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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Are we a party that supports Northern Isles separatism?

Could the Orkney Isles form part of a new crown dependency?

Supposedly we are, after yesterday's vote at the Scottish Liberal Democrats' conference.

It's a conference I haven't been able to attend personally, due to work commitments. Unusually, the agenda was more daring, if not ambitious, than has generally been the case in recent years - with significant debates on secret courts (at which the government position was roundly defeated, again) and mental health issues (in which, even as an absentee member, I feel proud that our party had the courage to discuss this matter so openly and even prouder that we appear to understand many of the issues faced by people with mental ill-health). Unfortunately, what excites the membership doesn't necessarily excite the media and - rather than hailing our progressive attitudes on tackling Scotland's mental health problems - today's headlines are focused on what Scotland on Sunday calls a "Northern Isles devolution bid".

Before dealing with the response from the Scottish media, it might be useful to actually take a look at what was being proposed and what was actually said.  The motion, which I think is rather self-explanatory, is reproduced below:

Shetland and Orkney – the constitutional debate
(Orkney local party)

Mover: Tavish Scott MSP

Summator: Liam McArthur MSP

Conference notes:

A. The strong feelings in Shetland and Orkney against the recent centralisation of public services towards the central belt, for example on policing, fire services, colleges, economic development, public sector construction contracts and civil engineering;
B. The distinct needs of the islands on many matters, not least the seafood industries, the Scottish Government's cuts to the Air Discount Scheme and the failure to prioritise ferry services;
C. The recent conference motion passed in support of the report of the Home Rule and Community Rule Commission which recommended radical action to reverse centralisation and empower communities;
D. The belief amongst many in the northern isles that the legal, constitutional positions of Shetland and Orkney are not clear and that the impact of the 1707 Act of Union is open to interpretation.

Conference resolves:

1. That Shetland and Orkney should develop a preferred position on their future relationship with the United Kingdom and Scotland;
2. That the world-leading exploitations of oil and gas and renewable energy in the waters around the islands gives Shetland and Orkney strength in any negotiations they may wish to have;
3. That the Scottish Government should accept that Shetland and Orkney should have a separate right to self-determination, to secure the best future for themselves, whatever the constitutional future of Scotland.


And that's that, although I'm surprised the Tory Earl of Caithness didn't receive a credit.

If I had been in attendance I would have liked to have spoken against parts of this motion, which I consider ill-conceived, for reasons that will become obvious.

Tavish Scott, moving, delivered a speech (reproduced here) in which he made his case for what essentially amounts to separatism for the Northern Isles.  From all accounts it was a well-received speech, if somewhat lacking in intellectual rigour, and he made the following points:

* "The Northern Isles are vibrant, distinctive with our own dialect, language and Norse festivals. Orkney and Shetland both fly their own flags. Our history looks east more than south."
* "Shetland and Orkney want to use this period of intense constitutional navel gazing to decide what we want for our future. We are not going to be told what to do by the SNP. Nor by any other government. "
* "Those who care most about the future of the Northern Isles are those who live there, and they should decide their future."
* "Ming Campbell's Home Rule proposals open up a new constitutional route for our Islands."
* "Look at the Nationalist record - a record of removing powers and responsibilities from Islanders."
* "Shetland can run its own administration. The Northern Isles can be their own government. Shetland is comfortable working out local solutions to Island needs"
* "It's not your oil Alex, its wirs."
* "The Manx Parliament is a good model for Shetland. Speaker Roden is a Scot. He's a former young liberal. He lit the liberal flame in Moray in the 1979 General Election. "
* "Shetland and Orkney may never have a stronger opportunity to negotiate a future for the Islands."
* "Is the Northern Isles future as a crown dependency?"

In response to this, I think it's fair to note the following:

