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Scotland’s Orkney Islands Voted to Explore Other Models of Governance

FILE - Visitors look at the ancient remains of Skara Brae village in the Scottish Orkney Islands, July 19, 2005. Officials on Scotland’s Orkney Islands are considering options for “alternative models of governance."( AP Photo/Naomi Koppel, File)
Scotland’s Orkney Islands Voted to Explore Other Models of Governance
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Officials on the Orkney Islands, a part of Scotland, recently voted to explore ways of seeking more self-governance — or even independence — from United Kingdom governments.

Reporters from around the world watched remotely as Orkney Islands Council voted to study other “models of governance” for the island group, which has a population of 22,000 people.

The proposal from local government leader James Stockan got international attention with its mention of possibly restoring Orkney’s “Nordic connections.” Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control for centuries until 1472. In that year, the islands were taken by the Scottish crown as part of Margaret of Denmark’s wedding gift, or dowry, to King James III of Scotland.

Stockan said his proposal “is not about us joining Norway,” but about dealing with the “discrimination that we’ve had against this community” from the Scottish and U.K. governments.

“I say, ‘Enough,’” Stockan said. He added, “I say it is time for government to take us seriously, and it is time for us to look at all the options we’ve got.”

FILE - An aerial view of the Orkney Islands, Scotland May 3, 2014. Picture taken May 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Nigel Roddis/File Photo)
FILE - An aerial view of the Orkney Islands, Scotland May 3, 2014. Picture taken May 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Nigel Roddis/File Photo)

Long a poor area that depends on the unpredictable fishing industry, Orkney became wealthier after large reserves of oil were discovered offshore in the 1960s. The islands, about 16 kilometers north of mainland Scotland, also have a growing wind-power industry and a growing tourism business.

But Stockan said Orkney gets less support from the Scottish government than other island communities in Shetland or the Hebrides. He said that Orkney needs new boats to keep its many islands connected.

Duncan Tullock, another local leader, said Orkney was “living off crumbs.” Living off crumbs means getting or earning very little.

Tullock added, “I’ve never been more disillusioned in my life with both the Scottish and the U.K. governments... We have had promise upon promise upon promise, every single one of them empty.”

A report that went with Stockan’s motion suggested Orkney should investigate choices including a situation like the Faeroe Islands. It is a self-governing dependency of Denmark that lies between Scotland and Iceland. Another choice is to copy Britain’s Crown Dependencies such as the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

Any major constitutional change will be difficult, likely requiring voting and lawmaking by the Scottish and British governments. The two governments themselves disagree over Scotland's desire for independence after Brexit.

The British government said there was “no mechanism” to change the status of Orkney. And the Norwegian government said the debate was “a domestic and constitutional British matter” on which it had no view.

David Dawson, a member of Orkney's local government, also criticized some of the ideas being proposed for the island as “daydreams.” He said Britain’s rocky departure from the European Union served as a warning about the risks of going alone.

“Let me caution you with one word,” he said. “Brexit.”

I’m John Russell.

Jill Lawless reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

option – n. a choice or possibility

tourism -- n. the business of providing hotels, restaurants, etc., for people who are traveling

disillusioned – adj. having lost trust in something

mechanism – n. a process that is used to produce a particular result

domestic -- adj. of, relating to, or made in your own country

caution -- n. care taken to avoid danger or risk