Is that the sound of battle-axes being sharpened?


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A thousand years of history stretching back to the Dark Ages have been invoked in the battle over Scottish independence.

I hadn't realised what I was asking for when I glanced through the blizzard of amendments designed to engulf the Scotland Bill on its return to the Lords on Thursday.

The bill may be amended to set the terms for any independence referendum, and a posse of pro-union peers, including Lord Forsyth, the former Conservative Scottish Secretary, Lord Foulkes, the former Labour MP, and the Conservative hereditary peer and former minister Lord Caithness have been very busy drafting helpful changes. But these two from Lord Caithness piqued my interest:

Insert the following new Clause —

"Amendments to the Island Of Rockall Act 1972

(1) The Island Of Rockall Act 1972 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1 (incorporation of Rockall into the United Kingdom as part of the County of Inverness), after first "shall" insert "for administrative purposes".

(3) After section 1 insert—

"1A Ownership of Rockall

Rockall is owned by the United Kingdom and, in the event of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom, it shall be owned by the United Kingdom.""


"(2D) A vote in a referendum held under subsection (2B) of this section which results in Scotland leaving the United Kingdom shall not be binding on the residents of the Orkney Islands or the Shetland Islands unless a majority of the residents of the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands who voted in such a referendum voted that Scotland should leave the United Kingdom."

The national status of the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands (and indeed Caithness) are issues the Earl knows a thing or two about. His family, the Sinclairs, controlled them for hundreds of years - and for much of that time they owed allegiance not to the crown of Scotland, but to that of Norway.

They trace their lordship back to such figures as Rognvald, Earl of Moeri, who was given Orkney and Shetland as an Earldom by King Harold of Norway in 875AD. His brother and successor Sigurd the Sea-King, then conquered Caithness and Sutherland, and for some time the family owed dual allegiance to the kings of Scotland and Norway, and they became the hereditary Lord High Admirals of Scotland because they had a private navy.

So when they argue that Orkney and Shetland (and all their attendant oilfields) should be able to opt out of Scottish independence, they are continuing the traditions of a thousand years of family history. The SNP, predictably, is not entirely amused by all this...SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, Rob Gibson, has put out a brusque statement commenting that: "The days of Earls and Lords telling the Highlands and Islands how it's going to be are well and truly over. The Earl of Caithness can put forward whatever he likes in Westminster. It is the people and parliament of Scotland - including Orkney and Caithness - that will determine Scotland's future."

But somewhere, in a dimension of which I know nothing, I suspect that Sinclair ancestors like Eynstein 'The Fart' and Halfdan 'The Stingy' are sharpening their battle axes...

Mark D'Arcy, Parliamentary correspondent Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Why can't England have a referendum on Scotland? Salmond arrogantly assumes we want to keep it. If the SNP are being difficult about a referendum date let's have an English vote on whether or not we kick them out. I'll cheerfully vote for that next week. Keep the Orkneys and Shetlands and the oil that goes with them and give them the money Scotland currently leaches off the English taxpayer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @13 Plantin
    "All I would say to the Scots careful what you wish for..."
    Indeed, the pro-Westminster campaigners are already using the words "battle, fight, battle-axes (see the above article),can´t, won´t,mustn´t,don´t dare etc" while the pro-independence (and Devo-Max) supporters come out with progression,future,fairness,self-determination,justice etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    All I would say to the Scots careful what you wish for...

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    For the little guy Independence is a slam dunk

    No more Westminster Tories ever again. Wow
    Hopefully, Maggie Thatcher will make it to the Independence ceremony.

    Scottish Independence is after all, her greatest legacy and achievement

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    For decades, whenever the topics of Scottish independence and oil revenue have been raised, English opponents - not Scottish ones - have excitedly claimed that Orkney and Shetland - of which very few of them have any knowledge - would secede, or demand continuation of their rule by London. It's an urban myth: a fantasy based on wishful thinking, credible to the uninformed by dint of repetition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The act of creating borders is one that often leads to war, be it one of words or an actual brawl. Ten days ago I collected a couple of Germans from the airport, who were horrified - accustomed to travelling on the European mainland - at how many times they had to produce their passports when coming to the UK. We need LESS borders, not more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    London born Conservative unelected peer decides to try and break up Scotland.This tactic was used in the 1970s too.Shetland County Council has already stated it would prefer a transfer of oil related regulations transferred to Scotland.The SNP may not be popular in Shetland & Orkney but they are more popular than the Conservatives.Share democracy with 56 million people or 5 million people? Hmmm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Perhaps only people who live on the Shetland islands or on the Orkney islands, should comment on this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Before I vote on anything to do with independence, I want to know EXACTLY what it means.

    If independence includes
    keeping the £,
    joining the Euro
    staying in the Eu

    then we would effectively be as shackled then as we are now.

    We need full independence to
    control our economy
    our fisheries
    and to enjoy unfettered self determination.

    That is independence

    Anything else is a sham

    Better as we are

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Unelected Tory Lords interfering in Scotland where there is 1 Tory MP and where all but 1 or 2 of the Tory MSPs were elected through the PR lists. Well whaddya know...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Every time that the likes of lord caithness , david cameron , william hague etc open there mouths , membership of the S.N.P jumps up. The way some of westminster politicians are behaving you would almost think they were wanting scotland to vote for independence. Under international law ! westminster can not interfere in scotland,s right to self determination .

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Excellent Mark - I always check your column. Do you think Alex Salmond will in future be known as Salmond 'the Fart' or as 'the Stingy', or maybe something quite different and more modern - 'the Equaliser' or 'the Avenger' maybe, or simply, 'it's coming home....'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    More likely is the prospect of the Orkney and Shetlands forever complaining that Edinburgh rides roughshod over them and takes all their assets for subsidising the feckless city dwellers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If Scotland somehow (probably by unhappy accident) becomes independent and the Orkneys and Shetlands stay part of UK, there would be a long term dispute on precisely where to draw a number of lines across the North Sea. Every little rock and sandbank would become important in determining the precise angles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Its over England - game over!



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