July 3, 2012 by Nash Riggins
Tavish Scott, former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and current Member of Scottish Parliament for Shetland, has suggested that the chain of islands would stand to gain much from claiming independence from both Britain and Scotland.
As the debate regarding the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 begins to heat up, Scott emerged last week with the assertion that the Northern Isles should consider restoring their own long-lost identity as an independent state. The idea, which also received backing from Liam McArthur, MSP for neighbouring Orkney, was immediately dismissed by fellow MSPs as sheer ‘mischief-making’ on the part of Shetland – yet whether or not Mr Scott is sincere, his arguments in favour of Shetland’s independence are quite convincing.
“We are as distant in our heads from Edinburgh as London, and neither quite gets Shetland,” the MSP said. “Shetland doesn’t want the centralisation of the SNP. Devolution did allow Scotland to go its own way, and now it should let Shetland go its own way. We will be working on producing a blueprint of what Shetland wants out of this.”
Indeed, many of the arguments which Alex Salmond is using in order to drive his campaign for Scottish independence are just as – if not more – applicable to the case of the Shetland’s independence.
According to a 2011 report by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Shetland is one of the most prosperous parts of Scotland. Its population of just over 22,200 boasts virtually no unemployment, and the educational attainment in Shetland schools is well above the national level of Scotland. Indeed, a 2008 Bank of Scotland report ranked residents of Shetland as having the highest quality of life in Scotland. Furthermore, Shetland’s economic activity rate is almost 10% higher than that of Scotland as a nation, as the tiny island chain has carved out a lucrative position within the oil industry and also makes a tidy profit within the fishing industry. Additionally, Lonely Planet describes the archipelago as one of the top six cruise destinations in the world, which has given way to an uncharacteristically healthy tourist industry in Shetland and Orkney.
In fact, given Shetland’s already envious level of economic autonomy, it seems fair to say that the small chain of islands actually has a far more convincing argument for independence from Scotland than Alex Salmond could ever hope to establish for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. True enough, although Mr Salmond and his SNP continue to spew out copious facts and figures regarding Scotland’s financial prowess at an irritatingly alarming rate, the primary argument seeded within the referendum’s ‘Yes Campaign’ is one of presupposed cultural distinctions. That being said, Shetland MSPs can account for this as well.
“Our connections are east towards Scandinavia, from historic times, and those connections can be seen in our place names, our timberclad houses,” Scott explains. “We were insulating our houses long before any green policy from the Scottish government!”
What’s more, the islanders also boast a flag that bears more resemblance to that of Norway than it does to any nation within the United Kingdom. Indeed, an old adage of Shetland residents jokes: “All the Shetland ever got from Scotland was dear meal and greedy ministers.”
SNP representatives in Shetland indicate that this mentality is not entirely representative of the feelings of all islanders; however, they do agree that the islands must pursue whichever path ensures maximum benefits, and that “Shetland and Orkney would not be Britain’s gain, but Scotland’s heartfelt loss”.
Little can be said with regards to whether or not Shetland and Orkney MSPs really would pursue home sovereignty following Alex Salmond’s independence referendum in 2014 – yet it cannot be ignored that the arguments for the independence of the Northern Isles are frustratingly more convincing than that of Scotland as a whole. Indeed, if Scotland gains independence from the UK, the Northern Isles should unquestionably gain independence from Scotland with virtual ease.
That being said, if Tavish Scott truly is only ‘making mischief’ via some sort of political joke, he has failed to take into account that the humour of sarcasm and irony is lost on many within Holyrood and Westminster. Indeed, if a series of tiny islands with an incredible case for independence considers the idea a complete and utter joke, what hope is there for Scottish independence? Unfortunately for the Scottish celebrities who are throwing a disgusting amount of Hollywood dollars at the ‘Yes Campaign’, all signs point to zero.