LONDON: As the battle over Scottish independence heats up, residents of three groups of remote Scottish islands, some of which straddle oil and gas fields northeast of Britain, are calling for their own breakaway votes and greater autonomy.
Islanders from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles have lodged a petition with the Scottish parliament asking for a vote on Sept. 25, a week after a referendum on whether Scotland should sever its ties with the United Kingdom after 307 years.
Local councils in the three island groups have also launched a campaign called “Our Islands, Our Future” to seek more powers after the Sept. 18 vote, whatever the result, which could include control of the seabed around the islands.
The moves follow debate over the powers that Shetland and Orkney would have if Scotland became independent, with local officials saying that around 67 percent of North Sea gas reserves are situated within their coastal waters.
Nationalists argue Scotland can be a prosperous nation by using oil money to offset its relatively higher state spending, and forecast oil and gas revenue of between 31 billion pounds ($51 billion) and 57 billion pounds from 2012-18.
But islanders accuse governments in both London and Edinburgh of ignoring their needs, and are keen to control their own resources.
Tavish Scott, the Shetlands’ representative in the devolved Scottish parliament, said Scotland would not have an economy without oil and gas, giving Shetland some leverage.
“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,” Scott told reporters Monday.
The islanders’ call for greater power comes as the campaigns over Scottish independence gather pace, with separatists still trailing in opinion polls but gaining ground.
An ICM poll published Sunday was the second survey in a week to show the pro-independence movement catching up, with 39 percent of a total 1,010 people questioned in favor of independence, up 2 percentage points from a month ago, while the “No” vote dropped to 46 percent from 49 percent. The undecided voters were 15 percent, down 1 point.
The petition calls for three separate referendums for people of each island group, to let them vote on whether they should become independent, stay in Scotland, or, in the event of a “Yes” vote in September, stick with the United Kingdom.
The petitioners said the three island groups were culturally very different but shared some common history. Orkney and Shetland, with populations of about 21,000 and 23,000 respectively, were under Norwegian rule from the ninth century until 1472.
The Western Isles, also known of the Outer Hebrides, which lie off western Scotland, are home to about 27,000 people, and are a popular tourist destination.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish parliament said more than 620 people had signed the petition since it was launched March 20. It closes on April 28, when a parliamentary petitions committee will decide how to proceed with the request.
“This is a quite a large number in a few days so it is clearly generating a lot of interest,” said the spokeswoman, adding that there was no particular number of signatures needed to ensure the petition went before the committee.