Islands of dreams

Let’s hope Alistair Carmichael is true to his word about bringing some passion to the referendum debate. It may winkle out a more plausible reason for Union than the usual: It’s no too bad…and why bother changing it.

I’ve dealt with him a few times and have a memory of one occasion when he went on an unstoppable angry rant live on air that neither I nor the other guests could restrain. He shouted over us all and was genuinely cross, rather than the more usual politician’s desire to get their point across. And a BBC producer of my acquaintance recalls having to cope with a sustained nit-picking complaint in which he struggled to contain himself while making mildly threatening warnings unless some perceived slight had been corrected. In fairness, as I’ve said before, this kind of hectoring and venting of spleen by politicians is normal fare for producers and should really be recorded and played back to the voters to reveal what sour and egotistical stage villains some of our politicos are.

But I think he’s not a bad bloke for all that and will bring a bit of sound and fury. (Watch out for the occasional outspoken gaffe, of which ending the Barnett formula is but the first).

What struck me was how it sounded exactly the same and not really different at all…the same old quasi-racist mumbo jumbo about his own family becoming foreigners. I really do think some of these people need counselling. If you can think of your own son, for example as foreign, you need to worry about your medication, not your politics.

On which point, wasn’t it interesting to hear Margaret Curran on my programme trot out the same ludicrously insulting line and when challenged admit…hesitatingly… that her own family in Ireland were foreign? Somebody emailed me to say that actually, so amicable was the separation – yes the separation of Ireland – to form the Republic that in the legislation at Westminster they specifically included a line that Ireland would not be classed as a foreign country. I didn’t know that. But crucially neither did Margaret who was the one making the foreigner point  – about her own family!

Ireland is of course legally a foreign state but such was the generosity of the British at the time they pointedly declined to make it so in reality and of course they effectively shared currency and allowed Irish votes in UK election. None of that namby-pamby nonsense for the rebellious Scots…Oh no…we are hated so much we will be foreigners. And we didn’t fire a single shot…

Alistair also made me groan with despair by coughing up the old Free Shetland-Orkney gambit. Has he, or Tavish, asked the islanders before throwing this into the pot? Does he have a list of the public meetings he’s held to consult them about his plans to remove them from Scotland?

I actually think all of the island communities should have their own powers. I don’t just mean Lerwick and Kirkwall but the scattered communities where people feel they have a local bond and special interests peculiar to them. I believe all across Scotland localised democracy should be lit like a fire so it can spread not to Glasgow City Council etc but down to street level to engage people in their own affairs and give them ownership of the issues directly affecting them. One reason why there is a torpor over the referendum is that people think politics and decision-making is for others and the most common thing you hear is that folk Don’t Know. I haven’t much patience I’m afraid. My answer is: Bloody well find out…

Caveat incoming…. HOWEVER…it is unclear to me from Alistair or Tavish what they are actually saying. They mention independence, devolution, control of oil, Crown dependency, staying in the UK…I know Lib Dems don’t like to make up their mind, but WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE UP YOUR MINDS.

Otherwise it looks like mischief-making with their own constituents, don’t you think? There is too a really thorny question of how this works out depending on the option preferred. If you think disaggregating between London and Edinburgh is tricky, wait till you introduce the laws of the seas. I looked at this once for the BBC and I swear it made my eyes cross. I’ve had a couple very happy trips to Shetland and a few pints in the Thule, but I will NEVER visit Up Helly A’ in protest at what that research did to my brain.

Here is a synopsis of what I think this implies. (I do hope Craig Murray doesn’t read this. As a expert on sea boundaries, he’ll fall off his chair laughing.)

If OS (my new shorthand) wanted to be independent they would need to establish first a popular desire and negotiate with Westminster for the right to separate, just like Scotland now. Would London happily accede to the wish or would they do the same to the islanders as they are doing to Scotland – clinging on to the bitter end and claiming the oil revenues?  How would Alistair and Tavish justify breaking away from the UK when their argument for Union is the shared benefits it brings? Wouldn’t that also apply, even more so, to the islands? Then London would, I think, require to recognise the new state before the international community is invited to follow suit. Eventually, congratulations,you sons and daughters of Vikings – you are free.

Opting out of Scottish independence and remaining either a region of the UK or acquiring Crown Dependency status implies not having the Scottish NHS, the education system or social support network – unless done on an agency basis, I suppose, where services are bought in from Scotland. Would London accept that or would they want, as ever, to interfere and dictate English-orientated public services which means privatised health potentially, new curriculum, university fees. On the other hand, the islands would still have a share in Trident! Sorry…that’s flippant.

