Welcome to Scotland! But hey, hold on for a second! Where’s the Irn-Bru, the kilts, the Greggs, the vegan sausage rolls, the deep-fried Mars bars, the beautiful vistas, the cone hats, the drunkards, the loud American tourists, the five annual days of sun, the sticky nightclub floors, the endless seagulls…! Oh, wait! Here are the seagulls. This must really be Scotland!
You see, the reason this is Scotland is because of the UK’s never-ending quest to claim a tiny, terrible rock in the middle of the ocean. This rock called Rockall, is further away from Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, then Edinburgh is from London, the UK’s capital. In fact, Rockall is closer to Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, than it is to Edinburgh. It’s nowhere near Scotland, so why does the UK so desperately want it to be part of their country? – MONEY.
Now, the UK has plenty of tiny, terrible islands off the coast of Scotland like Sula Sgeir, St. Kilda, the Flannan Isles, and more. Almost universally, Scotland’s tiny, terrible islands are uninhabited aside from a few temporary military and conservation personnel. Now, the UK had good motivation for annexing Rockal, the most isolated of the tiny, terrible islands, back in the ‘50s. In the many centuries of flip flop between liking and disliking whatever country currently existed here, this was a period when the UK didn’t like them — the Soviets.
The UK had a missile testing range here, in the Outer Hebrides, and they didn’t want the Soviets setting up on Rockall and spying on them, which they could possibly legally do since Rockall wasn’t definitively claimed by anyone. Because of that, the immortal Queen Elizabeth ordered the Royal Navy to sail out to Rockall, plant a flag, place a plaque, and claim it which they officially did at 10:16 AM on September 18th, 1955 — making it the last ever expansion of the British Empire.
Now, here’s the thing – Nobody really currently actively disputes that the rock is British. They got to it first, they claimed it, it’s theirs. This water, on the other hand, is a controversial water. You see, back in 1982, after 14 years of negotiations, a bunch of selfless world leaders gathered in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to plot their signatures down on this – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is one of the most consequential UN treaties to have ever been signed because it effectively decided, definitively, how this whole area, the 71% of the world that is the ocean, works politically.
This treaty has been signed by almost every nation in the world. Now, just take a moment to guess what single large, developed nation decided they were special enough to not participate in this treaty? – the US. While the US effectively follows most of the treaty’s rules, it has not signed it since, according to arguments against, it would subject the US to dumb things like, “EnViRoNmeNtaL stAnDaRds” and “sHariNG”. One big part of the treaty, though, was the establishment of the concept of, “Exclusive Economic Zones”.
Typically, the zone within 200 nautical miles or 370 kilometers of a country’s coast is a country’s EEZ. This area is not part of a country, they don’t have sovereignty over it, but they do have exclusive rights to all-natural resources, including fish and oil, within it. The UK, with its proclivity for claiming tiny, terrible islands has a pretty large and geographically varied EEZ in the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans.
Rockall could hypothetically have an exclusive economic zone of this but of course, there’s the Republic of Ireland, and the Faroe Islands, which are an autonomous country of Denmark. While it’s determined on a case-by-case basis, how normally works when two countries EEZ’s overlap is each point just goes to the nearest country so that puts Rockall’s EEZ as this so in 1977 that’s when the UK claimed.
Buuuuut, if we go to part 8, article 121 of the treaty, we can find their definition of what an island is as, “a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide,” and that an island isn’t a rock, “which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own,” and artificial islands don’t count, (coughs, China). Fashionably late, the UK signed this treaty in 1977.
Rockall has no flatlands, no vegetation, it’d be impossible for anyone to live there permanently without support from shore. Therefore, after years of asserting that Rockall was, in fact, an island and therefore that the EEZ was this, the UK voluntarily reclassified it as a roc as therefore reset their EEZ as this. It’s fine though, the UK are experts at losing territory.
Nowadays, the quest for this area of the ocean goes on. According to the same treaty, countries are allowed to submit claims of their EEZ’s to extend further than 200 nautical miles if the continental shelf extends further based off a whole host of insanely complicated definitions and qualifications, so in 2009 the UK submitted a document outlining how they believed they fulfill these insanely complicated definitions and qualifications. To this, Iceland and Denmark submitted documents to the UN that said, in the most formal and cordial way possible, “bugger off mate”, and “you’re wrong”.
As of now, the area between the Irish, British, Danish, and Icelandic EEZs is nobody’s, as it shall remain for some uncertain amount of time.