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Shetland Islands councillors overwhelmingly vote to probe independence from Scotland

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

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

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

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

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.’ 

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