Category Archives: Shetland

Dragging Scotland out of the EU

Independence can transform Scotland
Independence can transform Scotland by Scottish Government, on Flickr.
Nicola Sturgeon has proposed to give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a veto over the UK's exit from the EU. According to the BBC, she said:

If you look at states like Australia and Canada there are some circumstances where changes to their constitution requires not just a majority across the country but in each of the provinces as well.

The UK is not a unitary state it is a family of nations, it is made up of the four home nations.

We were told during the referendum that each of these nations had equal status, that our voices mattered.

If that is the case I think it is right that something that would have such significant consequences for jobs, for the economy, for our standing in the world, it should require the consent of not just the UK as a whole but that family of nations.

It's quite an attractive proposition. The Unionists clearly talked up federalism during the referendum campaign, and this is an obvious consequence.

If the Unionist parties don't agree, it's just another sign that they didn't themselves believe the very arguments they used to win the referendum. If the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU but Scotland votes to stay, it will therefore be prudent to hold a second independence referendum to allow the people of Scotland to chose which of the two unions they want to remain in, the British one or the European one.

While we're on this topic, the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweeted something rather party-political today:

A political union is best described as a club. It's always the case that members have the right to leave if they so desire -- it can never require the consent of all members. This was why the Scottish independence referendum took place only in Scotland and not in the entire UK, and this is why the Brexit will be decided in the UK and not by a referendum in the entire EU.

However, clubs and political unions can decide on their own rules for what they do collectively. They can decide that new members can't vote, they can decide who gets to join, and they can require unanimity for accepting new members or for joining other associations.

In most political unions the membership rules are described in the constitution or at least a political treaty, but because of the UK's unwritten constitution many of those rules are based on precedent and political statements. It therefore makes good sense for Nicola Sturgeon to point out that the Unionists' frequent talk about the family of nations has constitutional implications.

If Laura Kuenssberg wants to compare this proposal to the independence referendum, it would have been the equivalent of Shetland asking for a veto. However, nobody has ever described Scotland as a family of nations comprising Shetland and mainland Scotland, which is why nobody seriously considered doing this.

Scotland as a Nordic country

Scotland and the other Nordic countriesA year from now, the most important referendum in the history of Scotland will take place.

In foreign policy, England has always tended to ignore the Nordic countries and preferred to look south towards France, and the UK has of course always been dominated by England in this regard, but after independence Scotland can revert to being a Northern European country.

Obviously, Scotland isn't part of Scandinavia like Denmark, Norway and Sweden. However, can an independent Scotland be regarded as a Nordic country? If so, joining the Nordic Council would be possible.

The usual definition of the Nordic countries includes only Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and the Åland Islands. However, a brief glance at a map shows that Scotland would be a natural addition to the list.

Scandinavia is largely defined by language -- Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible after a few weeks' exposure. This isn't true for the other languages of the Nordics, however. Also, people from all the Nordic countries are increasingly using English amongst themselves, so not knowing a Scandinavian language might not be a real problem.

In fact, I have a suspicion that the Finns and the Icelanders might be quite happy to get an excuse to use English -- although Finnish-speaking Finns learn Swedish at school, almost none of them are able to understand spoken Danish.

Historically, the non-Scandinavian Nordic countries are, or have been, ruled by a Scandinavian one: the Faeroes and Greenland are still controlled by Denmark (although they have devolution), Iceland was Danish until 1944, and Finland and Åland were part of Sweden until 1809.

Orkney and Shetland were part of Denmark-Norway until 1468, when they were pawned to Scotland, and many Scottish islands were under Viking rule a few centuries before that, so there are definitely some historical connexions there that might be useful when submitting the membership application.

However, at the end of the day the Nordic Council is a club for small Northern European countries with a Social-Democratic mindset. If Scotland goes down the Common Weal path, I expect the Nordic Countries will be more than happy to let Scotland join.

Independence for Shetland and Orkney?

Originally uploaded by image_less_ordinary

Tavish Scott and some of his unionist friends have been having fun recently suggesting that Shetland and Orkney might separate from Scotland in the case of Scottish independence.

As far as I can see, there are theoretically four options for Shetland and Orkney if Scotland becomes independent:

  1. They can remain part of Scotland.
  2. They can become part of Norway (or Denmark) instead.
  3. They can become part of England.
  4. They can become independent.

Option (1) is of course the most straightforward option. Although option (2) would perhaps tempt some of the islanders temporarily, I'm not sure they'd really want to learn Norwegian as their first foreign language, introduce Norwegian law, go to university in Norway, and so on. Option (3) would possibly appeal to some of the islanders, especially those of them who have moved there from England; however, would the majority of the population really want to be flown to England for complex hospital treatments, or by default go to university in England? Also, the islands have never in their history belonged to England, so it'd be a somewhat strange outcome. Option (4) is of course a possibility, but they have a very small population and don't even have experience with devolution.

I think it's a good idea for Shetland and Orkney to get some degree of autonomy within Scotland. Perhaps this would over time develop into full independence, although I'm doubtful. However, to leap from being a full and integrated part of Scotland to becoming an independent nation overnight would be a complete shock to the system, and I'd be very surprised if the islanders themselves would go for it, especially as there is no established independence movement on the islands as far as I know.

I can therefore only conclude that Tavish Scott is just trying to spread uncertainty and fear about the prospects of Scottish independence – he's not really advocating separating the islands from mainland Scotland. I would have hoped the unionists had some positive arguments in favour of the Union, but that might have been too much to hope for.