A motion seeking “self-determination” for the isles has been passed by councillors.
Shetland Islands Council will now formally begin to explore options “for achieving political and financial self-determination”.
Political leader Steven Coutts’ motion was carried overwhelmingly by 18 to two votes, despite vocal opposition from councillors Stephen Leask and Ian Scott.
Passing the motion was a mandate for exploring options rather than for any specific action, a point reiterated by many of the councillors present both in the chamber and remotely.
“The message is clear. We are exploring options,” said Mr Coutts, in his closing speech.
Earlier in the meeting, Mr Coutts argued that the council was still discussing the same issues years later, including ferry funding. Remote decision making did not work, according to Mr Coutts.
The council leader said he was “really positive about the opportunities that do exist in Shetland”, referencing the “massive potential” in the isles.
Mr Coutts said they needed to grasp these opportunities “in a way that ensures everyone in our community can thrive”.
Lerwick councillor Mr Leask said it was “not the time and place” to be discussing the motion.
“I believe in democracy not dictatorship,” added Mr Leask, who argued “the people of Shetland should be consulted” and that the ballot box was the right place for that.
Councillor Ryan Thomson spoke of “myths around this motion”, adding that this motion was exploring options and any decisions “will be made at the ballot box”.
“It is there in black and white and abundantly clear to those who read it,” said Mr Thomson.
Mr Scott railed against the motion and said there was “no appetite for a resurrection of the Shetland Movement and its allies”.
Emma Macdonald said she was not sure how to follow up Mr Scott’s speech, but added she was “always looking forward to the future” and encouraged others “to think about future generations” and the impact the council’s actions would have on them.
“Shetland has never really been all that comfortable with the status quo,” said Alastair Cooper, citing historical comparisons and saying today (Wednesday) was a similar opportunity.
SNP councillor Robbie McGregor said councillors might be surprised that he would be supporting the motion and said: “I sincerely hope all options will be considered.”
North Isles representative Alec Priest remembered the opening of the Scottish parliament building in 2004 and said: “I thoroughly believe devolution was never meant to stop at Holyrood.”
Despite eventually deciding to support the motion, Lerwick councillor Amanda Hawick said she worried about its timing, given Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
Her concerns about officials’ time being used on exploring options were earlier voiced by Mr Scott.
On the timing queries, Duncan Anderson said “for something like this you can never have a perfect time”, adding that if councillors waited it would never happen.
Davie Sandison argued against conflating exploring self-determination with autonomy: “I do not believe it is the only option.”
Shetland North councillor Andrea Manson called the motion the “first tiny step to what might be a long process”.