Will the Orkney Islands have an Orchsit?

Niels Postumus

It all started with a fleet of outdated boats. The fleet symbolized a long-held sentiment among the 23,000 people of the Orkney Islands. Or at least, among many politicians in the archipelago northeast of Scotland. A sense that they are being financially neglected within the UK. So local politician James Stocken recently tabled a motion within Orkney City Council to seek ‘alternative forms of government’.

Stocken suggested, among others, a kind of semi-autonomous status, comparable to tax havens like the British Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey. But he also suggested further investigation into connections with Denmark, Norway or Iceland. Because, he insisted, the Orkney Islands had been part of the Viking empires longer than they had been part of England. They remained under Norwegian and Danish rule until they became part of Scotland in 1472.

The media picked up the news and eagerly unpacked it. “Orkney board looks at plans to become part of Norway,” chimed in the BBC. The term Orkxit was coined as a variant of Brexit. Sure enough, the motion was passed by Orkney Town Council on 4 July.

There is no mechanism for that

However, Stocken was already retreating. During the consideration of the motion in the city council, his motion was not about becoming ‘part of Norway’. Above all, the British government must finally make sure it takes the Orkney Islands seriously. Another option is to gain greater financial independence within the UK.

But by then, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had already been forced by the news wave to respond officially. His spokesman explained that breaking away from the UK and moving to Norway or moving to a British Crown estate such as Guernsey or Jersey were not realistic options. Because it has ‘no mechanism’ under the law.

England will be crazy too. The Orkney Islands are very important for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. And for UK renewable energy production. Norway was wisely silent. Although British journalists called the country’s government flat for days.

Stocken, meanwhile, got exactly what he wanted: more attention to the financial problems of his Scottish archipelago. Need new boats? They will come soon.

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