About 40 people came to the Clickimin Centre on Saturday for a meeting on Udal Law.
Introduced by Alistair Inkster, Consultant Marine Engineer, the focus of the first part was on the potential benefits to the Shetland fishing industry of Udal Law. Mr. Inkster pointed out that present government policies had decimated the industry and the only way to save it from total destruction was through local control and conservation measures tailored to suit the Shetland marine zone.
The audience was then treated to a fascinating presentation by John Firth on the background and progress of the Udal Law debate. Far from being an airy-fairy idea, as many people seem to think, concrete progress has been made in the Scottish Assembly and the European Union.
Udal Law is the old Norse law under which the foreshore as far as the lowest spring ebb belongs to the person whose land adjoins it. More importantly to the Shetland and Orkney communities is that under Udal Law the sea bed belongs to the islands as far as the continental shelf to the West and to the Norwegian trench (about 40 miles from Norway) to the east.
This is not just ancient history. Until only 40 years ago this was the situation - then the Crown (in the mistaken belief that they owned it, as in England) gave away the sea and seabed to Parliament.
Recent developments have been the European recognition of Udal Law in April this year, due to David Heathcote-Amory's amendment to the Convention on the new European Constitution. This was followed by a U-turn by the Scottish Law Commission, who now support Udal Law.
It was surprising for many of the audience that, far from being a relic of the past, Udal Law is very much a current issue used in Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, parts of the USA, the Isle of Man, parts of Sweden and other areas of the world.
After gently reminding his audience that the Tory party had been the only one supporting Udal Law and that they should vote for him on Thursday, Mr. Firth handed the meeting back to Alastair Inkster. Mr. Inkster made a short summary and comments almost everyone spoken to involved in the fishing and aquaculture industry are keen to see local control of the industry, then opened the meeting to a lively session of questions from the floor.
During this session a proposal was made that a pressure group should be formed and Mr. Inkster agreed to chair a steering committee to start such a group. Another proposal was for a website.
As the meeting closed, interested parties left their names and addresses.
Subsequently it was decided by the steering committee to call the group the Shetland & Orkney Udal Law group, or SOUL. A website is being prepared.
S.O.U.L. is a non-profit, non-political voluntary organisation working on behalf of the people of Shetland and Orkney. This website is intended to stimulate open discussion and will inevitably change as we find out more.