LAST summer, on the day that Germany walloped Brazil in the World Cup semi-final, I travelled by ferry from Aberdeen to Shetland in order to gauge what the islanders were making of the forthcoming independence referendum.

It was my fourth visit and I was not looking forward to it. Previously, I'd visited during the Braer disaster in 1993, flying from Prestwick to Lerwick in a small plane packed with Tory ministers and nervy environmentalists. The conditions were so bad you could feel the plane being pushed back on the runway by the wind and I feared the worst when, once airborne, we were hit by violent turbulence.

On another occasion I went to write about a possible scandal in Shetland fiddle fraternity - haud the front page! - and witnessed at first hand how enclosed and incestuous life is there.

Within an hour of my landing, word had spread and lips were instantly sealed. Ever since, I've felt that I'd rather live anywhere than on an island where everyone knows everyone else and their business.

My most recent visit did not improve my view of the place. The ferry was full of drunks who, as evening wore on, grew louder and more obnoxious. Mostly, they were itinerant workers employed in the gas and oil industry and living in the modern equivalent of hulks.

One such, the zebra-striped Sans Vitesse, is the first thing that greets you as you approach Lerwick harbour. Were one looking for the definition of a blot on the landscape this accommodation barge fits it perfectly.

Though I had little time to spare I met a number of Shetlanders, the majority of whom were dyed in the wool Better Together supporters. This came as no surprise. Shetland is a law unto itself which, in tandem with Orkney, has voted Liberal or Liberal Democrat these past 80 years.

With reason, perhaps, for since the discovery of oil in the North Sea in the 1960s, it has benefited significantly, with many small villages boasting facilities such as schools and leisure centres which would be the envy of many towns on the mainland. Moreover, it has consistently had higher rates of employment.

You might think that such bounty would make the islanders happy and lead to contented communities. This was not my impression.

As elsewhere, the referendum was divisive but on Shetland one felt there was a nasty, bitter undercurrent to the debate that I did not sense in other places. Though it was obvious how Shetlanders would vote several told me that they would consider moving to England or Norway were there to be a majority in the country in favour of independence.

What was most distressing about this was the brazen selfishness of those implacably against change. They were doing fine and couldn't really give a damn about those of their fellow citizens who were on their uppers and who, for generations, had been failed by the political classes. Moreover, there was a meanness of spirit and a lack of empathy.

The other issue which governed Shetlanders' thoughts was that of a so-called wind farm. One afternoon I travelled up the island through the area where it was to be built. It was chilly for the time of year and there was a bleak beauty to the vast wild moor on which on Monday this week the Supreme Court in London gave the go-ahead for the erection of 103 turbines, each of which will be bigger than ten double-decker buses.

It brought to an end a saga which has split Shetland much more grievously than the issue of independence. To me, its advocates on the island pointed not to what it would contribute to the UK as a whole but what it would do for their economy and the protection of services.

It was a trump card played by Viking Energy, the company which will run the farm, in the justifiable belief that it would suppress local opposition. It proved as effective as it was cynical. You can always buy off a substantial cohort of potentially vocal and influential activists by offering pitiful incentives.

The Supreme Court decision will not, however, easily repair the damage done to Shetland's febrile human ecology. Sustainable Shetland, the organisation which sought to thwart the introduction of the wind farm, raised tens of thousands of pounds to combat the imposition of this eyesore and several thousand people signed petitions and contributed to the legal fund, all to no avail.

That it will take hundreds of millions of taxpayers' pounds to connect the farm's output to the National Grid may yet be the protesters' best hope for a stay of execution. In the meantime, Shetland remains a society at odds with itself.