* The Northern Isles are not the only part of the UK that is vibrant, with a strong sense of cultural and regional identity, or with historical justification for perceiving itself as distinct.  We could also take the examples of the Western Isles (the independence of Lordship of the Isles ended in 1493, 25 years after Orkney and Shetland became part of Scotland), Strathclyde, Fife and Berwick and make special cases for them.  No doubt such logic could also be applied to Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, East Anglia and Kent.  I guess some Cornish MPs should be looking at yesterday's conference vote with interest.
* The people of the Northern Isles will have a say in their future, a say that was consistently denied during Mr Scott's time as party leader.  The fear is, of course, that there is a possibility (as in the 1979 and 1997 referendums) that the views of the Northern Isles' inhabitants might not correspond with those of the Scottish people more generally.
* I have no doubt Shetland could run it's own administration.  By the same logic, so could Scotland.  Just thought I'd mention it. Perhaps the real question isn't one of capability but desirability?  Just as an independent Scotland could run it's own administration (unless it is less competent than the Shetland Isles, which seems questionable) that's not what concerns many voters ahead of next years referendum: they want to know whether an independent Scotland can deliver on certain fronts, how strong it will be economically and what it will actually mean in practice for Scottish people.  That same approach should be adopted in this case - it's too glib simply to state that "we can, therefore we should".
* I'm not of the view that the Tynwald is as good a template for self-government as Scott suggests, and the only evidence he provides in support of this is an example of a Scottish Liberal rising to the top.  I'm not so sure that is a sufficiently good reason to argue for the model to be adopted elsewhere; in any case, the came could be said for Holyrood where a Liberal was elected as the Speaker.
* As for "strong opportunities to negotiate"...no doubt the Liberal Democrats will never have a better opportunity to negotiate for a genuine federalist settlement. Whether they will take such opportunities, or if they even know how, is presently uncertain.  We will know more shortly when the Conservative and Labour parties detail their own proposals and the Liberal Democrats are forced to respond.  However, Scott isn't really advocating negotiation but is instead attempting to score a victory over the SNP and Yes Scotland.  He's using arguments, including some highly pertinent ones, to score some political points - and ask some questions.

The media have responded to this in typical fashion, in the process missing some of the key points.  Scotland on Sunday reports that "Alex Salmond’s plans for ­independence have suffered a unexpected setback", which is a considerable exaggeration.  The Sunday Herald concentrated on the oil question, playing up the possibilities of the islands "breaking away".  The Sunday Mail, no doubt accurately, suggested that at least one parliamentarian's motivations were revealed by his "conceding [that] it felt good simply to annoy SNP leader Mr Salmond."

Of course there is some truth in all of these, but the situation needs to be looked at soberly.  The Scottish Liberal Democrats have opened up a tantalising possibility and it's vital to understand the wider context of the debate.

Firstly, it's right to dismiss what is unhelpful. Some of Scott's argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny, and amount to intellectual doublethink.  How, for example, can someone so vociferously propose an SNP argument in principle but adopt it for their own ends when thought appropriate? How can a liberal, opposed to the principles of colonialism, consider the creation of new crown dependencies?  How can we cite the examples of other crown dependencies - and make claims that Shetland and Orkney obtaining equal status would mean being given control of oilfields - when it is an undeniable state of fact that they control the sea only within 12 miles of their respective coastlines?  A claim for oil built on such misconceptions will not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It's also difficult to criticise the SNP for risking European Union membership when crown dependencies are not eligible to be members of the EU.

The emphasis on the SNP, and our continuing tendency to define ourselves by hostility towards the nationalists and the first minister, achieves little other than to make us look petty-minded.  This attitude is underlined when Liam MacArthur comments that "annoying Alex Salmond is enough to commend any motion" or when Scott himself refers to wanting to "tweak the First Minister's tail", a determination not to "be told what to do by the SNP" or jokingly says that an "asteroid has only deflected from Scotland by the  gravitational effect of Alex Salmond's ego."  We remain motivated, in part at least, by an unhealthy antipathy towards the SNP.  That is not attractive, and if the Scottish Liberal Democrats hope to win back many of our former voters who have deserted us for Salmond's party we appear to be going the wrong way about it.

This has been presented in the media as some kind of imperialist plan for partition, with some justification. Menzies Campbell's Commission did not recommend this. Neither, until recently, has Tavish Scott - while either as a minister or party leader.  It's quite obvious that this is a response to the SNP's independence referendum and designed in no small way to create headaches for Yes Scotland.  "Annoying Alex Salmond" indeed.

A further difficulty appears to be the lack of thought so often applied to the nationalists - in respect to the practical consequences of Scottish independence on such matters as passports, border control, education, healthcare, etc. - also is evident here.  Such considerations have been overlooked, as well as the likely political ramifications.  How will passing this motion increase the party's appeal to Scottish voters, especially given how the media were inevitably going to respond?  Does it improve or further erode our credibility?  Might it look like we're simply creating a little mischief to make life awkward for Alex Salmond...and if so, won't we look petty and juvenile?  Isn't there a danger of this being seen as childish politics?

