Shetland’s right to choose? Islands vote to ‘explore independence’ from Scotland

Councillors on Scotland’s Shetland Islands archipelago have voted in favor of exploring “financial and political self-determination” amid growing public funding cuts under Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government.

The council voted 18 to two in favour of seeking increased independence against a backdrop of significant unease at the direction Scotland is taking in recent months, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing Brexit deliberations.

The motion, signed by council leader Steven Coutts, states that “more and more decision making [is] being centralised and public funding being consistently reduced … seriously threatening the prosperity, and even basic sustainability, of Shetland.” 

“The Shetland Islands Council formally begins exploring options for achieving financial and political self-determination,” it added.

The development was greeted with glee by those who oppose Scotland’s push for independence from the United Kingdom. Many commenters took to social media to lambast the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Sturgeon.

Pro-independence slogans and phrases used by the SNP were adapted for Shetland’s cause now that the shoe is, sort-of, on the other foot. “Shetlands’ right to choose… Shetlands’ future in Shetlands’ hands… It is a fundamental democratic principle that the decision on whether or not Shetland becomes independent should rest with the people who live in Shetland,” former politician John Ferry quipped on Twitter. 

Conservative commentator Darren Grimes added: “Will ⁦the SNP support the Shetland Islands right to self determination away from the controlling clutches of authoritarian Holyrood?”

Despite the vote and the swirl of reaction, Scotland’s islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said he is not aware of any island council requesting additional powers. The Holyrood minister said it is the responsibility of individual local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the financial resources available to them. 

Others also threw cold water on breathless media headlines evoking the spirit of William Wallace rather than addressing the actual comments from the Shetland council.

The Shetland archipelago has a population of just over 20,000 and was the only part of Britain that voted against European Economic Community membership in the 1975 referendum which brought the UK into what would later become the European Union. 

Last month, the Scottish government announced £50 million in funding for the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland as part of an Islands Growth Deal, part of the National Islands Plan which targets depopulation, insufficient housing and substandard transport and health services on the islands. 

The matter is further complicated by the fact that Scotland boasts approximately 60 percent of Europe’s proven oil reserves and its second-largest volume of natural gas deposits, the majority of which sit offshore Shetland.

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