Shetland and Scotland have a long association, which goes back into prehistoric times. It has often been a controversial one. Scotland's location and size relative to Shetland has sometimes made it a somewhat one-sided relationship.
The connections between Scotland and Shetland are extremely complex, deep and sometimes unconscious.
Geography and economy
Scotland is a hilly/mountainous country, with a few plains. (Despite the name, the Lowlands are quite hilly as well). There are at least five hundred islands, and numerous firths, inlets and sea lochs.
Most of Scotland is sparsely populated. The majority live in the Central Belt, between Glasgow and Edinburgh which despite its name is really in southern Scotland.
Agriculture is often similar to that in Shetland, with a lot of sheep farming, rough hill grazing and crofting, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. Some parts of Scotland are much more fertile and more sheltered than Shetland, and so it is possible to grow a wider range of plants. As a larger landmass, temperature variations are larger than those in Shetland, however, both still benefit from the North Atlantic Current.
Scotland formerly had notable shipbuilding, steel and coal works. Most of these are gone now, although North Sea oil provides much employment in the north east. Whaling was an important industry in some areas, notably Dundee.
Scotland's fishing industry has declined, but Scottish boats still visit Shetland waters frequently.
Renewable energy is a major growth sector, including wave energy, and wind power (Onshore and offshore).
Shetland has various ferries and flight routes to Scotland. Aberdeen is the major Scottish city perhaps most associated with Shetland for various reasons.
Scottish newspapers are widely available, such as The Scotsman and Press and Journal. Shetland receives Grampian Television, BBC Radio Scotland, and various Scottish regional variants on digital television.
Various communication cables link the two places.
Like Norway, Scotland’s historical connections with Shetland are almost too numerous to mention. They are ancient, and because of the current political set up, extremely strong. Shetland was first colonised in the Stone Age, at least seven thousand years ago. The very first people to travel there deliberately almost certainly came from modern day Scotland, via the Orkney Islands. Some people have theorised that they were following the now extinct herds of walrus that lived around the coasts of the islands, others that they were fleeing population displacement or violence further south. They may have even been curious, or seeking more plentiful food.Whatever the case may be, the most primitive mariners have all had one thing in common, i.e. they do not sail out of sight of land. Their boats would have been much flimsier, or smaller than our present day ocean going vessels and their navigation skills poor. They may not have even had sails. To reach Shetland, they would have had to cross the Pentland Firth from Caithness, and island hopped their way to North Ronaldsay, then to Fair Isle, then to Mainland. It would have been a very dangerous trip for them, possibly one way.
During the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, trade and cultural exchange with present day Scotland grew. Shetland's isolation would have meant that it was independent in this period, but at some point it was taken over by the Picts. Their culture shows a definite affinity with what was happening in Scotland at the time, including an at least partially Celtic language and ogham writing. Their language was P-Celtic, i.e. related to Welsh, Breton and Cornish, rather than Q-Celtic like the later Gaels, and can be found in various Scottish and Shetland placenames. The broch builders also had close contact with Scotland – these structures are found throughout Scotland, even one or two in the Borders. It has been suggested that they were built in response to Roman pirates. These structures do not appear to be Scandinavian in origin. Some P-Celtic placenames in the Faroe Islands suggest that they managed to reach there, probably via Shetland. This implies that they had developed true ocean going vessels.
In the later Pictish period, Shetland was visited by Culdees or Papar who converted the islands to Christianity. Some of these churchmen were of Irish origin, but they travelled through Scotland. They left dedications to St Ninian of Galloway, and St Columba, who evangelised the West Highlands. They also introduced the Roman Alphabet.
The Norse invasion may have orientated Shetland more towards Norway, but contact with Scotland did not end with them. The Norse also settled the Hebrides, parts of coastal Scotland, and Galloway. Many of them took Scottish wives, and in time they became Norse traders rather than Viking raiders. When Shetland became re-Christianised, large parts of Scotland fell under the archbishopric of Trondheim, as did Shetland. Some parts of Scotland, such as Caithness and the Outer Hebrides still retain a noticeable Nordic influence.
Then in the later Middle Ages, one of the most controversial incidents in Shetland history occurred. Shetland and Orkney were pawned to the Scottish Crown, to pay for the dowry of Margaret of Denmark after she married James III. The dowry was not forthcoming, and Scotland promptly annexed Shetland shortly afterwards. This is still a cause of much friction, and reduced Scotland’s influence on Shetland in the next few centuries was not really a positive one. Various Scottish nobles came in, and grabbed land. The Norn language began to decline rapidly, and a form of Lowland Scots came to be spoken there. Shetland was treated as a county, and moreover, Edinburgh was at the opposite end of Scotland, meaning that it was marginalised.
As Scotland came more and more under the control of England, Shetland found political power even further removed from it. The Union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 removed royal power to London. Later in the 17th century Cromwellian forces tried to control various parts of Scotland, including Shetland (Fort Charlotte). In 1707, the Act of Union abolished the Scottish Parliament. While Scotland still has considerable influence on Shetland, the political centre had moved down to London.
