Scotland’s Good Neighbour
If Scots vote for independence, then Norway will be an important neighbour and ally says John Bryden, political economist and emeritus professor at the University of Aberdeen, and part time professor at NILF, Oslo. (Edited by Vibeke Buen)
Norwegians voted for a new government in the autumn, an alliance of conservatives and populists. Meanwhile, Scotland is preparing for a referendum on independence in September 2014, in part to distance itself from the neo-liberal policies of the Thatcher-Blair-Cameron governments since 1979.
Norway is Scotland’s closest continental neighbour and the two countries have similar population, geography, and natural resources, as well as much common history.
Maybe Norway should take more interest in the Scottish independence debates and ask themselves why the two countries appear to be moving in different political directions?
On 26th November, the Scottish Government published a White Paper on ‘Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland’ as part of the lead-in to the independence referendum. If the electorate votes in favour, then the target date for independence is March 2016, and the first elections for a new Scottish Government will be in May 2016. The White Paper makes many references to other successful small countries, especially Norway.
This is not least because it is necessary to refute the argument that small countries are not ‘viable’.
In addition, the White Paper explicitly it states that “This Government intends that Scotland will also seek a closer relationship with the Nordic Council of Ministers. Scotland has key shared interests with our geographical neighbours in the North Atlantic, such as Iceland and Norway, and a common interest in the Arctic and High North”.
Scotland has been in a Union of Crowns with England from 1603 and a Parliamentary Union since 1707. After years of dissatisfaction with the arrangements for Scottish governance, partial devolution was offered by the Labour government elected in 1997, and a Devolution Bill was passed in 1999.
Devolution gave some additional powers to the new Scottish parliament, which was elected by proportionate representation, but significant powers including those over foreign, economic, taxation and welfare policy, were retained by Westminster.
Indeed the devolved Scottish Parliament has responsibility for only 7% of taxes raised in Scotland – somewhat less than the average Norwegian municipality.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) gained an absolute majority in the Scottish parliament in the 2011 election, committed to a referendum on independence.
The White Paper pledges a written Constitution, something thus far denied to UK citizens. It also promises to include Local Government in the Constitution. It emphasises the importance of increasing the proportion of women in the labour force and in corporate boardrooms, and makes a major commitment on free kindergarten. These measures link with an important and much needed commitment to reducing the now serious inequalities in Scotland. This includes a promise to abolish the regressive ‘bedroom tax’ introduced by the UK Government, despite the fact that 90% of Scottish MPs voted against it.
The White Paper also argues that privatisation and new public management in public services has gone too far, promising to re-nationalise the Royal Mail and resist the privatisation of the health service.
Controversy over money and banking is avoided by stating that an Independent Scotland will stick with Sterling, and the Bank of England as a central bank. Scotland intends to follow the Norwegian example by remaining in NATO, but without nuclear weapons on its territory. It also intends to remain a member of the EU, UN and the OECD
Ironically, this comes at a time when the new coalition government in Norway is proposing to dismantle or at least weaken many of the policies that Scots, on the evidence of the White Paper, hope to emulate in future.
Scots are undoubtedly reacting against the past 35 years of neo-liberalism, deregulation and privatisation that has caused the UK to become one of the most unequal OECD countries, and this is certainly reflected in the White Paper.
What does all this mean for Norway and Norwegians? Why is the Scottish Government promoting many of the very policies that the Norwegian government wishes to dismantle or weaken?
There are no fewer than 30 separate mentions of Norway in the White Paper, 24 of Denmark, 25 of Sweden 22 of Finland and 5 of the Nordic countries in general. Many refer to a wide range of policy issues that Scottish First Minister Salmond considers worth looking at more closely for Scotland.
They include the central areas of the ‘Nordic Welfare State’: Inequality and Justice, distribution and management of oil wealth, the scheme of transplants in the Nordic health sector, the constitutional position of local government, NATO and non-nuclear weapon policy, gender representation on boards of public companies, employment of women, provision of kindergarten and childcare.
Perhaps Norwegians should ask themselves why Scots look to Norway, before it’s too late?
Norway is Scotland’s nearest continental neighbour. There have been historical links between the two countries since at least the 9th Century. Norway was an important trading partner, until Union with England allowed Scotland greater access to the British Empire for trade and migration. Many Scots migrated to Norway in the 17th and 18th Centuries, including the Christie family from Montrose, one of whom helped to draft the Norwegian Constitution of 1813, the Greig family of Edvard, the Dundas family of Petter Dass, to name but a few.
If the Scots vote for Independence next September, Norway is sure to become an important neighbour, ally and point of reference.
As the Nordic countries have discovered, small countries need to find kindred spirits who can present a common image and message to a world too often dominated by hegemonic ideas from the large and powerful nations. This is indeed the basis of Nordic cooperation, and it has been useful in global terms over a long historical period, even with periodic interruptions.
Scotland will need such alliances too, and history shows that they share many political sentiments and aspirations with us in the Nordic countries.