Once the islands were threatened with invasion

Could Orkney really secede - leave Scotland, and therefore Great Britain - and join another country, presumably Norway? Such news circulated in the world media at the beginning of the summer, and it was by no means a sensation calculated for ‘The Silly Season’. Disputes over the islands are not a thing of the distant past. The islands are desirable because they are valuable.

Forvik is more of an islet than an island. It has merely over a hectare of land, not a single house and just one inhabitant who does not reside there permanently. Only in the summer does Stuart Hill come to his northerly windswept estates, which rise just a few meters above the sea. He spends a few days here, lives in a tent, and this way emphasises his right to the island, which was undermined by its previous owner.

The microscopic islet belongs to the Shetland archipelago, stretching north to south, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic. It is not the only one in private hands among hundreds of Scottish islands. The owners often have houses, power generators, and civilisation devices on the islands. But only Stuart Hill decided to secede from Scotland and the United Kingdom - and declare Forvik independent.

That was fifteen years ago, in 2008. No one protested or was indignant, proving that Hill's decision had not been taken seriously enough. And yet the lord of Forvik - which in English is called Forewick Holm - did not forget to refine all the details: the flag, the emblem, the currency, which he called "gulde", and even to offer the citizenship of the island to those willing, but - by the way - there were none.

The Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the northeast coast of Scotland, is a completely different matter: 70 islands with a total area of 990 square kilometres and over 22,000 inhabitants. The Orkney authorities do not intend to become independent. Still, they believe their status within the United Kingdom should be radically changed and maybe even think of leaving U.K. Norway, Denmark and Iceland? Who knows what the future may bring when one side - the local authorities of the islands - is determined to change something, and the other - Scotland, Great Britain - firmly rules it out, and the third - Norway, which the authorities and residents of Orkney would gladly join - emphasises that all this has nothing to do with them.

Valuable, desirable, unique

Even if the authorities' complaints in Orkney are just an attempt to blackmail the Scottish and British authorities (more on that later), it is hard to overlook that the islands are unique in every political respect. Large or small, far or near, they function quite differently than common land regions. History devotes much attention to them, pointing out how easily they changed their national identity, how often they moved from one hand to another, or how frequently they were sold or given as gifts. Orkney, for example, was brought to Scotland as a dowry by the Danish Princess Margaret when she married the Scottish king James III in 1472. Some besieged the islands, and others fervently defended them, like the Hospitallers of Rhodes or Malta against the troops of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (they managed to defend Malta, but earlier, they were defeated in Rhodes). Because islands - for many reasons – were often a tasty morsel.
James III and Margaret of Denmark, whose engagement led to Scotland taking over Orkney and the Shetland Islands from Norway, brought them as a dowry; Forman Armorial, produced for Mary, Queen of Scots. The image is available at the National Library of Scotland, Public Domain, Wikimedia.
It also happens that the state lays claims to the island only to assert itself in its position. This was the background to the heated dispute over the Aegean islet of Imia. Because of two pieces of uninhabited and worthless rock, Greece - to which Imia/Kardak belongs - and Turkey, in the mid-1990s, were almost on the brink of war. It was even difficult to find any rational arguments, such as the desire to shift Turkey's territorial waters, because Imia - like most Greek islands in the Aegean Sea - is located right next to the Turkish coast.

Arguments concerning islands are not a thing of any distant past. Britain and Argentina fought a short but fierce war over the Falkland Islands just 41 years ago. Russia and Japan are not fighting over the Kuriles, but the issue of the Japanese ownership of the islands - part of which were occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II - is still far from resolved. What about Taiwan, which belonged to Japan until the end of the second world war, and China considers its territory? Who remembers that until 1944 Iceland was under Danish rule, in a personal union, and that the Icelanders ended it in a referendum?

     Islands are desirable because they are valuable. There is a lot to this: from its strategic location to its economic advantages; Malta, for example, was once the British "permanent aircraft carrier", and Gotland gave Sweden clear insight into the situation on the Baltic Sea. Fishing, for centuries the basis of the economy, today often gives way to oil and gas extraction from the seabed, as well as tourism, because the islands are picturesque by nature. So there is a lot to strive for.