In other words, with a traceable history and identity, I don’t imagine there really would be any insurmountable obstacle to independence – as there isn’t for Scotland – or a new status within the UK, although I’d hate to think of them as not being Scottish.

Under independence there would be an entitlement to a share of the international continental shelf and wherever the line legally stops, the rule seems to be that arbitration allows the line to be adjusted to take account of mineral deposits in that area, so that, even if an independent OS had a maritime line that didn’t go far enough into the oil field area, if there was any dispute, arbitration would decide that they should not be disadvantaged from exploiting reserves roughly in their waters. That’s a Bingo result because even if the ruling declares some of the oil fields shared with Scotland in a common zone, they share the spoils. But looking at the maps, and without using my compass, I reckon most of the reserves in the north-east sector could be claimed exclusively by islanders…if independent. Even after compensating the UK (and or Scotland depending on the timing) for their prior investment and taking on the cost of decommissioning along with the UK, they could be burning boats in Lerwick Harbour every night of the week by stuffing them with £20 notes.

But I think the more likely scenario of sticking with the UK while Scotland becomes independent – in so far as any of this is likely – is much trickier. It looks to me, in my new-found role as Professor of Maritime Law, that an archipelago separated from the national mainland (England) and nearer to another state (Scotland) is only entitled to a sea border extending to 12 miles out and the area between the island groups of Orkney and Shetland. On the face of it, that would exclude all the oil and would be the correct legal position. But that hardly seems fair. The evidence seems to be that a principle of equity would again be applied so that, even if the islands didn’t legally have a right to some of the oil, any international arbitration would still allot them a share, the amount of which I don’t know. Presumably, the revenues would flow mostly south to London. And the question is, would they be told how much oil they would be entitled to in advance of taking a decision? That sounds similar to Scotland not being informed of the EU’s position because London won’t ask Brussels the question.

The lesson, if there is one, is that international law is not so much a reality but a virtual domain with an infinite elasticity and changes depending on who’s asking the questions and which territories are involved.

Similarly on EU membership international law is a bystander, as far as I can see. The EU is a club with rules made up by its members albeit paying attention to legal principles. So, if they want Scotland in, we’re in. They find a way. If they don’t want us in, they have to explain to the world why not and we approach EFTA. Want to join us, Shetland and Orkney?

Good luck to the islanders. I hope their ambitions and dreams aren’t being exploited cynically because it occurs to me that Alistair and Tavish have had many years to bring their ideas for leaving Scotland to the fore yet only do so when Scottish independence arises. Did they campaign for these changes before they were elected?

No doubt the “combative” Alistair will tell us. I’m away to dig out my boxing gloves.

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37 thoughts on “Islands of dreams

  1. There are a few issues with Orkney/Shetland. The islands were inhabited for 4 or 5 thousand years before the Norse arrived, by people who inhabited what is modern day Scotland. The Norse usual methods were pillage, death and slavery. No reason to assume they would act differently there.
    In fact it was because they started also raiding back along the Norwegian coast from Shetland/Orkney that the king of Norway took them under his control. People in Norway must have complained, they were getting pillaged and sold into slavery too. If they tried to join Norway for example, it would be a problem for the rUK and it’s Trident submarines. Norway doesn’t allow those kind of weapons in its waters. Quite complicated situation for Norway too, involving genetics and Holland, Germany. Political stuff for Denmark and Sweden too.
    Westminster isn’t gong to give anything to the Islands of real value, why would they?
    It could be a bad situation, if they go it alone, to be stinking rich and isolated from the rest of the real world; just look at Holywood and Los Angeles.
    And would they abandon the Western Isles? Would all the LibDems be left behind in the rest of Scotland and the UK or could they move to Orkney/Shetland too?
    Another 498 questions to come.

    • “Norway doesn’t allow those kind of weapons in its waters.”

      Erm, yes it does.

      It doesn’t allow nukes to be based on its territory, however as a member of NATO it has to allow vessels bristling with nukes access to its waters.

      And indeed as a member of NATO Norway accepts and supports the nuclear alliance’s first strike nuclear capability.

    • Why so hash about the viking origin? That archivist in Lerwick must have misinformed you by that history rubbish; fact is that the norse People brought you the same kind of ting tradition, that Iceland managed to keep for their part, so they got the world’s first Parliament, Alltinget. But the scottisg Earls stole the Law book in 1611 and destroyed this Democracy of the peasants, and made these earlier selfdependent stonebuilders to slaves. This norse farmers were kind and friendly People, and what was left of viking culture belonged only to a minority. Why don’t you shetlanders ask Scotland to have Your ting tradition back, as a condition to be fullfilled, before you say Yes to Scotland!!??

