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Scotland Bill — Committee (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 21st March 2012.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 7:15 pm, 21st March 2012

My Lords, I have put my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth has just said, these amendments went down last year, long before the UK Government sent out their consultation paper, let alone the Scottish Government bothering to send out theirs.

I am not in the least bit fearful of a referendum in Scotland but I am worried about the consequences. The break-up of the United Kingdom at the behest of a minority, which might prejudice the majority, is something of great concern. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has said, it has huge implications for the rest of the United Kingdom. I am told that when Czechoslovakia divided in 1992, some 30 treaties and 12,000 legal agreements were required. There is going to be a huge amount of work resulting from a decision to have an independent Scotland, if that is the one that is taken.

I hear what noble Lords have been saying about this being a matter for Scotland, and indeed it is, but it is such a big matter that the referendum in Scotland should then be followed by a referendum in the UK. There are huge implications for the rest of the UK; for example, in Brussels, where our ability to get a blocking minority at the Council of Ministers will be altered because the number of votes that we have will be reduced. I spoke about this in an earlier debate. It might very well threaten our permanent seat at the United Nations.

There are a lot of reasons why it is so important that the United Kingdom is kept together, which, if it is broken by a minority, will have huge implications. That is why I have put forward my Amendment 89, which says that the referendum in Scotland should be advisory and could be implemented only if it was agreed in the rest of the United Kingdom. We are sleepwalking into a whole lot of issues that have not been discussed, the implications of which nobody fully understands, and which the vast majority of the United Kingdom will not have a say on.

My Amendment 90 is an amendment to Amendment 88 and says that if the vote in a referendum held in Scotland is for a separate Scotland-I do not say "independent Scotland" because Scotland is about as independent a country as you can get-but that if the people of Orkney and Shetland vote to remain in the United Kingdom, they should be allowed to do so.

The obvious argument in favour of that is the argument that has been expounded about Scotland, which I have just spoken about. Here we have a minority of people in the United Kingdom saying "We want to become separate" or "We could want to become separate". The rest of the United Kingdom has to accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, thinks is right. I am saying that if Orkney and Shetland decide that they want to stay in the United Kingdom-although that is not the only alternative for them-their wish should be granted.

When this amendment was put down, it raised a lot of concern from the usual rent-a-quote SNP MSPs who jumped up and down and said, "This is Westminster dictating to us in the far north". No it is not; it is merely giving a chance for democracy. There is a fear in the far north of the centralisation that has taken place in Edinburgh.

Let me declare quite an old family interest, which it is important to declare for the record. The family links with Orkney and Shetland start in 1379 when at Marstrand near Tønsberg in Norway, King Haakon VI invested and confirmed my ancestor Henry Sinclair Roslin as Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland. He was required to defend Orkney and Shetland and, if required, provide Norway with military support. It is important to remember that Norway controlled Orkney and Shetland. For the next 91 years, we served two monarchs-the kings of Norway and the kings of Scotland. In 1455, William Sinclair, the 3rd Earl of Orkney was also created Earl of Caithness.

After that, things started to change. In 1468, Orkney and Shetland were pledged by King Christian I of Denmark, who was also King of Norway, as the payment of the dowry of his daughter, Princess Margaret, who was to marry King James III of Scotland. As a result of that, we had to forfeit our title of Earl of Orkney. In 1472, there was an Act of Parliament to annex Orkney and Shetland to the Scottish Crown.

Scotland as we know it today did not become Scotland until 1472. Looking at the timeline, one will see that for about 600 years Orkney and Shetland were under Norwegian or Scandinavian rule; for 235 years, they were under Scottish rule; for 292 years, they have been under Westminster rule; and for 13 years, they have been under joint Westminster and Holyrood rule.

Moving forward to the present day, the history that I have just outlined explains why in 1979 the people of Orkney and Shetland voted against a referendum. In 1997, they voted very narrowly in favour but the people of Orkney voted against the tax-raising powers. There is a totally different culture in the Northern Isles, which has been evidenced by DNA tests that show that 60 per cent of the people of the Northern Isles are of Norse descent. That is not just on the male side but also the on female side. Further research in 2005 showed that as many women came over from Scandinavia to populate Orkney and Shetland as men. It was not a takeover bid by males; whole families moved over, and settled and integrated into Orkney.

Recently, there has been a slight change in the SNP position. After six months of castigating me for what my amendment proposed, in the past couple of days I have seen that the SNP has now admitted that Orkney and Shetland might be able to stay out of a separate Scotland should they vote against independence. In a recent interview, the SNP's rural affairs spokesman, Angus MacNeil, admitted that if that was the case, part of the access to the isle, which belonged to the Orkney and Shetland basins, would stay with that country.

Although my amendment proposes that Orkney and Shetland might be able to stay within the United Kingdom should they so wish, there are other options. There is outright Shetland independence and Shetland exceptionalism, which the current Convenor of the Shetland Islands Council has been promulgating. There is of course the opportunity to become a Crown dependency. One further interesting fact is that, in January, the debate at the Althing was on the motion that Shetland's future lies in an independent Scotland. That was defeated. In that debate, the people of Shetland clearly indicated that they did not wish to become part of an independent Scotland.

As this seems to be the only occasion on which we are going to be able to discuss referendums, will my noble and learned friend say what discussions he will have with Orkney and Shetland? Of course, there is no better person in this House in a position to hold those discussions to make certain that their voices are heard, recorded and, if necessary, taken into account in the Section 30 order. That is hugely important because there is, without question, a feeling in the Northern Isles, as there is in the far north of Scotland, that the centralisation that has taken place since devolution has been to the detriment of the north. If one looks at some of the recent articles, until recently, to say that one was more pro-Scottish than pro-British in Shetland led to a lot of condemnation because of its traditions, its culture and the way in which it has felt separate and rather remote from the rest of the United Kingdom.

If we cast our minds back only a year to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, one will recall the argument forcefully made by my noble friend Lord Fowler to keep the Isle of Wight as one unit. It received a huge amount of support and he won his case. I am merely saying to my noble and learned friend, let Orkney and Shetland decide if they want to do their own thing and how they should be allowed to do it when it comes to the referendum.

My next amendment deals with the island of Rockall, those uninhabited rocks out to the west of the United Kingdom. I appreciate that in 1972 the Island of Rockall Act received its Royal Assent. At that time, it was administratively made part of the isle of Harris, which was then part of Inverness-shire. But I shall go back a little further than that to what happened when people landed on Rockall on 18 September 1955. A plaque was placed on Rockall on that day by people off HMS "Vidal", which read:

"By authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and in accordance with Her Majesty's instructions dated the 14th day of September, 1955, a landing was effected this day upon this island of Rockall from HMS Vidal. The Union flag was hoisted and possession of the island was taken in the name of Her Majesty. [Signed] R H Connell, Captain, HMS Vidal".