Autonomy group set to launch next week
A campaign group looking for self-governing powers for Shetland is launching next week.
Wir Shetland says it wants Shetland to have similar powers to those enjoyed by British overseas territories such as control of taxation and spending.
It argues that once self-government has been attained for Shetland, it would leave the EU but keep the same trading, open borders, free movement of capital and benefits as it does now.
Full fiscal autonomy is essential, Wir Shetland argues, and leaving the EU would restore all fishing grounds in the Shetland sector of the UK economic zone to Shetland’s own jurisdiction.
The group has 70 members which it says are from a broad cross section of the community and political parties.
Among the members are Shetland Islands Council elected members Andrea Manson, Amanda Westlake and Robert Henderson.
It is organised by former Shetland resident John Tulloch, who believes that Shetland could stand on its own “no problem at all”.
Mr Tulloch said: “If the Falkland Islands can do it with 3,000 people and do it pretty well … there’s no reason why Shetland can’t do the same.”
He said the group was not looking for full independence, rather a constitutional arrangement of autonomy within the British realm.
He agreed people were more engaged with politics on the back of the Scottish independence referendum and general election.
“I think a lot of people in Shetland have awoken to the idea that Scotland could be independent and the SNP has done extremley well at promoting their own cause,” Mr Tulloch said. “But everything in Shetland has been centralised; rather than us getting more local powers they are taking more powers away continually.”
He said the group was looking at the council elections “very carefully” but added: “The first eye is on the parliamentary election next year.
“We have to have a discussion with the political parties and the candidates and determine whether we can make any progress through talking to them, or whether we would have to stand our own candidate.”
Mr Tulloch is hoping for a strong turnout next week and encouraged those interested in Wir Shetland to attend.
He said: “Come along, be a founding member of the organisation and hopefully we can change things in a big way in Shetland.”
The group believes Shetland’s interests are markedly different from Scotland and the UK and in the absence of an autonomy deal with Scotland, Scottish independence will be damaging for the isles.
Wir Shetland claims it is not a nationalist group and is not not anti-SNP. However, it may also stand its own candidates in elections and said it will register as a political party “if the prevailing situation at any time demands it”.
Other ideas in its draft manifesto include a gas pipeline being constructed to take heating gas from Sullom to Lerwick to supply homes, businesses, public buildings, and if required, a power station and gas distribution plant.
Wir Shetland’s draft manifesto also states main ferry and transport will be subsidised “to make travel and freight transport to/from mainland UK affordable.
The group argues that will provide a more level playing field for our industries to compete with those in mainland locations.
Mr Tulloch said: “Where reasonably practicable, fixed road links will be installed to all main islands and the remaining inter-island ferry charges will be in line with the cost of driving the same distance, i.e mileafe-related costs, as opposed to the expensive mirage of Road Equivalent Tariff”.
It would also look at ways to restore the Smyril Line’s Norröna service.
Ms Westlake said she was “delighted” to be part of the group and there was no “time like the present if we want to move ahead with this, in the current climate”.
“I just feel that we really need to be doing something now because in the current political climate there just seems to be very little enthusiasm to support Shetland’s main issues,” she added.
Ms Manson said Wir Shetland was “a wonderful idea”.
She said: “I think we should be more in charge of our own destiny.
“We are just being at the moment treated like the rest of Scotland and we’re not necessarily like the rest of Scotland.”
Ms Manson said there had matters that had been to the detriment of Shetland, such as the centralisation of the police force, ambulance service and fire service.
“I feel we should have been made a special case and I feel now is the time to actually try and be master of our own destiny and see what sort of feeling there is locally, for people being Shetlanders and be proud of being Shetlanders and proud of Wir Shetland.”
The launch is on Wednesday at 7.30pm at the Lerwick Town Hall. Anyone is welcome to attend.