Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scottish Secession: Police, Ferries, and Foreign Alliances

Well, it's time for another update on the prospects for Scottish secession. I've saved a few stories over the last few weeks, and with another story coming up today, I figured I'd clear them off of my docket.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and his allies have finally released their plan, and there's a revelation from The Independent: Exclusive: Alex Salmond 'hid legal reality of an independent Scotland’s EU status'. One of the frequent disagreements between pro- and anti-secession campaigners is whether an independent Scotland would be admitted into the European Union and NATO. The SNP says that Scotland will be ushered in with open arms, while every objective measure disagrees with these assertions.

Another issue has been Police Scotland's effort to close a number of control rooms, to include the one in Aberdeen. These control rooms are the equivalent to American 911 dispatch centers. Critics say that such a move would cause specialist fire knowledge to be lost. Aberdeen is a city of more than two hundred thousand, which is pretty significant in a region of about five and a half million people; it's one of Scotland's busiest ports, and the "Energy Capital of Europe", both of which are key elements of the SNP's strategy of turning a notional independent Scotland into a quasi-Nordic petrostate. This follows a continuing SNP policy of centralization of services to Edinburgh and Glasgow, leading opposition politicians to claim that my former home, Aberdeen, is being treated as a "forgotten city" by the Scottish government.

That sense isn't confined to Aberdeen. While I was in Orkney and since I've left, there was some controversy over the proposed (and subsequently cancelled due to public protest) closure of the Stromness police station. As I've noted previously, Northern Islanders are so skeptical of the Yes Campaign that there's even talk of remaining a part of the United Kingdom should the rest of Scotland vote to secede. I've related it specifically to ferry issues, and having spent the last quarter of 2013 in Orkney, I could talk at length about ferry issues. Instead, I'll just mention that after those prior issues with the MV Hamnavoe, Serco Northlink Ferries employed the freight ship MS Helliar during the Hamnavoe's annual scheduled maintenance in January. While the Helliar is better than the prior provision of nothing during April/May outage, the Helliar carries only twelve passengers to the Hamnavoe's six hundred. I think I may have once been on the day's first sailing on the Pentalina when there were twelve passengers or less; but the idea that the Helliar is an adequate substitute for the Hamnavoe is ridiculous. This reflects upon the SNP and the Scottish Government because there's a prevailing sense among Orcadians that Serco Northlink has tested the Scottish Government, figured out what they could get away with, and have proceeded to make a meal of it. When combined with other issues, like the Stromness police office controversy, I'm not surprised that: 1) Orcadians feel that the SNP is centralizing services and treating them as a politically expendable revenue stream; 2) no Northern Isles MP/MSP is part of the SNP; and 3) in three months, I met a grand total of one secessionist living in Orkney.

That last paragraph serves as background for this next story: Historic Shetland housing debt more than halved. As I've noted previously, the waning energy reserves that the SNP is counting on to finance a notional independent Scotland is nearly all located adjacent to Shetland - it's Shetland's oil, not Scotland's oil. Both Holyrood (the seat of the Scottish Government) and Westminster (the seat of the United Kingdom's government) are trying to convince the Northern Isles, and specifically the Shetlanders, that they either should or shouldn't support independence. I can't imagine that the matching pledges of cash from both Holyrood and Westminster are anything other than an effort to woo Lerwick in this year's referendum - yes, it's getting close! This follows the early October appointment of Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael (himself a Liberal Democrat in the current and controversial coalition government) as Westminster's Secretary of State for Scotland.* I doubt that ten million quid from Holyrood will convince the folks up in Shetland to support the secession bid.

* I teased CN Ness a bit when it happened he moved to Kirkwall a few weeks after me after being hired as Carmichael's parliamentary assistant. (I still swear that he was copying me by going to Orkney when he did.) Meanwhile, CN Homeboy opined that the very fact that there's a Scottish Secretary in Westminster at all is an indictment against England's imperialistic treatment of Scotland. Though I disagree with it, I can see his point.

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