All this said, Scott does make some very timely points that deserve not to be obscured by the main issue.  This is not simply a matter relating to the Northern Isles, and there is more to this than mere SNP bashing.  Whatever Scott and MacArthur may think, Orkney and Shetland do not constitute a special case.  They are culturally different, but then so are the Highlands, the Hebrides, Argyll & Bute and the borders. What is true is that all of these regions mentioned suffer by way of being outside of the central belt, and that many sparsely populated areas of Scotland are ill-served by the SNP's tendency towards such.  The Northern Islands are probably no more disadvantaged than many other parts of Scotland, but that is not to say their inhabitants have no right to express a wish for decision-making to be devolved as locally as possible.

The desire for localism is something that Liberal Democrats can identify with, even if it is unusual for it to be presented in near-colonial terminology.  None of us want services to be centralised; it goes against the grain of any liberal's inclinations.  We want communities - especially the more remote of our communities - to feel connected and empowered, not dictated to.  Scott referred in his speech to "the remorseless pattern of centralisation" and to the possibility of The Islands Council being absorbed into Highland or Grampian - neither of which would be a welcome possibility.  The localist dimensions of the motion are therefore an assertion of good Liberal Democrat values and a key reason why it was passed unanimously.  Unfortunately the narrow focus on the Northern Isles did little to further localism more widely and therefore in some respects this motion represented a missed opportunity to examine the difficulties of many of Scotland's diverse rural communities.

In this sense, the principles contained within the motion apply elsewhere.  No doubt Scott is not looking to promote the possibility of Inverclyde or a host of other local authorities asserting their right to self-determination with potential crown dependency status, but our focus should certainly be on empowering our communities and especially our more disadvantaged communities.

Another positive thing, which has been largely ignored, is that there was nothing in either the motion or Scott's speech that sets out a commitment to separatism. What is does commit the party to is the Northern Isles' "separate right to self-determination".  I'm not convinced that they merit a separate right, but this is a far cry from adopting separation as official party policy, as has been suggested.  Even Scott, in referring to crown dependencies, was merely stating an option - perhaps his preferred option - but merely one possibility nonetheless.

I will not deny that some of the perception of this being anti-SNP mischief holds true. It is undeniable that people like Tavish Scott seem to view virtually every issue in terms of a battle with nationalists. But there is more that underpins this and, while I'm not convinced by the motion as a whole, it would be wrong not to understand precisely what else it is.  It is more than a reaction against the SNP: it is also a reaction against centralising government.

It's certainly not the most intelligent motion ever put forward to a Liberal Democrat conference and it raises more questions than it answers, but we need to look at it with sober judgement.  We are not a party committed to dividing Scotland, nor to separatism for Orkney, Shetland or indeed anywhere else.

18 comments:

  1. It just goes to show what a pass things have come to for Scottish Lib Dems, when this sort of tripe is what they need to use to grab themselves yet another anti-SNP headline in the all but moribund quality Scottish media. Talking about moribund things how is the Scottish branch of the Lib Dems doing these days? Absolutely shocking that a politician like Tavish Scott should show his rank hypocrisy by engendering this poorly thought out and un-original (the English government have already attempted to steal Scotland’s oil by encouraging northern isle independence and having our sea border run in a steep diagonal from Berwick in the 1970s, so it’s been done before) nonsense, what’s even more incredible is that you all discussed it as a serious proposition! Obviously the few of you that are left have nothing better to do. Might suggest tiddly-winks, it might win you more votes, more members and fewer lost deposits!

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  2. Methinks you are trying apply some intellectual rigour to a ridiculous proposition. Frankly it may have gained some plaudits for Mr Scott but it is insulting to those of us who want a considered debate on Scotland's future. A sad day for Scottish Libs and an even worse one for Scotland.

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  3. @Muse I agree that making a "special case" for Shetland and Orkney is a ridiculous proposition. But while Tavish's speech made this argument the motion itself didn't commit us to the separatism he appeared to be promoting.

    All the same, and however much I identify with some of the localist thinking underpinning the motion,I accept that this isn't the Scottish Liberal Democrats' finest contribution to the debate on Scotland's future.

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  4. You are factually wrong that Shetland voted a different way to the rest of Scotland in 1997. It voted Yes, both for devolution and the tax varying power. Orkney also voted Yes to devolution.

    When asked the question both islands groups voted to be ruled from Edinburgh rather than London. Do you seriously think they would vote to change that back again given it would mean no free personal care and £9,000 tuition fees among other things?

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  5. I was very much hoping you would have something to say about this issue, Andrew, and pretty much agree with your assessment of Tavish Scott's political game-playing. I think you understate the danger inherent in promoting partition. But perhaps you considered that too obvious a point to need further emphasis.

