Orkney votes to explore ways to leave UK

4 July 2023, 10:37 | Updated: 4 July 2023, 13:24

Councillors in Kirkwall have voted on Orkney's future
Councillors in Kirkwall have voted on Orkney's future. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

You've heard of Brexit, maybe even Scexit - now the UK might have to prepare for Orkxit.

The Orkney Islands, which lie 20 miles north of the Scottish mainland, have voted to explore "alternative governance" which could include leaving the UK and returning to its Scandic roots with Norway.

Councillors in Kirkwall voted 15 to six for a motion on options of new governance which includes looking at the "Nordic connections" of the islands, as well as becoming a crown dependency such as Jersey and Guernsey.

They also agreed there should be a revival of a consultative group on constitutional reform for the islands and council officers have been asked to publish a report to Orkney's chief executive.

The motion was put down by council leader James Stockan who said the island had been discriminated against and under-funded by both the UK and Scottish governments.

Prior to the meeting he said it was time for Orkney to look elsewhere for more economic opportunity - which could include rejoining with Norway, a country which last had any say over the islands in 1472.

“We were part of the Norse kingdom for much longer than we were part of the United Kingdom," he said. "There is a huge affinity and a huge deep cultural relationship there. This is exactly the moment to explore what is possible.”

His motion suggests Orkney becoming a crown dependency, such as Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man, or even a self-governing territory like the Faroe Islands which are linked to Denmark, but that it could also mean looking at "Nordic connections... and other options for greater subsidiarity and autonomy to be presented to the community for consideration".

Speaking to councillors on Tuesday, he said the motion was "not about us joining Norway" but that "it's time for government to take us seriously and I say it's time for us to look at all the options we've got.

"There is a far bigger suite of options here - this could even be that we could get our money direct from the Treasury in London and look after our own future.

"We have been held down and we all know most of what I could say today in terms of discrimination against this community from governments. We all know how much less we get compared to other island groups."

However any constitutional change would likely require a combination of petitions, referenda and legislation at Holyrood and Westminster.

Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control until the 15th century when the islands were given to Scotland as part of Margaret of Denmark's wedding dowry to King James III of Scotland.

Taken sick on the voyage, Margaret landed on Orkney and died, the dowry was never paid, and Scotland seized the island and has claimed ownership ever since.

Cllr Stockan has said he is still asked by Orcadians "When are we going to pay back the dowry, when are we going back to Norway?

"We do look with envy at the communities in Norway where they have a completely different approach to the remote and rural."

He added: “We are really struggling at the moment, we have to replace the whole ferry fleet. We are denied the things that other areas get like road equivalent tariff for ferry fares. And the funding we get from the Scottish government is significantly less per head than Shetland and the Western Isles to run the same services. We can’t go on as we are."

Orkney Islands Council did previously vote in 2017 to look at whether the islands could have greater autonomy, but did not back full independence for Orkney.

Similarly Shetland council voted in 2020 in favour of looking into ways of obtaining financial and political independence from Scotland. Funding cuts and centralised decision-making by the Scottish Government were argued as reasons to explore independence.

Scotland's First Minister, Humza Yousaf, has told LBC that the Scottish Government "would continue to work closely with Orkney" and wants "more autonomy" for Scottish island communities and is prepared to look at a single islands authority model.

He said: "Like Orkney I believe we have been failed by the Westminster government and if we had more autonomy then the Scottish Government could do more for our island and rural communities."

And No 10 has said that there is "no mechanism for the conferral of crown dependency or overseas territory status on any part of the UK.

"Fundamentally, we are stronger as one United Kingdom, we have no plans to change that. We've got no plans to change the devolution settlement."

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