Category Archives: Finland

Scotland as a Nordic country

Scotland and the other Nordic countriesA year from now, the most important referendum in the history of Scotland will take place.

In foreign policy, England has always tended to ignore the Nordic countries and preferred to look south towards France, and the UK has of course always been dominated by England in this regard, but after independence Scotland can revert to being a Northern European country.

Obviously, Scotland isn't part of Scandinavia like Denmark, Norway and Sweden. However, can an independent Scotland be regarded as a Nordic country? If so, joining the Nordic Council would be possible.

The usual definition of the Nordic countries includes only Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and the Åland Islands. However, a brief glance at a map shows that Scotland would be a natural addition to the list.

Scandinavia is largely defined by language -- Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible after a few weeks' exposure. This isn't true for the other languages of the Nordics, however. Also, people from all the Nordic countries are increasingly using English amongst themselves, so not knowing a Scandinavian language might not be a real problem.

In fact, I have a suspicion that the Finns and the Icelanders might be quite happy to get an excuse to use English -- although Finnish-speaking Finns learn Swedish at school, almost none of them are able to understand spoken Danish.

Historically, the non-Scandinavian Nordic countries are, or have been, ruled by a Scandinavian one: the Faeroes and Greenland are still controlled by Denmark (although they have devolution), Iceland was Danish until 1944, and Finland and Åland were part of Sweden until 1809.

Orkney and Shetland were part of Denmark-Norway until 1468, when they were pawned to Scotland, and many Scottish islands were under Viking rule a few centuries before that, so there are definitely some historical connexions there that might be useful when submitting the membership application.

However, at the end of the day the Nordic Council is a club for small Northern European countries with a Social-Democratic mindset. If Scotland goes down the Common Weal path, I expect the Nordic Countries will be more than happy to let Scotland join.

What does it mean to be Scandinavian?

skandinavien!, a photo by phhin on Flickr.
Scandinavia is often mentioned by people campaigning for Scottish independence (more frequently than Ireland, which really is a bit odd).

However, most Scots don't actually know that much about Scandinavia, so let me try to describe what it means to be Scandinavian.

Let me first point out that Scandinavia is really just Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The wider group of countries that also includes Finland, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland (and sometimes also Greenland) is called the Nordic Countries.

The main bond uniting Scandinavia is the fact that the languages -- Danish, Norwegian (Bokmål & Nynorsk) and Swedish -- are mutually intelligible after a bit of exposure. Danish and Swedish are probably about as different as English and Scots (and to stretch the analogy a bit further, Norwegian is then like English spoken with a Scottish accent). There's obviously also quite a lot of shared history, but a lot of it involves wars between Denmark and Sweden.

All Danes, Norwegians and Swedes will agree that they are indeed Scandinavians, but it's not an identity that can be separated from the actual nationality. If you're Danish, you're by definition also Scandinavian, and you can't be Scandinavian without also being Danish, Norwegian or Swedish.

The Nordic Countries (not just Scandinavia) have operated a passport union (which allows all Nordic citizens to travel freely without a passport) since 1954. It's quite similar to the Common Travel Area uniting the UK and Ireland. The Nordic countries have not traditionally allowed dual citizenship, but instead it's somewhat easier to become a citizen in one of the countries if you were born in another Nordic country than if you were born elsewhere.

There used to be a currency union, but it broke up in 1914. This is the reason all the countries call their currencies the crown (krone/krona), although they aren't pegged to each other any more.

Otherwise, there aren't many tangible benefits to being Scandinavian. There have been several attempts at creating some kind of political union in the past, but these have typically failed because the individual countries don't actually agree on very much. Also, Denmark typically is keen to include Iceland in everything, and Sweden doesn't want to exclude Finland, which means that all Scandinavian projects end up involving all the Nordic countries.

However, something still unites Scandinavians. It's very clear if you go to an international meeting (such as an academic conference): The Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians will typically end up as one group in the evening because they share so many linguistic and cultural bonds. It's just something you don't think much about until you leave Scandinavia.

Overlooking the obvious

Viking by airship
Viking, a photo by airship on Flickr.

The Economist this week has a special report about the Nordic Countries.

I would have considered it natural to mention in that context how Scotland is currently extremely focused on Scandinavian solutions (have a look at Nordic Horizons, for instance), and how this is inspiring the pro-independence movement.

Alas, The Economist doesn't seem to have mentioned Scotland at all in their special report. For all practical purposes, they've already forgotten there will be a referendum in 2014, and therefore in their book the only question worth asking is what the UK can learn from Scandinavia, not whether their special report will inspire even more Scots to vote Yes to become an independent, Nordic-inspired country.

Scotland and the rUK in the EU

I've blogged before about the fact that Scotland on its own has a very normal-sized population within an northern European context.

It's quite illustrative to look at all the member states of the European Union (logarithmic scale):

Scotland (the small pink column) is slightly smaller than the average, being of almost exactly the same size as Denmark, Slovakia and Finland, and somewhat more populous than Ireland.

Interestingly, the graph also says something about England's reluctance to let Scotland leave: While Germany is by far the most populous country, the current UK and France are competing for second place; however, without Scotland, both France and Italy have significantly larger populations that the Rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) – I'm sure this relegation won't go down very well in certain quarters.