The idea that the islands of Shetland or Orkney could become independent from Scotland has been a running joke during the independence referendum.
That is, until yesterday. The local member of parliament for the isles, Alistair Carmichael, told the Guardian that Scottish independence would begin “a conversation about Shetland’s position”.
Carmichael says that conversation would include the option of becoming a crown dependency, like the Isle of Man, with its own governance and tax-raising powers.
The comments might be put down to the idle thoughts of a local politician. But Alistair Carmichael also happens to be the Secretary of State for Scotland, the cabinet minister representing the country in the British government.
Here’s why the prospect of Shetland’s independence from an independent Scotland would be a nightmare for Edinburgh:
A lot of the oil an independent Scotland would be highly dependent on for tax revenues is much closer to the islands than mainland Scotland, and the 22,000-strong population of the islands could stake their claim.
The island has an incredible history, distinct from mainland Scotland. The islands were Norwegian territory for hundreds of years, before being sold to the Scots in 1469. Shetland and Orkney even had their own language.
The idea that Shetland would split off from Scotland is still pretty remote, but there’s clearly a mounting sense of irritation among the islanders. Tavish Scott, the member of the Scottish parliament for the island lashed out at Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond in a letter last year:
“You must accept that Shetland will want to determine its own future and will not simply be ignored, bypassed or trodden on by any negotiations that are not in the Islands interests.”
Scott and Carmichael are prominent supporters of the No campaign, favouring a continued relationship with the United Kingdom. But if Scotland goes independent, Shetland may not go quietly.
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