The Northern Isles of Scotland—the territories of Shetland and Orkney—have in this year of the Scottish independence referendum shown themselves to be mostly strident unionists. They want to stay in the United Kingdom. This they share in common with many Highlanders, since Scottish separatism is mainly a phenomenon of the more densely populated lowlands, where Glasgow and Edinburgh are. But, even though the two archipelagoes are expected to be strongholds of the “no” vote in the September 18th vote, Orcadians and Shetlanders are apparently even less keen on another idea: “annexation” by the U.K. in case of a Scottish secession.
This suggestion was raised by Hugh Halcro-Johnson, a unionist (i.e., he is against Scottish independence) who headed the Orkney Islands Council until 2003. He feels that if Scotland splits away, Shetland and Orkney should petition, separately or together, to rejoin the U.K., in a kind of “retrocession” movement (like West Virginia during the Civil War in the United States, or like Anglophone portions of Canada’s sometimes secessionist Quebec province). As Halcro-Johnson told a reporter earlier this month, “Should Scotland vote ‘yes’ then everything changes. I think that scenario would provide an opportunity for the islands to seek special status—particularly in relation to defense in view of the islands’ strategic importance.” Unionists have typically invoked fears that a Scottish secession would compromise British security. Halcro-Johnson is also, of course, mindful of the irony that an independent Scotland’s territorial waters would include most of the U.K.’s current lucrative North Sea oil reserves—with most of it being in the territorial waters of jurisdictions that want to stay in the U.K.
|Where the North Sea’s energy resources are—
and whose they are
|Scandinavian-style flags on (currently) British islands
(top: Orkney, bottom: Shetland)
|Funny, you don’t look Celtic: a Shetlander in the annual “fire festival”
|A pro-independence rally in Edinburgh