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.