New law sees Shetland break free of map box

Shetland has been unboxed after new legislation came into force barring sectioning off the islands on official maps.
Shetland has been unboxed after new legislation came into force barring sectioning off the islands on official maps.
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Shetland has been unboxed after new legislation came into force barring sectioning off the islands on official maps.

The Shetland mapping requirement section of the Islands (Scotland) Act stipulates the islands “must be displayed in a manner that accurately and proportionately represents their geographical location in relation to the rest of Scotland”.

Many official maps present the islands in a box closer to mainland Scotland than it actually is, which cartographers argue allows them to save space.

But Shetlanders say the practice misrepresents “logistical challenges” faced by the islanders and have campaigned for change.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who led the fight for legislation, said: “There is no excuse now for the Scottish Government, its agencies or others to put Shetland in a box.

“The box is closed. It doesn’t exist, whether that be in the Moray Firth or east of Orkney. Shetland is now in the right place.

“It is ridiculous that I had to change the law to make this happen, but so be it.”

He said the “island-proofing” duty the new law introduces – ensuring the islands are recognised in any law or government regulation – must work, arguing at the moment this is not happening.

The legislation also means a National Islands Plan will be developed, aimed at increasing sustainable economic development and community empowerment.

The maps featuring a boxed-off Shetland are still used in many official materials, including on certain Scottish banknotes. However, it is far from a new phenomenon as 17th-century maps at the National Library of Scotland also depict Shetland and Orkney contained in boxes.

It is also common in other parts of the world, with the Isles of Scilly off Cornwall and the US state of Hawaii frequently drawn in boxes on official maps.

Islands minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish islands have contributed and continue to contribute hugely to our culture and heritage and with this Act now starting to take force, will now have the opportunity to contribute even further to their own and our collective futures.

“They have very distinctive needs, so the Act introduces a number of measures to ensure there is a sustained focus across government and the wider public sector to meet the needs of island communities now and in the future.

“On a more visual front, it ensures Shetland will no longer be ‘boxed off’ on maps, which has been a cause of irritation to those living in Shetland.”