Mathew Nicolson

Thesis title: Island polities: local government, constitutional change and political identities in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, c. 1965-1990


After growing up in the Shetland Islands, Mathew moved to Edinburgh to complete his undergraduate degree.  He remained for his MScR and PhD degrees, funded by a HCA Gray Scholarship and a Carnegie PhD Scholarship respectively.  His thesis examines the politics of culture, identity and constitutional change in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles from 1966 to 1990.


2018: MScR Scottish History, University of Edinburgh. Dissertation title: 'Building an anti-apartheid coalition in Scotland, 1979 - 1994'.

2017: MA (Hons) History, University of Edinburgh. Dissertation title: 'Account for the success of the Liberal Party in Shetland between 1950 and 1979 in the context of a national decline in Scotland.'

Responsibilities & affiliations

Scottish History Network: coordinator

Europe Elects: deputy team leader and correspondent for the UK and Faroe Islands

Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History: affiliated student and steering group member

Undergraduate teaching

Tutor, HCA Writing Centre (2022-4)

Tutor, Introduction to Historiography (2021)

Tutor, The Historian's Toolkit (2020)

Tutor, Making of the Modern World (2020)

Tutor, The History of Edinburgh: From Din Eidyn to Festival City (2019)

Knowledge exchange

Mathew Nicolson, 'The history behind Orkney’s vote to "join Norway",' The Conversation (7 July 2023).

Mathew Nicolson, 'Party politics in the council chamber? Surely not!' Shetland News (22 April 2022).

Mathew Nicolson, 'Autonomy debate returns to Shetland,' Shetland News (8 September 2020).

Mathew Nicolson, 'What the Anti-Apartheid Movement can teach us about historical statues,' The National (11 July 2020).

Affiliated research centres


‘Scottish Island Futures 2050 and Beyond: Networking for the Future - Islands doing it for themselves,’ Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands, May 2023.

‘Scottish Island Futures 2050 and Beyond: The Future of Core Periphery Relationships Workshop,’ Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands, January 2023.

Papers delivered

‘Towards the Island Councils: Opposition to Regionalisation in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, 1966-1975,’ Eric Richards Memorial Conference, Inverness, June 2022.

‘”These Groups of Islands are Different”: Identity and Constitutional Change in Orkney and Shetland, 1966-90,’ Congress of the French Society for Scottish Studies, Amiens, October 2021.

‘”The Island Problem”: Scottish Local Government Reform and the Creation of the Island Councils, 1966-76,’ Scottish History Seminar Series, University of Edinburgh, March 2021.

‘Building an Anti-Apartheid Coalition in Scotland, 1979-1994,’ Edinburgh Centre for Global History Work in Progress Series, University of Edinburgh, August 2020.

'The Church of Scotland and the Anti-Apartheid Movement' - Scottish Christianity and the World, Scottish Church History Society, Edinburgh, October 2019

Anne Hepburn: The Role of Missionaries in Fostering an Anti-Apartheid Campaign in the Church of Scotland,’ Political History Research Group Seminar Series, University of Edinburgh.

‘”A Last Stand Against that Tartan Monstrosity”: Echoes of the 1970s in Contemporary Shetland,’ Historical Perspectives Seminar Series, University of Glasgow, November 2017.


Peer-reviewed articles:

'"These Groups of Islands are Different": Identity and Constitutional Change in Orkney and Shetland, 1966-1990,' Revue LISA 21.56 (2023).


'Book review: Scotland and Islandness: explorations in community, economy and culture,' Regional Studies 58 (2024).

Associate Fellow (AFHEA) - Advance HE