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The Orkney islanders have their doubts about Scottish independence. The small propeller plane from Aberdeen out over the North Sea is packed. We are 20 passengers bound for Orkney, an archipelago of 70 inhabited and uninhabited land masses protruding from the grey-green swell. Our arrival coincides with the midsummer cultural festival of St Magnus which wakes through the mist like Brigadoon each year to welcome the outside world and then fall asleep again before the visitors can change it.
Change, however, is afoot. The northern half of the greater island to which Orkney is adjacent, and therefore politically attached, has proposed to split itself off from the south, and every northerner who has reached the age of 16 has the opportunity to say, on the 18th day of this month, whether they wish to continue united or divided. The plane is a leveller. There are well-known faces crammed into the tiny one-class fuselage.
The composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is sitting with his eyes closed and his hands clasped between his legs. He prefers the ferry, but it is slower and there is a reception to attend. The actor John Sessions sits by a porthole and scans the playscript of his one-man show.
The general manager of the BBC Singers is flying separately from his illustrious vocalists, who are already in rehearsal. Some Italians applaud when the plane lands at Kirkwall, the capital, although His Excellency the ambassador in their midst remains aloof from demonstrative relief. The reception is fuelled by Highland Park, a single malt whisky sponsoring the festival. A certain naivety attends the Yes campaign. A retired gentleman acknowledges the swelling enthusiasm for independence, but mourns what might be lost of history and ancient friendships.
Why impose a new border? People always argue over borders. Councillor Stephen Clackson is decisively indecisive. There is now a single police force, Police Scotland, for the whole country. In power, the SNP has rewarded only the areas which support it. Orkney and Shetland vote Liberal Democrat and have been left out of the ferry investments the Hebrides get.