* Remote Scottish islands seek own independence votes
* North Sea oil revenues fuel tussle over power
* Debate escalates as opinion polls show battle tightening
By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON, March 24 As the battle over Scottish
independence heats up, residents of three groups of remote
Scottish islands, some of which straddle oil and gas fields
northeast of Britain, are calling for their own breakaway votes
and greater autonomy.
Islanders from Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles have
lodged a petition with the Scottish parliament asking for a vote
on Sept. 25, a week after a referendum on whether Scotland
should end its ties with the United Kingdom after 307 years.
Local councils in the three island groups have also launched
a campaign called "Our Islands, Our Future" to seek more powers
after the Sept. 18 vote, whatever the result, which could
include control of the sea bed around the islands.
The moves follow debate over the powers that Shetland and
Orkney would have if Scotland became independent, with local
officials saying that around 67 percent of North Sea reserves
lie within their coastal waters.
Nationalists argue Scotland can be a prosperous nation with
oil money to offset its relatively higher state spending and
forecasts of oil and gas revenue of between 31 billion pounds
($51 billion) and 57 billion pounds between 2012-2013 to
But islanders, wary of governments in both London and
Edinburgh that they accuse of ignoring their needs, are keen to
control their own resources.
Tavish Scott, the Shetland's representative in the devolved
Scottish parliament, said Scotland does not have an economy
without oil and gas, giving Shetland some leverage.
"We want to make sure that out of this big constitutional
debate, we decide what we want for our future, because Edinburgh
doesn't tend to pay much attention to the islands," Scott told
reporters on Monday.
The islands' call for more power comes as the campaigns over
Scottish independence gather pace, with separatists still
trailing in opinion polls but gaining ground.
An ICM poll published on Sunday was the second survey in a
week to show the pro-independence movement catching up, with 39
percent of 1,010 people questioned in favour of independence, up
2 percentage points from a month ago, while the No vote dropped
to 46 percent from 49 percent. The undecided voters were 15
percent, down 1 point.
The petition calls for three separate referendums for people
of each island group to let them vote on whether they should
become independent, stay in Scotland, or, in the event of a Yes
vote in September, stick with the United Kingdom.
The petitioners said the three island groups were culturally
very different but shared some common history.
Orkney and Shetland, with populations of about 21,000 and
23,000 respectively, were under Norwegian rule from the ninth
century until 1472.
The Western Isles, also known of the Outer Hebrides that lie
off western Scotland, are home to about 27,000 people with the
picturesque island chain a popular tourist destination.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish parliament said more than 620
people had signed the petition since it opened for signatures on
March 20. It closes on April 28 when a parliamentary petitions
committee will decide how to proceed with the request.
"This is a quite a large number in a few days so it is
clearly generating a lot of interest," said the spokeswoman,
adding that there was no particular number of signatures needed
to ensure the petition went before the committee.
But whether the petition leads to an independence vote or
not, island authorities, who currently have some powers such as
collecting property tax and education, see political change in
Scotland as a time to make sure their needs are considered.
"This is a once in a lifetime moment to do something really
special for island communities like ours," said Orkney Islands
Council Convener Steven Heddle in a statement.
(Editing by Alison Williams)