Shetland Islands Energy Reserves a Big Stake in Scotland Autonomy

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 12:50 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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Though the 23,000 people who live on the Shetland Islands won't impact the referendum on Scotland's autonomy from Great Britain much, residents have a big bargaining chip: the oil and gas reserves beneath Shetland's waters that play an important role in Scotland's economy.

Scotland will vote Sept. 18 on the independence referendum, which could begin complex negotiations between Edinburgh and London over Scotland's share of Britain's offshore oil and gas if residents vote "yes" for independence. The negotiations would include wrangling over Britain's national debt of upwards of one trillion pounds, the Associated Press reported.

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A sizable amount of Britain's oil and gas reserves are under Shetland Islands waters, between Scotland and Norway.

"We want to make sure that out of this big constitutional debate, we decide what we want for our future, because Edinburgh doesn't tend to pay much attention to the islands," Tavish Scott, Shetland's representative in the Scottish Parliament, told the BBC. "(Scotland) doesn't have an economy if oil and gas doesn't happen. And that gives Shetland some leverage."

Scotland's independence is being hotly contested among voters and officials as the referendum approaches. 

A poll, conducted by ICM Research, found that 39 percent of 1,010 people sampled would vote "yes" for the nation's independence — up two percent from the previous month, according to The Scotsman. Of those polled, participants who would vote "no" dropped from 49 in February to 46 percent in March, with a portion of "don't know" or undecided votes at 15 percent, down one percent.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Shetland Islands residents want official recognition as a self-governing territory. Island officials say Scotland's constitutional debate could give Shetland the opportunity to gain their own independence.

Shetland has gained more attention from Scotland since large reserves were found off its shores in the 1960s. Sullom Voe, one of Europe's largest oil and gas terminals, brought jobs and new migrants to Shetland.

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