Ransom for Orxit Threat

Could Orkney secede, leaving Scotland and Great Britain to join another country, most likely Norway? Such news circulated in the world's media at the beginning of the summer, and it was by no means a sensation calculated for ‘The Silly Season’ (which has been absent for the last few years during the holidays, as the world does not stop today even for a moment). The report, commissioned by the local government, meticulously enumerates all the sins committed against Orkney by the Scottish Government.

The Orkney Islands, the report says, dramatically need subsidies, not only compared to the Scottish mainland but also to other two Scottish archipelagos - Shetland and the Hebrides. This is reflected in the infrastructure and the state of services. It is especially bad with ferry communication, because many old ferries are in such a state that they should be withdrawn from use – and only with good ferry connections can the islands function. Therefore, since the authorities in Edinburgh disregard the situation of Orkney and the needs of its inhabitants - according to the authors of the report and the Council of the Islands, which adopted it by an overwhelming majority - an "alternative model of governance" should be considered.
Apache Corporation's Beryl alpha oil rig in the East Shetland Basin. Photo. Stephen (danrandom) from the UK - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia
What does this model mean? For example, it would be possible to grant the Orkneys the status of the so-called Crown dependency, i.e. a dependent territory of the British Crown, with all the resulting political and economic benefits. This is how the Isles of Man, Jersey and Guernsey operate. But according to local authorities, Orkney could also seek similar status within Norway.

James Stockan, chairman of the board, sees many opportunities here. Norway is the closest to the Orkneys, geographically and historically, but for centuries the islands have also had many close ties with the other Nordic countries. Therefore, different Nordic neighbours, Denmark and Iceland above all, cannot be excluded. Nothing has been decided yet. The most important thing is that the problem is talked about.

Should the threat of Orxit, as it was immediately named, be taken seriously? Well, the case is unfolding on many levels. Firstly, without the consent of Scotland and Britain, there is no question of starting any talks on this subject and holding the necessary referendum. Both governments - although at odds on other matters – are in complete agreement that changing the status of Orkney is not an option.

Secondly: what is Orkney really on about? After all, it is not about changing nationality, writes “The Economist”- the London weekly magazine, in the opinion of which, it's all about blackmailing and money. In the Middle Ages, the Danish Vikings extorted a ransom from the English kings by the threat of assault, which was therefore called "Danegeld". Over the centuries, emphasises the London magazine, nothing has really changed in this respect. The only thing is that once upon a time, England was threatened with invasion; Now, it has been threatened with secession. The goal, which is money, is always the same.

Our Islands, Our Future

Even if there is a kernel - or perhaps more than a kernel - of truth in these presumptions, there is also a third aspect, which is not trivial. The Scottish authorities are well aware that the inhabitants of the archipelagos still harbor sentiments towards their Nordic neighbours. This is the aftermath of history, because people lived longer under Norwegian or later Norwegian-Danish rule than the Scottish one.

It also turns out that there is a significant contradiction between what the Scottish authorities say today and what they proclaimed ten years ago, when they were preparing for the independence referendum (recall: it took place on September 18, 2014, over 55 percent of Scots were against secession ). A year earlier, the Scottish Government had promised the inhabitants of the three archipelagos to adopt an Islands Act that would give them the power to decide their own affairs, including sovereignty.

However, the promise is no longer valid since an independent Scotland was not established. On the other hand, the authorities in Edinburgh behaved as if they heard about the aspirations of the islands’ inhabitants for the first time in their lives, and these had not been a secret. Therefore, the activists from the islands rightly accuse the ruling Scotland nationalists that they decline others what they would want for Scotland themselves.
Birdwatchers gliding over sea cliffs on Unst, one of the Shetland islands. Photo. PAP/Alamy
Let's take Shetland, formerly Zetland. Three years ago, the Shetland Islands Council almost unanimously (only two councillors out of 20 were against it) decided that it was necessary to explore the possibilities of political and financial independence from Scotland, which limits the autonomy of their archipelago in every respect. The chairman of the council, Steven Coutts, drew attention to the inconsistency or even hypocrisy of the Scots, quoting the words of Alex Salmond, the then leader of Scottish nationalists and also the prime minister: "Decisions about the future of Scotland should be made by people who live and work in Scotland." The word «Scotland», said Coutts at the time, should have been replaced by «Shetland».

