Scotland’s Good Neighbour

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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.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Will Mcewan says:

    When Scotland chooses independence it will be faced with a choice of maintaining a close union with rUK and Ireland or moving to closer ties with our Nordic neighbours – or both?

    1. kilehagen1 says:

      Will, I have thought about this a bit. I don’t see any problem of moving closer to the Nordics while also maintaining close ties with rUK and Ireland. After all, the Nordics also have various other alliances, such as with Russia and the Baltics, etc. as well as the EU. But in terms of an independent Scotland’s ‘face to the world’ which tries to present a coherent set of ideas vis a vis our international responsibilities, I think the Nordics are more the place for us. For example, on issues such as peace, aid, nuclear weaponry, and a partial alternative to neo-liberal finance capitalism.

  2. gerry parker says:

    I’ve been saying for some time now that the Scottish Government should be actively “courting” the Nordic countries – look at the map. What a unique position Scotland holds. It’s perfectly clear that the UK government isn’t enthusiastic about a number of things like the currency and borders, and the EU seems also to be lukewarm on Scotland’s position – though no-one will give a definitive answer, or even ask a definitive question. So let the Scottish Government actively engage with the Nordic states, invite representatives from them over to attend conferences on the implications for small independent states and see how quick the Unionists get the message – if you aren’t prepared to work with iScotland, or indeed are actively against us, then there are others who will be willing to.

  3. A very interesting read opens up ideas to maybe a better and closer “alliance” with Northern Europe.Nothing is gained by the status quo.

    1. kilehagen1 says:

      Thanks Charles, much appreciated. I see some of the other comments are not so much in favour, but I was not suggesting anything exclusive. Ireland is an obvious ally. My plea is really for an alliance of small countries that can present an ‘alternative’ face- and alternative ideas – to the world, and I think the Nordics are an obvious place, especially because many Scots seem to share what might be called ‘political sentiments’ with Norwegians in particular, but Nordics in general. France is not a small country, and that makes a difference in itself. It is I think a good idea for ‘small’ countries to ally with other small and like minded countries if they want to have an impact on global affairs, something that I imagine Scotland will wish to do.

  4. bringiton says:

    If we vote No,it would be nice to decide who we would be Better Together with.

  5. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    The French dominated our external relations far more than the Norwegians. We were almost united with them into a proto-United Kingdom. We also have strong historical and cultural links with Ireland; a Celtic Commonwealth perhaps? All this “Nordic” stuff smacks of trying to find an EU substitute. Compared to the Nordic countries aren’t we are just a wee bit “third-world”?

    1. bringiton says:

      Norway used to own most of Northern Scotland.
      Many of the place names and probably quite a lot of DNA in the north are of Norwegian origin so we have a lot more in common than many realise.

      1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

        There is a fair amount of “Northmen” DNA all over Europe, Ireland, Northern France, Sicily, Byzantium, Russia for example. Orkney and Shetland, post Union of Kalmar, were politically Danish at the time of their acquisition by Scotland.

  6. Garry Henderson says:

    Whilst discussing the referendum with work colleagues my Norwegian colleague commented to my English colleague living in Scotland that he must vote yes as Scotland has subsidised England for too long!

    1. kilehagen1 says:

      Thanks Garry. To my mind the key arguments are not about who is or has been subsidising whom, but about whether we want to choose a different path for future development from our dominant partner, and whether we want to take the chance to do that. I accept that Thatcherism would not have been possible without Scotland’s oil, but the key argument is that we Scots did not vote for the Path of Thatcherism, and that it did Scotland much harm.
      It is a question of democracy – I think Scots want to make different political choices in the long run, and learn how to live with them.
      Norway got its independence from Denmark in 1814 peacefully, as a result of the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, on which Denmark-Norway was on the ‘wrong’ side. It remained in a Union of Crowns with Sweden for another 100 years BUT it gained control over domestic policies in 1814, including monetary and fiscal policy, and it created its own constitution, with help from a young Norwegian lawyer of Scottish origin – Christie – among others. My point is that this allowed Norway to make different political choices. It did not lead to an instant bonanza. But it did help to create an admirable system of national and local politics and government which was very democratic for its day, and became more so.
      I dont think it was too relevant at the time whether Norway was subsidising Denmark or vice versa before 1814.

  7. Einar Berg says:

    As a swede i find it quite interesting to follow the discussions leading up to the referendum from a distance. I have no real opinion on which way Scotland should go. But there are two things in particular that i think puzzles Scandinavians a little bit when we read about all this. First, the to us, sudden tsunami of nationalist and hard language against the union. Yes i know that it’s been a long process through the years and I’ve heard all the arguments, but still. Second, and with some amusement, reading about what britts in general and scots in particular think that the Scandinavian welfare state and mindset really are. Sweden has no oil what so ever, but we’re doing alright. I think the scots are standing like a bunch of dwarfs, being totally blinded by the glittering light from the giant heaps of gold, hidden in the deep cathedral caves in the norwegean mountains. Yes I’ve seen “The hobbit”. Apparently some time in history short chavy Scottish miners migrated to Middle earth 🙂 But that’s another story. Having said that, i don’t want to take anything away from the norwegeans and how brilliantly they have managed their money. They deserve all possible credit.
    You talk about independence, peoples choice, freedom. One point frequently overlooked in success of our countries, i think, is the trust in Scandinavia between people and state. This descending from historical reasons far too complex to go through in this post. In your case it means doing exactly what London tells you to do, when they tell you to do it. By this I’m not talking about the American-nationalist-christian-fundamentalist-follow-a-crazy-president-bull. I’m talking about everyday big decisions. When the government tells you to start driving on the right hand side of the road, you do it. When they tell you to pay 40% tax to finance health care, you do it. When they tell to start washing, cleaning, cooking because your wife’s career is as inportent as yours, you do it. When they tell you that companies don’t have to pay much tax because it’s good for Sweden, you accept it. When they, i think in 1977 said that all children from the royal family down to the children of the janitor in the Stockholm subway shall have free dental health care from the age of 0 to 19, you pay up. Teeth should not be about class. British teeth are about as famous as british quazeine. I’m not taking the piss, i’m just saying that i think this matters more to Scandinavian success than 40 years of oil or our independence from eachother. I’m not convinced this is part of the Scottish way of thinking. I’m not so sure it’s about Scotland in or out of the union. More about if you are prepared to do what it takes to be what you think a Scandinavian country is. If you want to be a good rugby player, you have to be a team player. And you sure as hell have to take the pain in the tackles when the game comes your way. Even if you don’t think that that’s how your team should have been playing from the last scrum onwards.

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Hej Einar, I follow the idea of mutual trust which you claim underpins the psyche of the “Nordic” states. We in Scotland definitely do not have that. We are self-lacerating cynics and sceptics which explains, in part, why the independence campaign struggles to get the message across. We dont trust the Unionists either but they are in control, so better the devil you know etc. I suspect also the majority dont care about politics per se. The notion that it is about the exercise of popular democratic power does not engage with the majority. Historically, Scotland has never been a democracy. We have been ruled by cliques and élites manipulating opinion to secure victory through the ballot box. Our union with England was a giant scam and by today’s standards illegal. So what looks like democracy is actually “a king’s new clothes” style delusion. Totally our fault, of course, but being cynics we expect nothing better from our rulers. Which sticks us in a rut, a repetitive cycle. Independence offers a break with this historical and hysterical cycle of lack of faith in ourselves. Ultimately this is an existential matter requiring a revolutionary change in our national psyche. Watch this space for that process has already begun.

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