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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
04 July 2023
Orkney votes to explore becoming part of Norway

Orkney flag | Alamy

Orkney votes to explore becoming part of Norway

Orkney Islands Council has voted in favour of looking at alternative forms of governance, including potentially becoming part of Norway.  

The motion tabled by council leader James Stockan permits officials to compile a report on greater autonomy for the islands.  

The archipelago, which has Nordic roots and was part of Norway until the late 1400s, will explore becoming part of the Scandinavian nation again, as well as seeking British Overseas Territory status, like the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.  

An attempt to block the motion was lodged, but the amendment was defeated by 15 votes to six. A further change to Stockan’s motion was accepted and will see a constitutional reform group for the islands created.  

The motion read: “Due to historical and contemporary challenges in relation to equitable capital and revenue funding, and policy support across our island communities, Orkney Islands Council should now explore options for alternative models of governance that provide greater fiscal security and economic opportunity for the islands of Orkney.

“Those investigations to include Nordic connections, crown dependencies and other options for greater subsidiarity and autonomy to be presented to the community for consideration.”

During the meeting of the council, the leader accused both the Scottish and UK governments of “discrimination”. He gave his reasoning for bringing the motion before the council, arguing that Orkney receives less funding per capita than other island councils like Shetland and the Western Isles.  

He pointed towards the important issues affecting the island, including an ageing ferry fleet – some of which are four decades old.  

But Stockan cooled down the chances of joining Norway, telling the meeting that “there is a far bigger suite of options”.  

Stockan said: “I have been a councillor now for 20 years, but for the last number I’ve been in negotiation with our governments to get what I believe is an equitable solution for the Orkney Islands in funding and in the opportunity that we have in and around these islands to benefit not just us, but to benefit our neighbours, to benefit our nation and to benefit the world.

“But we have been restricted in every conversation, we have been held down, and what I would say is we all know most of what I could say with regard to the discrimination that we’ve had against this community from governments in the funding settlement we have.”

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the prime minister rejected the suggestion that Orkney could distance itself from Westminster and Holyrood, commenting: “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.”

Responding to the vote, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur said: “People in Orkney certainly feel angry at the Scottish Government’s failure to engage meaningfully on how to replace Orkney’s ageing ferry fleet or bring Orkney Island Council’s funding more in line with other island authorities.

“However, they may also be concerned at the time and resource that could be taken up exploring different constitutional models, particularly when council resources are already under real pressure due to Scottish Government cuts.

“Procuring new ferries, introducing RET on the Pentland Firth routes and delivering a fairer local authority settlement should not require a constitutional leap in the dark. It just requires the First Minister to honour the commitments he made in the Islands Act he took through parliament and take seriously the ferries task force his government was responsible for establishing six months ago.”

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