Is that the sound of battle-axes being sharpened?

  • 25 January 2012
  • From the section UK Politics
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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:

and

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...

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