The Shetland Islands vote to pursue independence from Scotland – so can Nicola Sturgeon turn them down without torpedoing her own bid for referendum?

  • Council members argued decision-making had become increasingly centralised
  • They said public funding for the islands had been cut under SNP Government 
  • Voted in favour of exploring options of ‘financial and political self-determination’

Shetland Islands Council has voted overwhelmingly to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent amid Nicola Sturgeon’s own push toward a second Scottish referendum. 

In a debate lasting more than an hour, members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government. 

Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’. 

Shetland Islands Council has voted overwhelmingly to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent from Scotland

Shetland Islands Council has voted overwhelmingly to start looking at ways to become financially and politically independent from Scotland

The motion, signed by council leader Steven Coutts and convener Malcolm Bell, said: ‘We are concerned that this ongoing situation is seriously threatening the prosperity and even basic sustainability of Shetland as a community.’ 

Any move for Shetland to become self-determining would need to be supported by an island-wide referendum, councillors stressed. 

Mr Coutts suggested devolution has not benefited Shetland – famous for its Up Helly Aa fire festivals, in which Viking ships are burned – and said the Scottish parliament feels ‘remote’ to islanders. 

Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options 'for achieving financial and political self-determination'. Pictured: Attendees at Shetland's Up Helly Aa fire festival

Councillors voted 18 to two in favour of a motion to formally explore options ‘for achieving financial and political self-determination’. Pictured: Attendees at Shetland’s Up Helly Aa fire festival

Council leader Steven Coutts claimed the levels of funding for ferries 'negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland'. Pictured: Town of Scalloway and its harbour in the Shetland Islands

Council leader Steven Coutts claimed the levels of funding for ferries ‘negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland’. Pictured: Town of Scalloway and its harbour in the Shetland Islands

He claimed the levels of funding for ferries ‘negatively impacts on Shetland and everyone of Shetland’, although the Government said it has provided more than £15million for ferry services over the past three years. 

The Shetland West councillor referenced the 2013 Lerwick declaration by former First Minister Alex Salmond, when he announced plans to decentralise power to the islands. 

Quoting Mr Salmond’s statement ‘we believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about our future’, Mr Coutts said: ‘Replace Scotland with Shetland that’s the motion here today, and I encourage you to support it.’ 

The Shetland West councillor referenced the 2013 Lerwick declaration by former First Minister Alex Salmond, when he announced plans to decentralise power to the islands. Pictured: Incumbent First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

The Shetland West councillor referenced the 2013 Lerwick declaration by former First Minister Alex Salmond, when he announced plans to decentralise power to the islands. Pictured: Incumbent First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Any move for Shetland to become self-determining would need to be supported by an island-wide referendum, councillors stressed

Any move for Shetland to become self-determining would need to be supported by an island-wide referendum, councillors stressed

Ahead of discussions with the UK and Scottish Governments, Mr Coutts said: ‘I hope they recognise the challenges of living in Shetland, like the high cost of living, but also the incredible opportunities political and financial self-determination could bring.’ 

Responding to the vote, Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse said Shetland had not submitted any request for further powers under new regulations introduced last year. 

He said: ‘It is the responsibility of local authorities to manage their own budgets and to allocate the resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities.’  

Council members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government. Pictured: Ceremony at at Shetland's Up Helly Aa fire festival

Council members argued decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP Government. Pictured: Ceremony at at Shetland’s Up Helly Aa fire festival

The Government said it had provided more than £15million for Shetland's ferry services over the past three years. Pictured: Fishing boats in the waters around the islands

The Government said it had provided more than £15million for Shetland’s ferry services over the past three years. Pictured: Fishing boats in the waters around the islands

It comes as Scotland’s Incumbent First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues her own plans for a second Scottish independence referendum in the wake of Brexit.  

Earlier this year she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that she believed the SNP’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic had been an example of ‘show don’t tell’ for independence.

She claimed that support for Scotland leaving the UK had increased in recent months. 

The Shetland Islands 

Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, lie 170 kilometres from the Scottish mainland. 

The total area is just 1,466 square kilometres and, in 2019, the population totalled 22,920. 

The local authority, Shetland Islands Council, is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland and the islands’ administrative centre is Lerwick – which has been the capital of Shetland since 1708.    

Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, lie 170 kilometres from the Scottish mainland

Shetland, also known as the Shetland Islands, lie 170 kilometres from the Scottish mainland

The islands were initially dominated by Scandinavian influences, especially from Norway, and they later became part of Scotland in the 15th century. 

Scotland became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 which caused a decrease in trade with northern Europe.  

Fishing continues to be an important aspect of the economy up to the present day.

The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known animal breeds that originated on the islands

The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known animal breeds that originated on the islands

The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s significantly boosted Shetland’s economy, employment and public sector revenues. 

There are also numerous areas set aside to protect the local fauna and flora, including a number of important sea bird nesting sites. 

The Shetland pony and Shetland Sheepdog are two well-known animal breeds that originated on the islands. 

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