Scotland urged to reject ‘Britain’s last act of colonialism’ over Rockall

An MSP has called for Scotland to “reject complicity in Britain’s last act of colonialism” and renounce any claims over the island of Rockall.

The islet, an uninhabited outcrop in the North Atlantic, has been at the centre of a dispute between Scotland and Ireland over fishing.

The Scottish Government had threatened to take action if Irish vessels continue to operate in the zone around Rockall, which the UK has claimed sovereignty over since 1955.

Andy Wightman
Andy Wightman

Speaking at Holyrood on Tuesday, Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman, who said he is an Irish citizen, stated Scotland should renounce its claims over the island.

Addressing External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Mr Wightman said: “The minister will be aware that Rockall was annexed by the British Crown on the advice of the Colonial Office when in September of 1955, Lieutenant Commander Scott landed on the rock, raised the union flag and announced ‘in the name of Her Majesty, I hereby take possession of this island of Rockall’.

“Does the minister agree with me that we should reject complicity in Britain’s last act of colonialism, make it clear we’ll have nothing to do with such land grabs and instead renounce any Scottish claims over Rockall?”

Ireland has not called for the UK to renounce its sovereignty over the island but the Irish Government has outlined that EU fishery grounds and the Common Fishery Policy applies to the area.

Irish fishermen have said they have no intention of leaving the disputed waters.

Ms Hyslop said the Scottish Government became aware of a significant increase in fishing by Irish vessels in 2017.

In April 2017, she said the-then Irish Foreign Minister asked to speak with her to raise his concerns about potential enforcement by Marine Scotland.

Since 2017, Ms Hyslop said, the Scottish Government has had regular ministerial meetings and calls to discuss the issue alongside official level meetings.

The minister also said various diplomatic and political efforts had been made to try to resolve the issue without the need for enforcement action.

In September 2018, given no resolution had been reached, the Scottish Government notified the Irish Government that in the absence of an agreed way forward, enforcement options would need to be prepared in line with international law.

Ms Hyslop explained notice of such action would be given and added that dialogue between the two Governments is continuing.

“Our relationship with Ireland is strong and we value it highly,” said Ms Hyslop.

“Our aim is to reach an amicable position with the Irish Government.

“It has now been agreed that a process of intensified engagement will take place, led by senior officials from both administrations.

“We want to reach an agreement with Governments and our Governments are talking as we speak to do just so.

“While that discussion takes place, Marine Scotland will continue to monitor the area using aerial and satellite capabilities.”

Speaking on Monday in Co Cork, Ireland’s deputy leader Simon Coveney called for calm amid the dispute and stated his interest in resolving the issue.

“We need to take the heat out of this decision and look for solutions, that’s what diplomacy is about,” said Mr Coveney.

“Scotland and Ireland are very close friends and we will work with them to try to bring an end to this but what we won’t do is change a policy which we have had in place for decades on the back of a threat.”