The Orkney Islands’ wantaway council chief has said that forging closer links with Norway is just “one of many options” the archipelago could explore if it broke away from Scotland.
Local councillors have voted to back a motion to explore the future governance of the islands, which sit around 20 miles off Scotland’s northeastern tip. It comes amid rising frustration over what Orcadians consider to be a raw deal with regard to funding.
Much of the focus since then has been on suggestions that the islands could return to Norway – as they were under Norwegian and Danish control until 1472. However, council chief James Stockan insists the islands have a smorgasbord of options open to them – and appeared to suggest that self-governance is his preferred option for the Orkneys’ 22,000 inhabitants.
In a new interview, Stockan said: “Norway is just just one of our options, one of the many.” And, to that end, he’s heading off to Reykjavik next month.
He’s attending the annual meeting of the West Nordic Council. The council is a partnership between hosts Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands – with the latter two being self-governing regions of the Kingdom of Denmark.
“What we want is closer links,” said Stockan. He said this had been cleared by the Scotland Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
However, Stockan has previously said that the Orkneys could also look to the south, if the islands broke away from Scottish governance – by seeking a better deal directly from Westminster. Earlier this month, he said: “There is a far bigger suite of options here – this could even be that we could get our money direct from the Treasury in London and look after our own future.”
But his latest interview suggests this option may not be the favoured one for many Orcadians. And it’s clear that Stocken has little faith in the word of the UK’s Governments on either side of Hadrian’s Wall.
He said that “the governments of this nation are not stepping up to the plate to support” the Orkneys. “We’ve time and time again had broken promises,” Stockan lamented.
“I wrote to the First Minister [then Nicola Sturgeon, in late 2019] and only received a reply when it was made public. I wrote to the prime minister for the first time in my career, asking for help, and got an inappropriate response from a junior minister.
“Our community expects better. We feel undervalued.”
And it would seem Stocken has been irked by Downing Street’s dismissive response to Orcadian dreams of independence. When asked last month, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson simply said there was “no mechanism for the conferral of crown dependency or overseas territory status on any part of the UK”.
“Fundamentally, we are stronger as one United Kingdom, we have no plans to change that,” added the PM’s spokesperson.
Describing this as a “knee-jerk” response, Stockan said: “The best response would have been, ‘Can we talk about this?’.”
It could appear that many on the island would prefer to look even further south than London – towards Brussels and the EU. However, Stockan perhaps appeared to suggest he was as just as disdainful and distrustful of European Commission, as he is of the UK and Scottish Governments.
Stockan told The Telegraph: “We were one of the strongest ‘No’ votes of anywhere in Scotland towards independence [from the UK] in the 2014 referendum. We were one of the strongest votes in favour of remaining in the EU.
“So when you combine those, you think, ‘Why on earth would we be looking at different government models?’ But it is because we’ve lost confidence in governments doing things for us.”