I hadn’t realized that Tavish Scott’s amendment preventing Scottish maps from displaying Shetland in an inset map actually passed. Section 17 of the Scottish Parliament’s Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires maps of Scotland produced by Scottish public institutions to display Shetland “in a manner that accurately and proportionately represents their geographical location in relation to the rest of Scotland.” The Act passed the Scottish Parliament last May and received Royal Assent in July. Now that the provision in question has come into force, the media, which always likes a weird map story, is seized of the issue all over again: there were news stories last week from BBC News, CBC Radio’s As It Happens, and NPR.
Basically, Shetlanders are delighted and cartographers are horrified: maps of Scotland will perforce be less detailed to accomodate all the empty ocean. In practice I suspect little will change: a loophole in paragraph 17(2)(b) enables a public authority to sidestep the requirement if they can justify it. I imagine that justification will be coming up a lot in maps that people actually use, leaving only illustrative and symbolic maps affected by the law. And, of course, private mapmakers and mapmakers not under the purview of the Scottish government (which I imagine includes the Ordnance Survey) will not be affected by this law.
Meanwhile, Maps Mania’s Keir Clarke gives us Unboxing the Shetlands, a tool to place mainland Scotland in an inset map instead.
The kerfuffle about Shetland being relegated to inset maps (Ed Parsons has taken to calling this “Insetgate”) is not quite done. Kenneth Field shares his thoughts in a post titled “In Praise of Insets,” in which he calls Scottish politician Tavish Scott’s proposal to ban the use of inset maps to portray Shetland as “utter nonsense” and goes on to defend their use more generally.
Insets are not just used to move geographically awkward places. They are commonly used to create larger scale versions of the map for smaller, yet more densely populated places. Often they are positioned over sparsely populated land to use space wisely. I’m guessing Scott would have an objection to an inset that, to his mind, would exaggerate the geographical importance of Glasgow compared to Shetland. Yet … in population terms it’s a place of massively greater importance so one could argue it deserves greater relative visual prominence on the map. Many maps are about people, not geography.
It is plainly not: it is a cartographic compromise. And there are always implications to a compromise. To include the Northern Isles in their actual geographical location, separated from the mainland by almost 100 miles of water, would reduce the scale at which the country can be displayed by around 40%.
That means Scotland’s smaller Council Areas (e.g. Dundee) effectively disappear, reduced from any kind of area to an insignificant point, or major features such as the Firths of Tay and Forth lost under text-labels for Dundee and Edinburgh. We are left having to put the Central Belt in a zoom-box because of the loss of detail in areas where most people live, or having to use two sheets of paper rather than one for maps of Scotland. […]
The circumstance of Shetland-in-a-box (and indeed Orkney-in-a-box-too) is a feature of maps intended to display our entire country with a reasonable level of detail.
Shetland’s representative to the Scottish Parliament has moved an amendment to proposed legislation that would require public authorities to portray Shetland “accurately and proportionately” in Scottish maps: BBC News, iNews, The Scotsman. Because Shetland is so far to the northeast of the island of Great Britain, it’s usually shown in an inset map; this move would, it seems, prohibit this, and presumably require Scottish maps to show vast tracts of ocean (as above). [NLS Maps]