By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON (AP) — Officials on the Orkney Islands, a corner of Scotland with Viking roots and an independent spirit, seized a moment in the global spotlight on Tuesday and voted to explore ways of seeking more autonomy — or even independence — from neglectful U.K. governments.
Journalists from across Britain and around the world tuned in remotely as Orkney Islands Council voted to study “alternative models of governance” for the archipelago, which has a population of 22,000.
The proposal from council leader James Stockan grabbed international headlines with its mention of potentially restoring Orkney’s “Nordic connections.” Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control for centuries until 1472 when the islands were taken by the Scottish crown as part of Margaret of Denmark’s wedding dowry to King James III of Scotland.
Stockan said his proposal “is not about us joining Norway,” but about countering the “discrimination that we’ve had against this community” from the Scottish and U.K. governments.
“I say, ‘Enough,’” he said. “I say it is time for government to take us seriously, and it is time for us to look at all the options we’ve got.”
A report accompanying Stockan’s motion suggested Orkney should investigate options including a status like the Faeroe Islands, a self-governing dependency of Denmark that lies between Scotland and Iceland. Another option is emulating Britain’s Crown Dependencies such as the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
Long an impoverished area reliant on the unpredictable fishing industry, Orkney prospered after large reserves of oil were discovered offshore in the 1960s. The islands, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of mainland Scotland, also have a burgeoning wind-power industry and a growing tourism sector.
But Stockan said Orkney gets less support from the Scottish government than other island communities in Shetland or the Hebrides, and is desperately in need of new ferries to keep its many islands connected.
Another councilor, Duncan Tullock, said Orkney was “living off crumbs.”
“I’ve never been more disillusioned in my life with both the Scottish and the U.K. governments,” he said. “We have had promise upon promise upon promise, every single one of them empty.”
Any major constitutional change is a long shot, likely requiring a referendum and legislation by the Scottish and U.K. governments. The governments in Edinburgh and London are themselves at loggerheads over the Scottish administration’s ambition to make Scotland an independent country outside the United Kingdom.
The U.K. government said there was “no mechanism” to change the status of Orkney. The Norwegian government said the debate was “a domestic and constitutional British matter” on which it had no view.
Councilor David Dawson criticized some of the ideas being floated for Orkney as “daydreams” — especially the “quite frankly bizarre fantasy of becoming a self-governing dependency of Norway.”
He said the U.K.’s rocky departure from the European Union served as a warning about the risks of going it alone.
“Let me caution you with one word,” he said. “Brexit.”