‘And so it begins’ – opinion split on whether second independence referendum is welcome
Local SNP convener Robbie McGregor says he is “very happy” that a second independence referendum is on the cards.
But opinion is divided over moves by the Scottish government to seek another vote on whether Scotland should be part of the UK. Labour member George Jacobson insisted another referendum, particularly if it led to independence, was a bad idea and isles MSP Tavish Scott said the idea was divisive.
The split in opinion comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced she wanted to seek parliamentary approval to begin discussions with the Westminster government over a second referendum.
Shetland rejected Scottish independence on 18th September 2014, with the no side recording a 27.4 per cent majority.
In total, 9,951 no votes were cast, while the yes campaign attracted 5,669 voters.
Much has taken place since the vote, which was billed at the time as a “once in a generation” campaign by the SNP.
Today the party and other pro-independence supporters point to Brexit, and the triggering of Article 50, as a material change in circumstances – enough, in other words, to warrant another vote on the issue.
More than 62 per cent of Scottish voters favoured remaining in the EU, compared with 38 per cent who backed Brexit.
Mr McGregor said he believed parliament would support the referendum.
“I’m very happy there will be another referendum,” he said.
“Shetland, and every area in Scotland, voted to remain in the EU.
“Now Theresa May will take us out against our will. If you recall, Better Together warned us a yes vote would take us out of the European Union. They need to come up with a better script this time.”
An interesting dimension of the second referendum will be how the fishing sector, which is seen as largely pro-Brexit, will react to the news.
“Do not depend on a UK government to look after Shetland’s fishing industry. I feel very strongly about that.” Robbie McGregor
Chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation Bertie Armstrong said the focus of the fishing industry was entirely on ensuring it was free “from the straitjacket of the Common Fisheries Policy”.
Fishing leaders argue the CFP forces the industry to “give away to other EU countries almost 60 per cent” of the fish in local waters.
Mr Armstrong added: “Any constitutional arrangement under which we would continue to be bound by the CFP would be unacceptable to the industry.”
For his part, Mr McGregor insisted the fishing industry could only be protected if conditions were negotiated with a Scottish government.
“Do not depend on a UK government to look after Shetland’s fishing industry,” he warned. “I feel very strongly about that.”
But Isles MSP Tavish Scott has warned that Nicola Sturgeon failed to answer questions over whether and independent Scotland would be in or out of the EU. If it was in the European Union, he warned, it would be bound by the terms of CFP.
Some recent polls have suggested that support for Scottish independence is evenly split.
Mr McGregor said it would take time to convince traditional no-voters as the proposed referendum, which could take place in the autumn of next year at the earliest, draws nearer.
“By the time the legislation goes through, my guess would be it would be late in 2018, which is a very long way away,” he said.
“I’m a democrat before I am a nationalist, and it also gives the other side time to put forward their case.”
He denied the SNP was chipping away until it got the answer it wanted.
“There has been a material change in circumstances since the last referendum.”
Asked for his view on the fact the UK as a whole had voted to leave the EU, he said: “I’m going to fight Shetland’s corner and Scotland’s corner.”
Isles MSP Tavish Scott greeted the news with disdain. And he said the blame laid squarely, not with the First Minister, but with Mrs May’s predecessor at Number 10.
“And so it begins again,” he said in a statement. “Just two years after putting the country through one divisive referendum, the SNP are using the chaos of Brexit to force another one. Shetland made its position very clear in voting to remain in the EU and even more so, by wishing to be part of the UK. That is what I want to see happen.
“Is Scotland never going to concentrate on standards in our schools, the lack of GPs across the country and the need to lower ferry fares for islanders? Instead, Scotland will now be in full campaign mode until the second referendum takes place.
“The person responsible for all this is not Nicola Sturgeon – it is David Cameron. He gambled with the UK’s future to resolve the historical fault lines within the Conservative Party. He is to blame for the mess of not one but two referendums, perpetual uncertainty and a future where Scotland could leave both the European and UK single markets.”
Mr Scott said voters in the isles would have to analyse what was in the interests of the isles and keep in mind whether the SNP’s plan for an independent Scotland was to be in or out of the EU.
“I will work with that new council on exploring what is in Shetland’s interests,” he added.
Local Labour member George Jacobson is not impressed with the idea of another referendum.
“As far as Scotland is concerned, something like four times our trade is with the rest of the UK compared with the EU.
“Somebody spoke about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I would say to have a Scottish referendum and look to leave the UK union – not only are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we’re throwing the bath, the bog pan, the bidet, the whole lot.”
• More reaction in this week’s Shetland Times.