Should more powers be devolved to Shetland?

A NEW campaign group has launched with the aim of promoting self-government for the Shetland Islands.

Shetlanders dressed as vikings march through the streets of Lerwick in 2011 during the Up Helly Aa festival. Picture: Robert Perry

Wir Shetland, which held its inaugural meeting in October, argues that the archipelago would be better served by becoming a British overseas territory, similar to the status of the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar.

The group believes the interests of Shetland, which has a population of around 23,200, are markedly different to those of Scotland and the wider UK.

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Its foundation follows a wider debate on devolving more powers to Scottish island communities, including Orkney and Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

The BP Sullom Voe oil terminal is a major contributor to the Shetland economy

Then First Minister Alex Salmond visited Lerwick in July 2013 to announce the Scottish Government would examine decentralising power to the three island councils.

Consultation on a Future Islands bill was formally launched this year and submissions are welcomed until December 23.

“Many people in Shetland are disillusioned at how we are being governed,” said Duncan Simpson, membership secretary of Wir Shetland.

“There is no singular reason for the growing support for Wir Shetland, there is a multitude. Ranging from, but not excluded to, the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy, underfunding of Shetland’s education system and increasing centralisation of services and powers away from the isles.

“We simply feel that out here on the periphery our needs are often ignored or overlooked. With self governance we aim to robustly safeguard Shetland’s current and future interests.”

The local authorities of Shetland, Orkney and Na h-Eileanan an Iar launched a Our Islands - Our Future (OIOF) campaign launched in June 2013.

It stated that regardless of the outcome of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, “the councils wish to see the special position and needs of the UK’s three largest island groups fully taken into account in the new constitutional arrangements for Scotland.”

Laws that could be potentially devolved include control of the sea bed around the islands, allowing revenues currently paid to the Crown Estate to be spent locally, and new fiscal arrangements to allow the islands to benefit directly from the harvesting of local resources, including renewable energy and fisheries.

Gary Robinson, leader of Shetland Islands Council, called for as many islanders as possible to take part in the Future Islands consultation.

“This is an important opportunity for Shetland and other island communities, to speak up for more powers and control over island matters,” he said.

“Through the successful OIOF campaign we have won the attention of politicians at the highest level and now we are asked to contribute to the shape of future islands legislation.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A consultation on provisions for a Future Islands bill was launched by the islands minister in September. This is the next step in helping to inform the government’s work for a more prosperous and fairer future for our island communities, including Shetland, and is an ideal opportunity for ideas to be shared before any decisions are made on what future legislation might look like and is open until December 23.

“The government hopes to publish the findings from the consultation earlier in the new year.”