Six months before the Scottish referendum, the authorities of the three archipelagos asked Edinburgh to hold a separate referendum on the future of the islands. They proposed that it be held just after the Scottish vote, a week later. The islanders campaigned on this issue under the slogan "Our Islands, Our Future". One of the main demands was to transfer to the authorities of the islands control over the resources located under the seabed - deposits of oil and gas. The islands' authorities proved that as many as 67 percent of Scotland's natural riches are located around the archipelagos. Nevertheless, there was no referendum. Was it not because the Scottish nationalists also could see the future of their country in the oil reserves? The acquisition of undersea resources was the crowning argument to convince the opponents that an independent Scotland could care for itself economically.

Part of the Nordic world

For the inhabitants of the islands - especially those who do not think that a break up with Great Britain was bordering on the insane - history is also a significant argument. The islands remained under the rule of Norway, sometimes associated with Denmark, for over 600 years, from the 9th to the end of the 15th century. It turns out that five hundred years of later Scottish rule failed to obliterate the Nordic heritage that has survived in names, surnames, and the sense that the islands are part of the Nordic world.

A visible sign of this is the form of the flag. All the northern islands, except for the Hebrides and Greenland, as well as the Baltic Åland Islands, have a characteristic cross on the flag in various colour configurations - the same one that appears on the flags of all five Nordic countries.

The independence aspirations of island territories are nothing new in the Nordic area. Denmark still has a lot to do with those issues. Paradoxically, the smallest Nordic country has the most extensive dependent territories: Greenland and the Faroe Islands. They are the ones who show the most extraordinary determination in their pursuit of sovereignty. In the Faroe Islands, as early as 1946, two years after the referendum in Iceland, the same vote was organised. The strong supporters of detachment from Denmark won the referendum - only with a slight advantage. However, the Danish authorities did not recognise the results, the local parliament was dissolved, and everything was left as before. Probably for a while because the subject of independence is constantly present in the Faroe Islands and, as it is believed in Nordic circles, they are the closest to achieving the goal.

Will China attack Japan? An archipelago of dissent

Beijing wants to reclaim Okinawa.

see more
Although... Greenland may overtake them. In May this year, the Greenlandic parliament adopted the constitutional draft project, which had been prepared for six years by a commission specially appointed for this purpose. The project seems quite enigmatic, as it does not mention gaining independence or specify its political system – a monarchy or a republic – however, the term “sovereign state” appears in the preamble. All of this taken together can be an introduction to preparing the secession.

Even in Finland's Åland Islands, separatist sentiments have increased for some time. The islands - located halfway between Sweden and Finland - which have been under Finnish rule for 101 years still have a special character, if only because of the official language there, which is purely Swedish. Local separatists realistically estimate that they can count on at most 30 percent of support, but they believe time will work in their favour.

On the sidelines of one of the recent Nordic conferences, it was discussed among other things, whether one great federal Nordic state could be established one day - a political entity with a huge area and equally great potential. It would be the Kalmar Union in a new, larger edition (recall: established in 1397, it united Sweden, Norway and Denmark until 1523, when it fell apart). However, only some people were convinced that the new union could be possible and made any sense. On top of this, there was an opinion that things could go in a completely different direction: instead of five Nordic countries, there could be eight, as three new ones would be created: Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands.

"I think it could happen in 10 to 20 years," said Petur Petersen - a Nordic Committee for Co-operation member - to the Nordic Labor Journal. – To achieve independence, three conditions must be satisfied: the appropriate state of the economy, the existing structures and the will of the people. The first two are fulfilled. The third is not quite there yet.

– Teresa Stylińska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– translated by Katarzyna Chocian
Main photo: Sheep grazing on Suðuroy, one of the Faroe Islands dependent on Denmark. Sumba City in the background. Photo. kallerna - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia
See more
Civilization wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
To Siberia and Ukraine
Zaporizhzhia. A soldier in a bunker asked the priest for a rosary and to teach him how to make use of it.
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
Climate sheikhs. Activists as window dressing
They can shout, for which they will be rewarded with applause
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
The plane broke into four million pieces
Americans have been investigating the Lockerbie bombing for 35 years.
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
German experiment: a paedophile is a child's best friend
Paedophiles received subsidies from the Berlin authorities for "taking care" of the boys.
Civilization wydanie 8.12.2023 – 15.12.2023
The mastery gene
The kid is not a racehorse.