The 19th century saw a re-assertion of Norse identity in Shetland, presumably partly in reaction to perceived Scottish encroachment. It was often related as much to Romanticism as real tradition. In this period, both Scotland and Shetland were heavily involved in the British Empire, and many people emigrated from both countries.
There is still a considerable interchange of people between Scotland and Shetland. Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh all have notable Shetland communities, and Scots are perhaps the largest group of incomers in the Islands along with the English. (aka Soothmoothers.)
Although Scottish influence on Shetland culture has often been detrimental, this is not always the case.
Many native Shetlanders now have Scottish surnames (Bain, Scott, Smith, Tulloch), or bear Scotticised versions of Nordic names (Anderson, Jamieson, Williamson).
It is worth mentioning the Scottish Renaissance as well. This had a positive reciprocal influence. The Scots language revival had a knock-on effect, increasing interest in Shetland dialect, and several Shetland poets, such as William J. Tait, played a notable part in the Edinburgh scene. The most major player in that movement, Hugh MacDiarmid is a classic example. MacDiarmid went to live in Whalsay, and there he produced some of his greatest work. Many consider it gave him the break he needed. He influenced Shetland poetry and Shetland influenced him.
There is also a considerable amount of exchange in the folk music scene. A classic example of this would be the famous pairing of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, a Shetlander and a Scot. Shetland folk music gets a major airing in Scottish concert halls and radio, and Scottish folk musicians frequently visit Shetland. Shetland fiddling has had a considerable influence on the Scottish version.
Law, Church, Education
These are the three main areas in which Scotland retained a degree of autonomy between 1707 and 1997, when the Scottish Parliament was set up again. All of these had an effect on Shetland.
The most important of these was Scots Law. It largely displaced Shetland’s Udal Law, or old Norse legal system, although not completely. Gaelic law and Gallovidian law died out elsewhere, but certain aspects of Udal Law hung on, particularly regarding the sea and shoreline. However, Shetland’s legal set up is for most purposes a Scots Law one.
The timing of Shetland’s annexation meant that the islands received the Scottish Reformation rather than the Scandinavian Reformation, both of which occurred in the century or two after. This meant that Shetland came under the sway of Presbyterianism, rather than Lutheranism. Other religious movements, such as Methodism (of English origin), and even the Plymouth Brethren (of Irish origin) both reached Shetland via Scotland. As Scotland received the King James Bible (commissioned by James VI), which was in English, so Shetland churches did as well. Scotland’s Reformation had little time for local languages, whether they were Norn, Lowland Scots or Gaelic.
The education system was a mixed blessing. The Scottish education system provided literacy and learning to people of the most humble backgrounds, but it came at the expense of language. It encouraged the use of English above all else.
In the Westminster Parliament, Shetland and Orkney MPs are usually counted in the Scottish bloc for various purposes.
The question of Scottish Home Rule has long raised questions about Scotland and Shetland’s relationship. Many politicians paid lip service (notably Liberals, and later Labour) to the idea from the late 19th century onwards. However, a Scottish Parliament/Assembly only gained momentum in the 1960s and 70s, after SNP victories in Scotland. Coincidentally, this came about at the same time that considerable oil and gas fields were found in the North Sea. This made an autonomous Shetland a more viable proposition, and also bolstered support for Scottish independence. A combination of genuine Shetland patriotism, together with unionist divide-and-conquer tactics tried to use this feeling to undermine the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum. The argument was that Shetland would be more successful ruled by London rather than Edinburgh. However, in either case, North Sea oil revenues flowed smoothly into UK coffers strengthening the pound through Margaret Thatcher’s term in office.
The Orkney and Shetland Movement stood on a joint ticket in Westminster elections. Eventually, they cut a deal with the SNP, that if Scotland became independent, Shetland would be devolved. Shetland’s response to the 1997 devolution referendum was more positive, although more guarded than many other places. The Scottish Parliament, ironically has doubled Shetland’s representation. Shetland no longer just sends a single MP to Westminster, jointly with Shetland, it has its own separate MSP. Shetlanders can also vote on the Highlands and Islands regional, meaning that they can influence three separate ballots. The representation in the European Parliament is a sadder affair, since Brussels decided to turn all of Scotland into a single multimember constituency. Shetland’s strong attachment to the Liberal Party, and Liberal Democrats has meant that Shetland politicians of that party have been prominent within it. Locally elected leaders who have made a mark at Scotland-wide level include Jim Wallace (an Orcadian who represented both Orkney and Shetland) and Tavish Scott. The Lib Dems had some prominence in coalitions with Labour in the Scottish Parliament. In the SNP’s landslide victory, Shetland along with Orkney was one of only two constituencies to retain a Lib Dem constituency MSP.
The Free Scotland Party, a minor Eurosceptic, pro-independence grouping is based in Shetland.