  2. One very important point, if not the most important point, in the reasons for Tavish bringing all this to the fore, is that Tavish wants a Peerage. It really is as simple as that. Lord Tavish of somewhere has a nice ring to it, along with the usual benefits. I may sound flippant but I genuinely believe that in Tavish’s case, he is only motivated by personal ambition. Don’t now about Carmichael, but as he’s a Lib Dem and has put his wiling endorsement to Tory policies, I can only assume that he’s cut from the same cloth. Nice chaps, both of them.

  3. Derek.
    Seems Ive upset one called Fred over on Craig Murray’s blog, by mentioning your excellent musings!

  4. “Alistair also made me groan with despair by coughing up the old Free Shetland-Orkney gambit. Has he, or Tavish, asked the islanders before throwing this into the pot? Does he have a list of the public meetings he’s held to consult them about his plans to remove them from Scotland?”

    Yes indeed. These Nationalists of the Brit persuasion tell us how we are all better off together under London rule. They tell us we are all in it together – that we should share the pain of austerity with our fellow Brits in Liverpool, Manchester etc. Did our fellow Brits south of the border feel the pain of Scotland’s industry being sent south by the Westminster elite in order to garner votes for them down there – or were they pleased to see the jobs come to them? I don’t recall any southern marches of solidarity for Scottish workers as our steel mills went south.

    Better together only applies as long as we remain compliant little Jocks. If we get troublesome, and talk of going our own way, then suddenly it is a case of our northern isles are not really better off being ruled from London, they too should be independent – If London can’t have Scotland’s oil revenues then we’ll hurt the uppity Scots by making damn sure Scotland can’t have them either.

    The saddest thing about it is that most of this nonsense is coming from Scots. I’ve no doubt, that while they’re working their butts off to undermine Scotland on behalf of their London masters, they’ll constantly be on TV telling us what proud and patriotic Scots they are.

  5. It is beginning to warm up nicely. Just been watching FMQ’s for my weekly laugh; it is surprising how similar (identical!) are the questions from Labour and Conservative; are they in a merger? Tavish and Carmichael – speaking for Scotland – you could not write it.

    • Indeed are Labour and the conservatives dreaming of a cosy coalition if a ‘no’ vote? Their shared goals are likely to oust the SNP, but before that to completely undermine the Independence campaign at any cost. Incredibly undemocratic and unethical, as well as disrespectful and insulting to the people of Scotland. They won’t get away with it like before.

  6. If the interview was after the 27th May, with Margaret Curran, she should have known about Ireland not being foreign, I emailed her a copy of the Republic of Ireland Act!

    • for·eign
      Of, from, in, or characteristic of a country or language other than one’s own: “a foreign language”.
      Dealing with or relating to other countries: “foreign policy”.

      Republic of Ireland IS a foreign country by definition.

      • Not according to Westminster, and they make the rules and laws.
        A dictionary definition means hee haw to the all powerful Westminster.
        Do you dispute that Ireland is not a foreign country and its citizens and not regarded, by law, as being foreigners?

  7. I wonder if Tavish will be getting rid of the Shetland Flag, Co-designed by Bill Adams and Roy Grönneberg (he founded the Shetland branch of the SNP in 1966).

  8. Derek, I think there is a legal anaysis of that point carried out by someone at Aberdeen University?
    Anyway the conclusion is that Orkney and Shetland would be an enclave within a Scottish Economic Zone thereby restricting their EEZ to about 6 miles.

    Think of the Channel Islands and look at their EEZ with respect to France.

    I wish I could find a reference to that legal analysis. It is out there but somehow I can’t trawl it. Maybe like the cod, it has moved.

    • Bugger (the Panda), is this the PDF you were thinking of?

      Derek, as you say, Tavish and Alistair are never quite certain about what they want. Is it independence for Orkney and Shetland as separate states or a single state? Is it Shetland and Orkney to remain part of the UK, or is it Orkney and Shetland as devolved parts of Scotland or as devolved parts of the UK?

      If it’s Orkney and Shetland as part of the UK then the conclusion of the paper I’ve linked to above is that they really get very little as far as control of the sea goes because they’ll count as an exclave in Scotland’s territorial seas. Certainly not enough area to take control of any significant parts of the oil fields around Scotland.

      Of course since neither Alistair or Tavish have started their own nationalist parties then it’s just an attempt to throw fear and doubt into Scotland’s economic prospects after independence.

