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Until very recently, Shetland's legal position had never been tested in the courts. Consequently, historians had been able to propose routes of varying plausibility to explain how Shetland's constitutional position changed between 1469 and the present day. On close inspection there are glaring irregularities that appear to have been simply brushed over. Some inconvenient documents have been largely ignored, while imaginative interpretations have been placed on others as successive academics have tried to bolster their reputations.

What has been lacking is an objective legal analysis and a willingness to contemplate the possibility that the Crown and the governments of the time may not always have been scrupulous in their treatment of Shetland – and that applies to this day.

At the time of writing, the Scottish independence referendum is under a year away. In the current climate of constitutional navel-gazing as the referendum approaches, it is important for Shetland to know where it is before it decides where it wants to go. The Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are pursuing a course of asking for more powers from Scotland and the United Kingdom to be delegated to the islands.

Amid a fanfare of publicity and spending of public money, the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign is dedicated to doing just that. Before asking for those powers, Orkney and Shetland should first answer the question ‘Do the powers we are asking for actually belong to those we are asking?’ There is no evidence that they do. The very act of asking, aids and abets a fraud that has been going on for centuries. As Goebbels said: ‘The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it’.

These are questions for Shetland and Orkney, but have no relevance to the Western Isles, which are undeniably part of Scotland. By making a request based on island identity rather than making a claim based on legal rights, the campaign betrays Orkney and Shetland.

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