Laurance Reed

Freedom for Shetland

The Jarl Viking Squad at the Up Helly Aa Festival, the Shetland Islands (photo: Getty)

If Scotland can claim independence — and a ‘geographical share’ of the oil regardless of population — then why can’t Orkney and Shetland? The Shetland Islands Council has voted 18-2 to begin exploring options for achieving financial and political self-determination, which sounds daft – but is it any less daft than Scottish independence? Laurance Reed, a former Hebridean resident (and ex-MP), wrote about this a few years ago for The Spectator pointing out the Scottish islands could become the Dubai of the north. His piece is below.

On Tuesday night in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, hundreds of men dressed as Vikings will parade through the centre of town, carrying torches to set fire to a wooden long ship in a festival known as Up Helly Aa. All will march to a repertoire of battle songs, with blood-curdling lyrics. ‘Our galley is the People’s Right, the dragon of the free’ runs the main hymn of the evening. ‘Sons of warriors and sages: when the fight for freedom rages, be bold and strong as they!’ And not even Alex Salmond would be bold enough to suggest that they are singing about Scotland.

The people of Orkney and Shetland share little of Salmond’s enthusiasm for independence, as was reflected in the 1997 devolution referendum. It is hard to join a tide of Edinburgh-focused nationalism if your nearest city is Bergen. And if Scotland does vote to secede from Britain, might it be the start of a further unravelling? On what grounds could you stop Orkney, the Shetlands, even the Hebrides claiming their own independence? And what effect would this have on Scottish oil revenues and the ability of Edinburgh to pay the pensions which London no longer funded?

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The Shetlands were pawned by King Christian of Norway centuries ago, and no one has bothered to ask lawyers how a claim to independence would work.

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