Social Organization. Until 1872, a rigid, serflike class System prevailed. The local laird-merchants totally controlled the lives of the crofter-fishermen. All fish had to be marketed through specific merchants, emigration was forbidden, and goods at high prices (truck system) could only be purchased from shops controlled by the lairds who also controlled the lands. After 1872, this system was abolished, and the crofters and others gained their personal freedom. Today, Shetland society is characterized by having a high degree of egalitarianism.
Political Organization. Between 1973 and 1975, the old county was abolished and Shetland became one of three "Special Island Areas" of Scotland. In this way, they were allowed to retain a high degree of local authority. The Island Area operates through the Scottish Office in Edinburgh. Police and fire services are provided through the Highland Region of northern Scotland. The Shetland Island Council has special linkages with London for petroleum and energy Development. Other services are provided through various Scottish development agencies.
Social Control. On the local level, Norse ethnic pride and insular isolation are the primary means of social control. On a formal level, the Scottish court system prevails. Drunkenness and drunken brawling account for 80 percent of the court cases. The major source of local conflict is rooted in the Islanders' strong sense of Norse cultural identity. On several occasions, local officials have stated that they prefer union with England to union with Scotland. The county library and its adjacent museum serve as important centers for both education and local identity.