THE news that, in the event of Scotland’s independence, people in Orkney and Shetland are being urged to seek self-government with affiliation to London brought back vivid memories for me.

I respect absolutely their right to choose – just as Scotland is fighting for hers. They will be confronted by fierce arguments from all sides, but I hope they will also remember some of the following events.

The people of Caithness were recently told that it will be 300 years before the area around the fast reactor site at Dounreay will be “deemed safe” in terms of radioactive contamination.

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Caithness is only one of many communities in Scotland which have been chosen by London government for highly dangerous and destructive projects because these places and people were regarded as “remote and expendable”.

In 1976, I read a Westminster document which recommended my home, Wigtownshire, as the best option for a UK high-level nuclear waste dump on the grounds that the local communities were few in number, unsophisticated and unlikely to protest effectively.

This policy of course, currently and insanely, also applies to Faslane, near Glasgow. In 2020, Scotland is scarred from Cape Wrath to Kirkcudbright by similar lethal projects.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were several particularly ruthless proposals to abuse Caithness and Orkney and the seas around them in this way. In 1977, despite tremendous opposition led by the famous Orkney historian, Ernest Marwick, and Orkney Islands Council, it was decided that a proposed uranium mine in the west mainland of Orkney should be approved if required, for what Westminster described as “the national interest”. Other proposals at that time included dumping nuclear waste in the seabed at “Stormy Bank” just west of the Orkney mainland. It is worth noting that The London Dumping Convention was an international treaty banning such dumping in international waters – so Orkney waters were nominated as a convenient evasion of that treaty. 2020 is not the first time British governments have sought to dishonour international agreements.

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The massive nuclear waste explosion at Dounreay in 1977 had been downplayed as a minor event, but by 1983 it was clear that the beaches and seabed round the plant were dangerously affected by highly radioactive, potentially lethal particles. Nevertheless, the next proposal was the most dangerous experiment of all – a nuclear reprocessing plant for fast reactor spent fuel. The details of the unprecedented risks were subjected to yet another planning enquiry – which in the end – predictably, against all the evidence – approved the proposal “in the national interest”.

What finally saved Orkney, Caithness and Shetland – and the seas around them – from further abusive pollution was the European Union decision – in view of emerging, appalling evidence, including secret documents leaked to the Dounreay Inquiry – to abandon altogether the failed fast reactor technology.

However, meanwhile, another Orkney historian had instigated an appeal to the Danish and Norwegian Governments to help both communities resist the threat. The “Declaration of Wyre” referred to the ambiguous international status of both island groups, whose heritage was closely linked to intermarriage between the royal families of Scotland, Norway and Denmark. The Declaration, endorsed by both island councils and signed by many thousands of islanders, was delivered by hand to the royal palaces of Norway and Denmark and both these governments expressed concern.

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A campaign grew in sympathy with the islands and they were visited by media from all over the world. In 1986, Norwegian nuclear physicists presented damning evidence at the public inquiry in Thurso.

There followed an emergency press conference at the British Embassy in Oslo. We will never know the secret conversations that led to that day– but the lesson is clear.

Self-determination is the absolute right of Orkney and Shetland. But I hope they will remember all their history, ancient and modern. Scotland seeks an international future with her own voice, reaching out to Scandinavia and Europe with sustainability and care for our beleaguered planet as the priority.

The choices are now very stark.

Frances McKie
Evanton, Ross-shire