Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Disunited islands

The UK wants out of the EU. Scotland wants a vote on independence. There's some sentiment in Northern Ireland for union with the Republic of Ireland. Now there's talk of the Shetland Islands gaining independence from Scotland. Where will this all end? (And the beginning of this course, you thought defining "United Kingdom" was complicated.)

A Lump of Rock, an Otter and a Secessionist
With gray clouds building and rain slanting in over the Atlantic, Stuart Hill pointed to a small lump of land inhabited by an otter, a few seals and a variety of seabirds.
Croft (farm) in the Shetlands
To the rest of the world, this barren, inhospitable and largely inaccessible rock off the coastline of the Shetland Islands is a part of Scotland, on the northernmost tip of Britain. To Mr. Hill, it is the sovereign state of Forvik, whose independence he proclaimed in 2008, arguing that it — along with the oil-rich Shetland Islands themselves — is legally neither part of Scotland nor Britain…

Yet, while many Shetlanders regard Mr. Hill as an eccentric, a growing number are being drawn to calls for more independence for their remote and scenic isles…

Even though Gary Robinson, leader of the Shetland Islands Council, opposes independence, he favors more autonomy. To that end, he is pursuing links beyond Edinburgh and London, through the Nordic Council, which includes Denmark and Norway, as well as the Faroe and Aland Islands…

Unleashed by Britain’s planned withdrawal from the European Union,… the debate underscores the forces of fragmentation threatening to turn the United Kingdom into a contradiction in terms.

Shaped by their Viking, rather than Celtic, roots, the Shetlands have a unique culture. Small Shetland ponies are a frequent sight in much of its panoramic landscape, and the red and blue houses of parts of its capital, Lerwick, look more Nordic than British…

To critics, discussion of independence for a tiny clutch of islands, while far-fetched, underscores the growing risk of the post-Brexit Balkanization of Britain.

[T]he local member of the British Parliament, Alistair Carmichael… concedes… that Shetland’s relationship with power centers can be strained.

“We have a history of having to push water uphill against Edinburgh,” he said. “From London, you get benign neglect, but you get patronized from Edinburgh.”…

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