You might think that the people most interested in the constitutional future of Shetland would be those who actually live there, or have at least set foot on the islands once or twice. But not a bit of it. No, the subject of Shetlandic sovereignty is one of endless fascination to British nationalists everywhere, from London to Las Palmas (albeit probably not Lerwick).
What's particularly sweet is that every time one of them raises this hoary old topic, they do so with a gleam of excitement in their eyes, as if they've just come up with the killer argument against Scottish independence that no-one (and certainly no SNP member) has ever thought of before. Bless. Seemingly they are unaware that the SNP are long-standing supporters of Shetlandic self-determination, to such an extent that they even stood aside in favour of the Orkney and Shetland Movement candidate in the 1987 election.
The latest Brit Nat queueing up to catch the Shetland Bus is Laurance Reed (no, me neither), introduced by Fraser Nelson in the Spectator as "a former Hebridean resident", as if that confers some kind of unique qualification to pontificate on these matters. (The fact that he twice makes the schoolboy error of referring to 'the Shetlands' tells its own story.) Even if we were to charitably turn a blind eye to the huge geographical and cultural distance between the Hebrides and Shetland, even Reed's Hebridean credentials seem distinctly patchy if his Wikipedia bio is anything to go by. He is the former Tory MP for Bolton East, he was educated in Norfolk and Oxford, and of the many, many places he is listed as having lived and worked in, not one is in Scotland, let alone the Hebrides. Which begs the question - just how long did this profoundly significant "former Hebridean residence" actually last? Did he move there to mingle with the islanders and acquaint himself with the culture, or in pursuit of the sadly more usual aspiration of getting away from the human race in general? We can only speculate. But the revelation that he once called for the forced repatriation of innocent Irish citizens in response to IRA violence offers a telling insight into the kind of agenda we're dealing with here. He also now has the honour of having penned the least appropriate headline of the year so far, as the words "Freedom for Shetland!" precede an article with one principle subtext - that it is self-evidently ludicrous and undesirable that the people of Shetland (or anywhere else) should have the right to decide their own constitutional future.
To turn to the 'substance' of Reed's argument...
"On Tuesday night in Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Islands, hundreds of men dressed as Vikings will parade through the centre of town, carrying torches to set fire to a wooden long ship in a festival known as Up Helly Aa. All will march to a repertoire of battle songs, with blood-curdling lyrics. ‘Our galley is the People’s Right, the dragon of the free’ runs the main hymn of the evening. ‘Sons of warriors and sages: when the fight for freedom rages, be bold and strong as they!’ And not even Alex Salmond would be bold enough to suggest that they are singing about Scotland."
True, but a rather more interesting question is whether anyone would be bold enough to claim that they are instead singing about the "warm beer and spinsters cycling to church" that Reed's former party leader once infamously conjured up as typical markers of "British" national identity.
Up Helly Aa also helpfully gives the lie to Tom Harris' sneering dismissal of the idea that some people in Scotland feel more Nordic than British.
"The people of Orkney and Shetland share little of Salmond’s enthusiasm for independence, as was reflected in the 1997 devolution referendum."
Remind me, Laurance - would that be the same referendum in which both Shetland and Orkney voted in favour of devolution, and Shetland voted in favour of the Scottish Parliament having the power to vary income tax? Yup, I think that'll be the one.
Of course, no-one is actually claiming that Orkney and Shetland literally voted in favour of Scottish independence in 1997 - that would be a touch difficult, given that the option of independence wasn't on the ballot paper!
"It is hard to join a tide of Edinburgh-focused nationalism if your nearest city is Bergen."
God knows how hard it must be to join Laurance's preferred tide of London-focused nationalism, then. You sing Viking songs, your nearest train station is in Norway, you feel Scandinavian...therefore the only natural state of affairs is to be ruled from London? This is a cracking line of argument, Laurance, it can't be denied.
"And if Scotland does vote to secede from Britain, might it be the start of a further unravelling? On what grounds could you stop Orkney, the Shetlands, even the Hebrides claiming their own independence?"
In the unlikely event that they do seek full sovereign independence, on precisely what grounds would you want to stop them, Laurance? Note : that question has just as much relevance before Scottish independence as it does after.
"And what effect would this have on Scottish oil revenues and the ability of Edinburgh to pay the pensions which London no longer funded?"
Tell me, where does this mystical "London funding" come from, Laurance? From the Hackney platinum mine? No, it comes from tax revenues raised throughout the UK. From Scotland, for example.
"But the Salmond principle is clear: if a country votes for separation, it should be granted it..."
The 'Salmond principle' is more popularly known as the 'self-determination principle' or the 'respecting international law principle', Laurance. On what basis do you believe that a hostage situation is preferable to self-determination?
"...together with a ‘geographical share’ of the oil revenues decided by drawing an imaginary border across the North Sea. Using such methods, Salmond is laying claim to 90 per cent of the oil revenue."
Fraser Nelson emphasises this point in his introduction by adding "regardless of population" after "geographical share of the oil revenues". I must say it would be highly entertaining to hear Nelson's detailed explanation for why London should receive revenues from oil situated in the waters of another sovereign state in proportion to English "population size". Is China entitled to 15% of Canadian natural resources on the basis of its share of the global population?
Good luck with that one, guys.
"And what of my former home, the Hebrides? The people of the islands were, after all, separate from Scotland for hundreds of years — first under the Norse and then the Kingdom of the Isles."
Yes, what about the Hebrides? Here's a helpful clue, Laurance : every single one of the Hebridean islands is currently represented by a Scottish National Party MSP.
"The notion of Scottish independence throws up all sorts of other difficult questions. If England voted to leave the European Union, and a separate Scotland chose to stay, some form of physical border would have to be built between us to control trade and the movement of people. Would there be frontier police examining papers at checkpoints on roads leading south into England? Or customs officials on the night sleeper to Inverness?"
Well, there might indeed be if the open borders the Scottish government is proposing were to be achieved by means of the EU Schengen agreement, rather than the Common Travel Area that exists entirely separately of the EU, and which the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey and the Republic of Ireland are currently members of. But then again, even if the proposal was for Scotland to join Schengen, there would be passport controls at the border regardless of whether England withdraws from the EU - because the UK is not a member of Schengen. Haven't really thought this one through, have you, Laurance?
"And if Salmond is a champion of separatism, may we ask whether on his latest trip to China he had an opportunity of raising with his hosts the question of Tibet? Or are we to understand from his silence that a separate Scotland — with, we are told, its own defence force — would defend its own freedom but never come to the defence of anybody else?"
Which is as good as saying that Britain is hypocritical because it defended its own independence in the 1940s, but hasn't invaded China recently in the name of Tibetan liberty. Let's get real here.
"Where might the fragmentation of Britain and Europe end? Salmond’s separatists should certainly be invited to tell us."
Answer : wherever the people want it to end, Laurance. The penny will drop sooner or later - we actually believe in this self-determination stuff. And now that we've answered your question, perhaps you could answer ours. There's no room for doubt in your article that you believe it is wrong for peoples to have the right to shape their own constitutional destiny. What you don't quite get round to explaining is : why?