Orkexit: why does Orkney want to leave the UK for Norway?

Orkney Islands Council to investigate ‘alternative forms of governance’ for the archipelago

Orkney's capital Kirkwall
Capital Kirkwall and the rest of the Orkney Islands were under Norwegian and Danish control until 1472
(Image credit: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Orkney could leave the UK and become a territory of Norway under new proposals to explore “alternative forms of governance” for the archipelego.

A motion put forward by council leader James Stockan calls for elected representatives to explore Orkney’s “Nordic connections” during discussions this week about other governance models that could provide more economic opportunity.

Located off the north coast of Scotland, Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control until 1472, when the islands were given to Scotland as security for Margaret of Denmark’s dowry on her marriage to King James III.

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‘Orkney has been failed dreadfully’

There is “growing frustration” among Orkney’s 22,500-strong population that the archipelego “does not receive fair funding from Scotland and the UK” , according to Yahoo! News.

Council chief Stockan told BBC Radio Scotland that Orkney had been “failed dreadfully” by governments in Edinburgh and London, with funding less per capita than that received by Shetland and the Western Isles. The ferry fleet connecting the 20 inhabited islands in Orkney urgently need to be replaced, he said, and travel costs were high because “we are denied the things that other areas get like RET [Road Equivalent Tariff] for ferry fares”.

Orkney’s share of income from North Sea oil is also “far less” compared with the Shetland Islands, said The Times.

Stockan argued that a degree of independence could allow Orkney to profit from the renewal energy boom, however. “We’ve got a unique opportunity as we are right at the heart of all the wind projects around our waters,” he said.

The Orkney council voted in 2017 to look at whether the islands could have greater autonomy, but stopped short of demanding full independence.

Options now up for discussion include becoming a crown dependency, like the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, which would take Orkney out of the remit of the Scottish parliament. Alternatively, Orkney could become a British overseas territory, like the Falkland Islands, or pursue the status of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing territory of Denmark.

‘Dangers of putting up barriers’

Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, is closer to Oslo than London, and the island chain was “part of the Norse kingdom for much longer than we were part of the United Kingdom”, Stockan told the BBC. A “huge affinity and a huge, deep cultural relationship” with Norway still exists, he added.

Responding to the proposals, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney, Liam McArthur, said that empowering communities was “particularly important in our islands, where the effects of centralisation or a one size-fits-all approach by government can be most damaging, as we have seen over recent years”.

But “recent history also highlights the dangers from putting up barriers between or creating divisions within communities”, he warned.

Stockan’s motion “does not commit the council to any of the options” for alternative governance, said The Guardian, and acknowledged that “any constitutional change would probably require a combination of petitions, referendums and legislation at Holyrood and Westminster”.

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