    I also think you might be in danger of being accused of attempted turd-polishing by trying to equate Scott's irresponsible and constitutionally illiterate nonsense with the campaign for localism. I see little of that in his utterances and plenty of the anti-SNP obsession that you refer to.

    I am an independence campaigner first and an SNP member second. Despite being generally supportive of the current administration I would never pretend that it is beyond criticism. So I can understand and, to some extent, sympathise with complaints about "centralisation". Although I would insist that the "problem" tends to be grossly overstated.

    To the extent that there has been a tendency for the Scottish Government to keep a tight grip on the reins of state we should be asking ourselves why this should be. Especially as it seems to starkly contradict the underlying ethos of the party. The answer, I would suggest, can be found in realpolitik and the extreme anti-SNP/anti-independence focus of the British parties that you have attributed to Tavish Scott.

    The fact is that, at this juncture, further empowerment of local authorites would be exploited by the UK Government and British parties in an effort to circumvent the authority of the Scottish Parliament, undermine the Scottish Government and embarrass the SNP. That may sound petty, but we only have to look at the behaviour of many (most?) unionist politicians to see that it is perfectly credible to suppose they would behave in this way.

    Independence will be the game-changer. With the status of local government enshrined in a written constitution we can start to make meaningful moves towards greater localism. That is not going to happen so long as we remain part of the British state.

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  6. ",I accept that this isn't the Scottish Liberal Democrats' finest contribution to the debate on Scotland's future."

    Sadly the short list for the "Scottish Liberal Democrats finest contribution to the debate on Scotland's future" is very short indeed.

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  7. It must be a challenge to try and make sense of the political thinking and motivations of Tavish Scott. To describe the activities of Tavish as mischief -making affords them a dignity they barely deserve. It's even sadder that the Lib-Dem activists are willing to give it house-room in their Conference.

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  8. its a meeting of dim minds & short-term needs - Tavish Scott's need to say something and the Scotsman's need to report conflict to shore up their tombstoning circulation. Its then been picked up avidly by the MSM need to create bad news for the SNP and conflate that with the Referendum. No-one's interested in how dumb it all is and how it doesn't stand up to scrutiny - its just serves a few needs and then on to the next thing. The bad taste in the mouth will linger and the LibDems will be continue to be thought of as a facing-in-every-way party run by diddies.

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  9. Anonymous - "You are factually wrong that Shetland voted a different way to the rest of Scotland in 1997." I was referring to Orkney and Shetland, of course but accept it was only Orkney that voted against tax-raising powers, much to the disgust of its then MP, Jim Wallace.

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  10. With regard to Shetland, Lib Dems Tavish Scott and I think Nicol Stephen have been particularly active in raising this particular scare story. The facts are that Shetland has had links with Scotland since the 13th century, has been part of Scotland since the 15th century and lies within Scottish territorial waters recognised by UNCLOS in 1982 (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). I find the actions of those who raise this issue in defence of the union to be particularly reprehensible. They seek to sow seeds of strife and division, actions which in time of war would be considered treasonable. The tactics of divide and rule have been employed for decades by unionists in Scotland. The scourge of sectarianism scars large areas of Scotland and may well play a significant part in the final result of the referendum. We cannot allow further division of our people to go unchallenged. These people must be exposed for the “parcel o’ rogues ” that they are.

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  11. Peter - " I think you understate the danger inherent in promoting partition." No, I think I appreciate that, which is why I am at pains to point out that whatever Tavish thinks, and whatever many Lib Dem members suppose, he hasn't actually managed to ensure Northern Isles separatism is approved Lib Dem policy.

    "I also think you might be in danger of being accused of attempted turd-polishing by trying to equate Scott's irresponsible and constitutionally illiterate nonsense with the campaign for localism." I get that too. My initial reaction was outrage and disappointment when I heard the result of the vote, until I spoke to some people who had actually been at conference and tried to uncover their motivations. It seems much of the debate was about localism more generally and only the parliamentarians contributing made any reference to the Islands. So while I understand the criticism, I'm trying to account for why conference voted the way they did. No doubt dislike of the SNP featured highly, but it was far from the only factor.

    "With the status of local government enshrined in a written constitution we can start to make meaningful moves towards greater localism." Exactly, and that is why the expression of real localism will never be found in unquestioning support for Better Together.

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  12. It is worth considering what would have happened in Orkney in 1992 if Orkney Isles Council had more power. The events leading to the Orkney Inquiry might never have come to light because it might have had greater ability to suppress the truth.

