By a Newsnet reporter
An opinion poll of residents of the Northern Isles, commissioned by the Press and Journal newspaper, has given the lie to claims by certain supporters of the anti-independence campaign that Shetland and Orkney might seek to remain a part of the UK if Scotland becomes independent.
The poll, published in the newspaper on Wednesday, finds that 82%, the overwhelming majority, of the islanders wish to remain Scottish.
Asked “Should Shetland/Orkney be independent countries, separate from Scotland?” only 8% of islanders who participated in the poll said that they were in agreement, with a further 10% saying they did not know.
Earlier this year Tavish Scott, former leader of the Liberal Democrats in Scotland and MSP for Orkney and Shetland, called on the islands to loosen their ties with Scotland. Mr Scott said that he was in favour of the islands forming a crown dependency in their own right, with a similar status to the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.
Mr Scott and other supporters of the anti-independence campaign seized upon a report published at the beginning of this year by Capital Economics, an economic research firm, which cited the “strong” negotiating position of the islands if Scots vote for independence. The report was widely cited in the Scottish media as evidence that Shetland and Orkney would choose not to remain a part of Scotland if the rest of the country opted for independence.
Capital Economics is headed by economist Roger Bootle, who is a regular columnist in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Mr Bootle was previously appointed as an advisor and economic forecaster to the UK Treasury during the Conservative administration of John Major.
The analysis carried out by London based economist Martin Beck for Capital Economics said Shetland and Orkney islanders could decide to remain part of the UK in the aftermath of a Yes vote or insist on a high degree of autonomy from Scotland, similar to the relationship between Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
Claims that the islands could opt to remain part of the UK have featured regularly in the Scottish media, with BBC Reporting Scotland also broadcasting similar items.
Acording to a report published in the Times newspaper in 2009, during the campaign for Scottish Home Rule in the 1970s, UK Treasury officials suggested encouraging local campaigns for independence in Orkney and Shetland in order to deprive Scotland of as much of the oil reserves as possible.
In his diaries, the late Anthony Crosland, who was a Cabinet Minister in the Labour government until his death in 1977, admitted that the UK government intended to plant stories with sympathetic journalists and politicians to foster divisions between the Northern Isles and Scotland as part of a campaign to subvert Scottish self-determination.
Mr Crosland and his civil servants suggested that this could be achieved by carrying out “confidential briefings of selected public opinion informers” and placing articles in the press with no acknowledgement of official involvement.
In the current independence campaign, similar articles have appeared prominently in the UK media, although it is unknown whether the present UK government has adopted a similar strategy. However today’s opinion poll proves that there is little or no appetite amongst islanders for such a move, and the people of the Northern Isles see their future as remaining a part of Scotland.