Sick of being ignored by far-away politicians, officials on Scotland’s remote Orkney Islands are mulling a drastic solution: rejoining Norway, the Scandinavian country that gave them away as a royal wedding dowry more than 550 years ago.
Orkney Islands Council is due to debate options for “alternative models of governance” on Tuesday, including exploring the “Nordic connections” of the archipelago, which lies about 10 miles north of the Scottish mainland.
Council leader James Stockan said the islands had been failed by both the Scottish government, 300 miles to the south in Edinburgh, and the U.K. government in even more distant London.
“On the street in Orkney, people come up and say to me, ‘When are we going to pay back the dowry? When are we going back to Norway?’ There is a huge affinity and a huge deep cultural relationship there,” Stockan told the BBC. “This is exactly the moment to explore what is possible.”
Norway kept a diplomatic distance from the debate.
“This is a domestic and constitutional British matter,” the Norwegian Foreign Ministry said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We have no view regarding this motion.”
Long an impoverished area dependent on the unpredictable fishing industry, Orkney prospered after large reserves of oil were discovered offshore in the 1960s. The islands, with a population of about 22,000, also have a burgeoning wind-power industry and a growing tourism sector.
But Stockan said Orkney gets less support from the Scottish government than other island communities in Shetland or the Hebrides, and is desperately in need of new ferries to keep its many islands connected.
“Every time we’ve been denied. We’ve been asked to wait, we have been asked to do another study,” he said.
“We do look with envy at the communities in Norway,” he added, “where there’s a completely different approach to the remote and rural” areas.
A report accompanying Stockan’s motion suggests Orkney should investigate options including a status like the Faeroe Islands, a self-governing dependency of Denmark that lies between Scotland and Iceland.
Another option is emulating Britain’s Crown Dependencies such as the Channel Islands, which are largely self-governing tax havens.
The report acknowledges that any constitutional change is a long way off, and would likely require a combination of petitions, referendums and legislation by the Scottish and U.K. governments. The governments in Edinburgh and London are themselves at loggerheads over the Scottish administration’s ambition to make Scotland an independent country outside the United Kingdom.
Along with the Shetland islands even further to the north, Orkney was under Norwegian and Danish control for centuries until 1472 when the islands were taken by the Scottish crown as part of Margaret of Denmark’s wedding dowry to King James III of Scotland.
“In a place where we have 5,000-year-old houses on the landscape, that’s pretty recent history for us,” said Leslie Burgher, an architect who serves as Norway’s honorary consul in Orkney.
Burgher said there were still “strong cultural and personal connections” between Norway and Orkney, where a parade every May 17 marks Norwegian Constitution Day. He said the Norse influence was widely evident, from place names and personal names to St. Magnus Cathedral, “a fabulous piece of medieval architecture” built in Norse times.
Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit paid an official visit to the Orkney Islands in 2017.
The British government poured cold water on the idea of letting Orkney forge new links with Norway. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said there was “no mechanism” to change the status of Orkney.
“Fundamentally we are stronger as one United Kingdom. We have no plans to change that,” he said.