    More local government does not, of itself, mean more liberal government. Some local communities are highly conservative and oppressive. Giving such communities more powers may only serve to make matters worse. It is only a few months since Argyll and Bute tried to bully a 9 year old girl into silence about school dinners.

    The motion itself betrays its true motives by not including the Western Isles. A recent poll in Lib Dem held constituencies in Scotland showed that the only seat that is likely to be held in 2015 is Orkney and Shetland with the Lib Dems being wiped out in mainland Scotland. This motion is partly about scoring rather childish points against the yes campaign which is not the mark of a grown up party that is serious about government. But it is also about shoring up Alistair Carmichael's position as the last line of defence. It is measure of how desperate the party has become that they feel the need to do this in a seat that hasn't really been "in play" in a general election since 1950.

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  13. This is what Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur published a year ago as a starting point to get better self rule for the Northern Isles which seems in line with their obligations as the MSPs. Could I suggest that you might see this as the first stage in the arguments - negotiations if you like - to get what both Island Councils have been seeking namely greater autonomy and less centralisation? He speaks for the majority in the north when he points opt that a 300 mile distant Edinburgh is as bad as a 700 mile distant London when it comes to grabbing power to itself. You might also look at Jo Grimond's writings which have had influence over what Tavish Scott is putting forward.

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  14. Hi Richard,

    Thanks for your comment. As you've taken the trouble to articulate your point so well, I'll do my best to respond:

    "This is what Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur published a year ago as a starting point to get better self rule for the Northern Isles which seems in line with their obligations as the MSPs." Agreed, neither of them had indicated any such thinking prior to then, which is in line with the view that this is a response to the SNP's referendum...which was announced about a year ago. Their obligations as MSPs is to represent the needs and interests of their constituents; you seem quite knowledgeable so I'm guessing you're aware that the notion of there being a strong undercurrent of public appetite for this on the islanders is being challenged, and the best that can be said is that the public view is difficult to ascertain. There are certain localist merits to this of course and the local council has understandable and legitimate concerns about localism, but I have struggled to find any expression of interest in separatism that doesn't have Tavish's name associated with it.

    MSPs' obligations include finding solutions to local problems and I would suggest that there are alternative means of addressing some of the very real concerns Liam and Tavish have. I believe in the same debate Alistair Carmichael referred to obscure sections of the Scotland Act in relation to rural communities and suggested these could be used to ease the difficulties experienced in Orkney and Shetland. That seems a sensible approach, and looking into this should be the first action we take, not an afterthought.

    "Could I suggest that you might see this as the first stage in the arguments - negotiations if you like - to get what both Island Councils have been seeking namely greater autonomy and less centralisation?" As you will notice, I am equally concerned about the erosion of autonomy and the tendency towards centralisation. However, the threat of separation should not be the first step in any negotiation. There are alternative methods of addressing these issues, and alternative vehicles councils can use than the Liberal Democrats' conference. Constructive negotiation also doesn't require taking pot shots at the SNP, or indeed anyone else.

    "He speaks for the majority in the north when he points opt that a 300 mile distant Edinburgh is as bad as a 700 mile distant London when it comes to grabbing power to itself." I grew up in the Hebrides and know that Edinburgh seems about as remote as London. In fact, even Oban or Ullapool seemed remote! Again, that is a very real difficulty, and part of solution has to be reform of our political institutions and empowering local councils. Tackling the erosion of council powers with a call for the creation of a crown dependency really does seem an unnecessary overreaction. And, again due to having lived in remote communities myself, I simply don't see the Northern Isles as in any was "special" or exceptional. Yes, they have particular problems, but so do many other areas. Yes, they have a particular history and a cultural identity but it is not unique in being the only part of the UK to do so. What this motion doesn't address is whether this sets a precedent for other MPs/MSPs/parties to make a case for their own area. What's the Lib Dem view on adopting the principle to other areas and regions?

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  15. Personally, I think there's a better historic case for adopting the excellent democratic Andorran model for Berwick. It has a history of being both English and Scottish. Recently, many Berwick residents expressed a view that they felt remote from Westminster, and that they admired the Scottish parliament. So, given that it's about as far from London as you can get without leaving England, that there is some (if difficult to quantify) discontent with distant Westminster rule and it has a rich and vibrant history and unique identity (I mean, where doesn't?) it should become an independent principality with its own 28-seat parliament, whose heads of states are the elected leaders of England and Scotland.