  9. Judging from this poll in April, there doesn’t seem any appetite for independence in Shetland in any way.

    A red illegally-fished herring if you ask me.

    • Those charts show the majority don’t want to be independent, and separate, from Scotland. The P&J chose a misleading flag background for the results. Interesting.

  10. My last post just didn’t seem to load so here is the relevant section of the Westminster cat

    2 Republic of Ireland not a foreign country.

    (1)It is hereby declared that, notwithstanding that the Republic of Ireland is not part of His Majesty’s dominions, the Republic of Ireland is not a foreign country for the purposes of any law in force in any part of the United Kingdom or in any colony, protectorate or United Kingdom trust territory, whether by virtue of a rule of law or of an Act of Parliament or any other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, and references in any Act of Parliament, other enactment or instrument whatsoever, whether passed or made before or after the passing of this Act, to foreigners, aliens, foreign countries, and foreign or foreign-built ships or aircraft shall be construed accordingly.

    Now Grahamski, stop trolling and get a real job.

  11. It’s because Tavish wants to be Lord of the Isles.

    Usually these are in newspaper articles, based on claims by unionist politicians. There’s very little evidence that Shetlanders or Orcadians view themselves as Norwegian, or as British rather than Scottish.

    As Dr Bateman perceptively points out – the LibDems have had years to bring up these topics. They are an unprincipled lot, whose only loyalties are to their careers and to Westminster.

  12. I seem to remember Tavish speaking rather forcefully in defence of the union in the run up to the 2011 election. I paraphrase: ‘If you vote for Alex Salmond, if you vote for the SNP it will be a vote for separation’. Now we have the usual address on an independent Shetland/Orkney whenever the threat of Scottish independence is on the table. Begs a question or two most of which have already been asked above, but what happens in event of a no vote to Tavish’s proposals? Will he be threatening Westminster with the same scenarios? Will any of the LIbdems actually be working toward their own visions of home rule? Will anyone believe them?

    When last I checked, the FM offered the floor to anyone who could define home rule/devo max and the Libdems abandoned ship faster than you could shout ICEBERG. This option could have been on the ballot yet Rennie, Scott, Moore, Wallace and Campbell didn’t so much as raise a whimper. When Westminster said jump, they asked how high? So again the question, just how sincere do you feel any sound bite on autonomy may be when uttered by any of the aforementioned Libdems?

  13. Hi Derek
    Just a little heads up here, although you might have already come across the phenomenon that’s known as Grahamski, if you haven’t he/she will put you (and others) right, even when you and they are not
    wrong, but it’s worth having him/her around if only for the laughs. if however he does start to get under your skin, just ask him about the predictions he was making just prior to the last Holyrood elections, he/she was really at his/her funniest then!

    As for your post, it’s a bit strange surely, when it is considered the right thing to do by any campaign to head it up, or at least an important part of it, by someone who basically is being described as someone who is rude and argumentative and who will be reminded at every step that he is now holding a position that not so long ago he said should be scrapped.

    Perhaps Grahamski will put us right on that one as well

  14. The referendum is making it clear to voters who pulls whose strings and why.
    Scott and Carmichael answer to their London masters and not their constituents.
    As Derek rightly points out,they arrogantly assume that they can spout the London line without any local consultation.
    Arrogance and London based political parties seem to go together.

    • Delighted to be reading all these opinions about Orkney & Shetland from folk who, in my experience, probably struggle to find us on a map!

      The fact is that OS independence, or remaining a part of the UK outwith an independent Scotland, is discussed frequently here. We in Orkney are certainly not Scots, and it would hardly be an exaggeration to suggest that our cousins in Shetland would rather join North Korea than an independent Scotland!

      I would add that we have the only Independent county councils in the UK, suggesting something about the way we see things differently here in the far north.

      I’m not a Lib-Dem voter myself, but I want to see fairness to Alistair, inasmuch as he is certainly not misrepresenting the views of folk here in the Northern Isles.

  15. Coincidentally I did some ferreting about on-line for resources about whether the Northern Isles would be entitled to any of the oil and/or their own EEZ. The smart money if they opted to remain part of rUK appears to suggest not, as they will effectively be an exclave within the Scottish continental shelf. There may be more to argue about if they were to declare UDI, but even then they are unlikely to be entitled to as much as many unionists seem to think (it is even possible that Norway and Denmark could use that as an opportunity to re-negotiate their EEZ’s in relation to that of the “new” state).

    Some resources here:

    In addition, there is vanishingly little evidence to show there is any appetite amongst islanders either for independence OR for remaining part of rUK if Scotland becomes independent. Only poll I’ve been able to find discussing the matter (by the Press and Journal from April 2013, searchable on-line) showed .80% in favour of remaining part of Scotland.

