more say in their future then this question should be answered first before anything else…………..but as said Shetlander’s are easily fooled into believing what the powers that control them say and do nothing thereafter……..same old same.

    This is the perfect opportunity for Shetland to stand up above the heads of those that control these islands and do something positive about its own future.

  • Michael Inkster

    • July 7th, 2014 10:11

    I wish to make it clear that the posts of 4th July on the Isles referenda proposal are not attributable to me, Michael Inkster, Solicitor, Cunningsburgh


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