Local councillors on the Shetland Islands have backed a motion to explore the prospect of independence from Scotland by 18 votes to two.
The next step in what The Times describes as the “drive towards autonomy” will see the Shetland Islands Council explore options for “achieving financial and political self-determination” from Holyrood and Westminster.
The vote was prompted by frustration over how “decision-making has become increasingly centralised and public funding for the islands has been cut under the SNP government”, says The Scotsman.
The motion, signed by council leader Steven Coutts, states: “We are concerned that this ongoing situation is seriously threatening the prosperity and even basic sustainability of Shetland as a community.”
The UK’s northernmost archipelago has long had a fractious relationship with Edinburgh. With enormous oil reserves and a population of just 23,000, the islands have the “ingredients to become an economic powerhouse”, The Times suggests.
Yet many Shetlanders live in poverty and have been hostile to Scottish independence owing to their resentment of Holyrood’s governance.
The islands voted in favour of remaining in the UK in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, during which Scotland’s then first minister Alex Salmond pledged to use the Shetlands’ large oil reserves to help his country prosper economically.
The passing of the motion by islanders this week “was a mandate for exploring options rather than for any specific action, a point reiterated by many of the councillors present both in the chamber and remotely”, says The Shetland Times.
But the result leaves Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon “the dilemma of how to keep her country together while fighting to split the UK apart”, adds the Daily Mail.
As the paper notes, if the Shetlands were to shake off Holyrood’s rule, “they would keep the revenues from oil in their waters – dealing a blow to the finances of a would-be independent Scotland”.