    As for so many other “project fear” dog whistle issues, real scrutiny exposes this one for the steaming pile of bullshit it actually is!

  16. Check out the poll the P&J carried out recently about the Northern Isles “leaving” Scotland and reported on WoS.

    As the Rev says, “Flying in the face of Tavish Scott’s most recent attempts to bang on his battered old drum of how the Northern Isles might want to form their own independent nation/s if Scotland left the UK, the citizens of the two island groups delivered a crushing “No” to the notion, voting by a margin of almost 8:1 to stay part of Scotland.”

    Another unionist straw man.

  17. Is Tramish or da future Loard Carmichael aksed Shelties? Na, as he happens, dey ir not. Heath says ‘no surprise’.

    Bugger the Panda – da paper du’s lookin fur is
    Enclave status and a ferry ta Newcastle. How no even a peerie bit exciting. 14 oors ta bloddy Aiberdeen is bad enoch!

    Da SNP vote slowly creeps up in Orkney and Shetland

    No forgettin da census. Oh I do laek a hunder percent sample! Orkney 62% Scots only identity, Shetland 60% Scots only identity.
    Yes Shetland FB group, as o 1 min ago haes 89 members. More as AA da political pairties ida isles pitten tagidder.

    In summary: Fiberals: strangers ta da truth, joost laek der aye been

  18. Jim Mitchell. I did exactly as you suggested there and got my post deleted for my troubles. I thought, as you, do that it was perfectly reasonable to front up the troll about it’s boasting pre 2011 election. I do hope his foul stench is not tolerated. He has diverted to many forums with his particular brand of hatred.

  19. 3 quick points:
    1. The people of OS don’t want either to be independent of Scotland or a region of rUK.
    2. Why should always be lumped together as though they were not separate identities,with very specific cultural, geographical, linguistic etc differences?
    3. The previous SoS announced to the world only a few months ago that in international law the Scots have no right of self determination. If they don’t have that right, then why do OS folk?

  20. Greetings from Shetland. I cannot say I have seen any public meeting called by Tavish or Alistair to call the people of Shetland together to discuss a claim of right and reject being part of Scotland.

    If Tavish does truly believe its part of Scotland why is he attending Holyrood and claiming a wage as a member of the Scottish Parliament?

    For the shortened history of Shetland go to basically. Basically King James II reclaimed the islands in 1472 and became part of the UK like the rest of Scotland through the act of union. Unlike the Falkland Isles were Argentine have legally expressed a claim of right our Scandanvian neighbours have not lodged a similar formal complaint with the United Nations.
    NHS in Shetland significantly interlinked with NHS Grampian in Aberdeen.
    Direct links to the UK mainland by sea and air are all to Scottish part of the mainland and residents can get discounted rates subsidies by the Scottish Government.
    The issue Shetland residents want to know from Alistair is if he will get the UK government to finally honour a promise to clear £40 million housing debt that was built up to provides houses for the first oil boom in 1970s.

  21. Derek,
    You are spot on with the folk who keep saying, ‘I just want the facts’. They are even beginning to do my head in! I have told them countless times to visit ‘Wings over Scotland’. I have quoted verbatim from all the Independence sites. I have even held up reports from the BBC.

    Nope …’I just wish someone would tell us the truth from both sides’

    And when you push them, you get, ‘I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me’. Well …ehhh …yes, it does. It affects you big time!

    All I have to say is this; if Scotland does vote ‘No’, then these folk better not complain …ever! when the time comes when Westminster gets around to putting the boot into Scotland for its rebellious attitude.

  22. Re Tavish and a vote for SNP being an automatic vote for separation. Lib Dems also said that a vote for them in 2010 was a vote against tuition fees. Thus lying about both the opposition *and* themselves.

    If I was a Shetlander I would definitely consider independence outside the EU. With all that oil and fishing they’d be rich as Croesus. However Alistair and Tavish’s fantasy, Shetland as an enclave of England, really would be worst of both worlds.

  23. Now I’m not one to make personal remarks, especially about a person’s weight – but having seen Mr HandShake on TV the other night, it did strike me that “containing himself” must be a daily problem.

  24. The example of St Pierre et Miquelon which is a French overseas island in Canadian waters when it had to negotiate it EEZ is an example of what could happen to Shetland and Orkney

  25. The whole argument seems odd. I live in Fife but I, and the other people who live here, don’t own it in a political sense. It is part of Scotland. There are thousands of islands and Island groups around Scotland, but they are still part of what is modern Scotland.

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