    Serious? I could be. It certainly has some merit. Would Alan Beith be failing in his responsibilities if he didn't consider at least the possibility of a crown dependency?
    And of course "power grabbing" isn't the sole preserve of the more distant political establishments!
    "You might also look at Jo Grimond's writings." Indeed I have. I suspect they haven't had as much influence as you imagine; like the evangelical preacher Tavish seems to adopt an argument first and then find quotes from the great man to justify, rather than underpin, his position. Of course both Scott and Grimond are correct when they point to the difficulties Islanders feel, the remoteness of both Edinburgh and London and the inability of devolution to serve the Islands as effectively as it should. But there is more than a subtle difference - for a start Grimond was never motivated by a near-pathological dislike of the SNP!

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  16. I keep hearing calls for more localism from various sources. But rarely precise examples of what they want to be the responsibility of local communities. There is also the question of who decides what is and what is not a locality. I grew up in St Andrews and St Andrews is clearly to me at least a meaningful locality. Fife on the other hand is not. Neither was the old North East Fife District local in any meaningful sense. Does this mean that St Andrews should have its own school system, its own police force, its own social work department and it own heath service. I think not. So what would and what could be devolved to a locality like St Andrews?

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  17. There are a whole range of problems associated with this motion and with your response, Andrew. The main problem with the motion itself is that it doesn't begin with principle but with the intention of scoring points against your opponent. So the motivation is not to secure the bets possible outcome for the people of Orkney and Shetland in terms of securing their cultural integrity and strengthening the local economies but making a claim for oil resources that will excite the anti-independence Scottish media and present them with a stick to beat the SNP / Yes campaign / Alex Salmond. Actually if you pend a minute looking at the proposals you see that the stick amounts to kittle more than a wet cardboard tube since the proposal to create crown dependencies not only removes Shetland's claim to oil resources but would destroy its fishing industry. The assumption is that people are too stupid to check what this might actually mean and in the case of Scottish journalists you can be almost certain that they won't because the goal of most is to promote a unionist agenda no matter that what they are actually subscribing to is the partition of their own country. So nif you really want to improve the lives of folk in O & S you don't start by proposing to remove them from their main source of economic productivity. The fact that the LD's proposal does exactly that reveals the true nature of their interest. Secondly the problems facing the Northern Isles actually have very little to do with localism and so-called centralisation. The main problems facing O & S are the same as those on the mainland. Inequality, poverty, and poor housing. Facing huge pressure on its budget the SG has sought to reduce expenditure on duplicating management level jobs. Really is there any point in having personnel departments and finance departments in multiple police and fire agencies in Scotland absorbing cash that should be used on the front line services folk need and want. I'm sure most folk would far prefer to have services than middle management jobs for a few folk, many of whom are only living locally to advance their own careers. What O and S desperately need is locally based economic activity that taps into the resources and skills that are genuinely local - that's why the development of renewable energy is so important and hugely more beneficial than having a few senior police administrators, especially in a time of economic crisis. But the key motivating factor for most of us who support independence is to secure economic and social change. That seems to have been superseded in the LDs by the desire to annoy Alex Salmond, what exactly does that achieve for the voters of O and S? Policy developed on this basis will always be flawed. Scott's proposals were being unpicked as he was making his speech and let's not even start on questions connected to accessing health care, passports at ferry terminals, access to universities and so on and so on. Sorry to say this motion typifies a party totally out of touch with its own principles and guided not by the desire to find solution driven policies but oppositionism and personal hatred. Not sure how to post as anything but anonymous but my name is Michael.

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  18. Michael - thanks for your detailed posting. I won't respond to it all, other than to agree that you make some perfectly fair observations.

    I also agree that Tavish Scott and indeed the Liberal Democrats need to think more carefully about the detail and the potential ramifications.

    This posting is not the entire sum of my response...it is simply a response to the media accusation that we are a party that supports Northern Isles separatism. No doubt some do, but the motion does not actually commit the party to such a policy. It was that misconception I was addressing.

    Some of Tavish Scott's concerns are perfectly valid, but I'll agree his speech seemed far more motivated by "scoring points against opponents" than in promoting a viable alternative to decentralisation. My fear is how the public receive this - there is a real danger of us appearing petty-minded and obsessed with targetting the SNP.

    This is the wrong response for several reasons. But I accept that Scott and Macarthur should be concerned with the problems facing local democracy and finding solutions to them...but not using them as an excuse for another misguided assault on the SNP that will in all likelihood do little to enhance our public standing.

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