One man on a rock

The curious tale of Stuart Hill who has declared his remote island in the Shetlands to be independen

Alistair Carmichael, a Scottish MP, can't help but shake his head when the name Stuart Hill is mentioned. Hill is the infamous 65-year-old pseudo-revolutionary who recently claimed one of the Shetland Islands as his own, declared it an independent nation, and seceded from the UK.

While media outlets all over the world have flocked to the story like alcoholics to an open bar, Carmichael is underwhelmed, if not completely nonplussed by the goings on within his constituency.

Where the international press sees a courageous freedom fighter — one online publication went so far as to compare his actions to the American Revolution — Carmichael sees little more than one man on a rock in the North Atlantic.

“He's a very effective self-promoter, I'll give him that,” said Carmichael of Hill. “But he claims to represent everyone in Shetland, which just isn't true. The biggest mistake anyone can make at this point is assuming that he speaks for anyone but himself.”

Since arriving on the newly-christened Forvik Island (formerly known as Forwick Holm) via a boat of his own making, Hill has agitated whole-heartedly for sovereignty. He even drew up a declaration of independence listing the various reasons why the Shetland Islands in general and his island in particular ought to be free from British rule.

“The governments of Scotland, Britain and the United Kingdom have assumed powers over these islands to which they are not entitled,” wrote Hill – who is from East Anglia. “The government of the United Kingdom has committed fraudulent acts upon these islands to the great detriment of the people.”

Hill's argument for independence is based on the notion that Scotland never really owned the Shetland Islands, and thus has no right to govern them. Although he was neither born nor raised in the islands, Hill sees the Scots as an invasive force and takes their presence rather personally.

“Ask anyone when Shetland became part of Scotland, and they won't be able to tell you,” said Hill. “They can't tell you because it never happened.”

In truth, the story behind the Scotland's acquisition of Shetland is a bit murky. Cash-strapped King Christian of Denmark and Norway pawned the islands to King James III in 1468 with the express condition that they could be reacquired once the Scandinavians were back in the black. Over the next 200 years, Norway made several offers for the islands, but the Scots, as per custom, refused to give an inch.

Further complicating the issue is the 1669 Act of Annexation, in which King Charles II mandated that the Shetland Islands be accountable only to the Crown, and thus outside the jurisdiction of Parliament. Hill insists this piece of legislation is still in effect, meaning the UK's only claim to the islands would be as a stewardship.

Based on these events, Hill has what he sees as an water-tight case against the UK - and anyone else that might challenge his nation's sovereignty.

“I welcome any and all legal challenges to my independence,” said Hill. “I can't wait to see them try. Frankly, they haven't got a leg to stand on.”

In Carmichael's opinion, however, Hill's historically-based argument has more holes in it than the home made schooner he wrecked on his first trip to the Shetland Islands less than a decade ago which led to him being dubbed "Captain Calamity". According to Carmichael, Forvik Island falls well short of the criteria that must be met in order for a government to be recognised as a sovereign nation.

“In international law, there are standards that must be met before anyone can declare independence,” said Carmichael. “Hill's island isn't anywhere near those standards. There's not a court in the world that rule in his favour.”

This legal standstill isn't expected to be sorted out any time soon. Hill insists he won't back down, and the Scottish government has already unleashed a diabolical plan to do, well, nothing. According to Carmichael, one man raising hell on a 2.5 acre island isn't exactly a hot-button issue.

“If my office were suddenly flooded with phone calls and emails from constituents who supported Hill and wanted to break away from the UK, I'd probably be worried,” admitted Carmichael. “So far, we haven't received a single phone call. Not one.”

The American lawyer, politician and writer John Dickinson once noted that “the first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.” After observing this situation, however, he might amend his position and suggest that the first duty of a revolutionary is to make someone give a damn.