London and Lerwick are both about the same distance from Edinburgh and, while Shetland’s capital is a little closer, the cold and forbidding waters of the North Sea form a much greater barrier than the River Tweed.
Shetland may seem remote when viewed from mainland Scotland, but the same could be said by the islanders about much of the country of which they have been part since 1472.
More than 500 years later, the Shetland dialect still contains many Old Norse words, people building houses in the Scandinavian style and Norwegian flags are “commonly seen”, according to Shetland.org. Not to mention the famous Up Helly Aa festival, a celebration of the islands Viking heritage.
Now the local council has voted by 18 to two to approve a motion to explore options to achieve “political and financial self-determination”. Saying remote decision-making was not working for Shetland, council leader Steven Coutts spoke of the islands’ “massive potential”, urging others to seize the opportunities at hand “in a way that ensures everyone in our community can thrive”. Shetland North councillor Andrea Manson said the motion was the “first tiny step to hat might be a long process”.
Devolution for Shetland? Home role? Or, whisper it, independence or a return to Norway?
Recent research by academics into different separatist movements found that feeling misunderstood by others was one of the driving forces. “When people, individually and collectively, feel that those around them aren’t ‘getting’ their point of view, and if people feel they lack the ability to determine their own future, you get responses that are about ‘taking back control,’” said lead author Dr Andrew Livingstone.
“One of the worst ways to change such a belief is to tell people their views aren’t genuine, or that they are fools. The first step is to ask people why they hold a particular belief, and to listen to the answer.”
UK unionists and those in Scotland alarmed that Shetland could be thinking about some kind of political divorce should take note.
Simply stating that Scotland is part of the UK or that Shetland is part of Scotland – in the manner of China’s bombastic pronouncements about Taiwan, Tibet and other places – is not going to convince anyone. In a democracy, hearts and minds must be won and the first step to doing that is to listen.
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