Category Archives: geography

500 miles and 500 more – the Danish connexion

Of course we all know the Proclaimers' song about walking 500 miles (if not, YouTube is your friend):

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

I've seen people drawing 500-mile radius maps around Leith to figure out where that'd take you.

However, given the lyrics clearly specifies the mode of transport is walking, I realised you can do so much better and use Google Maps option to establish exactly where that'd take you by clicking the appropriate icon.

Walking 500 miles from Leith will take you to Camping Perroquet, a camping site in France very close to the Belgian border:

500 miles

I presume that's a reasonable place to look for the woman you love. When you then realise she isn't there and decide to walk 500 miles more, you'll end up in Aabenraa in Denmark:

500 more

I'm not sure I've ever been to Aabenraa, but it almost makes me want to go there.

Travel-to-work council areas

Scottish Travel to Work areas.
Scottish mainland Travel to Work areas.
Many people have been pointing out that Scottish councils are very large compared to their counterparts in other countries. For instance, here's Lesley Riddoch's take on it:

The average population of our 32 councils today is roughly 170,000 people. The European average is closer to 14,000. The highly devolved Germans have municipal councils of just 7,000 people. And lest anyone think our dispersed rural populations constitute an argument for larger councils, neighbouring Norway has 428 powerful local councils and 19 county councils for a smaller population than Scotland.

It's of course hard to create perfect council areas in a country where half the population lives in a very small area while half the country is barely inhabited at all -- the councils simply can't have both a similar physical size and a similar population.

Something has to be done, however, but I haven't seen any good proposals for new administrative boundaries.

I therefore found it interesting to discover that the ONS have worked out the current commuting (travel-to-work) areas based on information in the 2011 census (see the map above). If I've counted them correctly, it divides Scotland into 44 areas.

The areas are similar in size, but as a result, some of them have huge populations -- for instance their Glasgow area includes not just Glasgow but also East Renfrewshire, East Dumbartonshire and other council areas. I therefore have my doubts it would be a good idea simply to turn these travel-to-work areas into new councils, but the map might provide a useful starting point.

Foreign policy priorities

As a rule of thumb, I reckon you can get a rough idea of a country's foreign policy priorities by drawing a circle around the capital, because this is where the parliamentarians, government ministers and the foreign office staff are based, so the capital is the centre of their universe.

On the following map, I've drawn a 500-mile radius around Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Berlin to illustrate this idea:

The foreign policy priorities of Edinburgh, London, Copenhagen and Berlin.

Copenhagen's circle includes significant parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. This perhaps explains why Denmark fought so hard for the independence of the Baltic countries and for their eventual membership of the EU when most other EU countries didn't think it was that important.

London's circle takes in most of the British Isles (but not Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides), France, the Low Countries and Germany, and bits of Denmark and Switzerland, which is probably a reasonable guide to how London-based media view Europe.

Berlin's circle takes in a lot on Central Europe, but the exact details need not concern us here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to do is to look at the difference between Edinburgh and London. Compared to the UK capital, the circle of Scotland's capital includes all of the Scottish islands, the Faeroes and significant parts of Norway, but excludes large parts of France and Germany. This means we can expect Scotland's foreign policies to focus much more on Scandinavia and the North Atlantic.

200-mile radiusWhen I posted the map above on Twitter, Statgeek posted a map showing a 200 mile radius for London and Edinburgh (reproduced on the right) as a reply, noting the connexion between this and the HS2 plans and lack of infrastructure in North, as well as the fact that Northern Ireland is included in the Edinburgh circle but not in the London one.

If my circle theory is right, we should not expect the rUK's foreign policy priorities to be significantly different from the UK's; on the other hand, Scotland's are likely to revert to the situation before the Union was created.

It will be fascinating to watch.

The UK as a cartogram

A cartogram of the UK.
A cartogram of the UK. From Views of the World.
When you look at a standard map of the UK, Scotland takes up a lot of space. The BBC's weather maps reduce Scotland and enlarge southern England, but Scotland still looks like a significant part of the UK.

I sometimes wonder whether the physical size of Scotland is making Scots blind to the fact that Scotland's influence in the UK is based on population, not of landmass: Scotland has only 59 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons.

To avoid this pitfall I often find it instructive to look instead at a cartogram, such as the one on the right. The size of the blue squares depend on the population living there, so London is a huge circle full of big squares. Sparsely inhabited areas are so small that they look like white lines instead. For instance, the white border around London means very few people are living in this "border area".

From a Scottish perspective, we can see that Scotland is separated from England by a lot of white lines. In other words the Borders are almost empty, and this creates a very real border between the two countries. (We see a similar situation in Wales, and to some extent in Cornwall.)

More importantly, Scotland is clearly much smaller than London on this cartogram. This explains why the UK is increasingly being run by and for London, while Scotland struggles to get its voice heard.

Three hundred years ago, when the Union was formed, a cartogram would have shown a much more balanced map. Unfortunately, people (and money) have gradually gravitated towards the capital.

We need to rebalance the map, and the best way to achieve that is to vote for independence next year.

Scotland’s foreign policy

Wales as part of Englanti
Originally uploaded by hugovk

Scotland hasn't had a foreign policy since the Act of Union in 1707, and to some extent not since the Unions of the Crowns in 1603. It is therefore interesting to have a look at what kind of international outlook an independent Scotland is likely to have.

First of all, every country is to a large extent focused on its neighbours. Whereas from London the neighbours listed by a combination of closeness and size are France, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the list of the neighbours as seen from Edinburgh goes something like England, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, France, Netherlands and Belgium. In other words, Scotland is likely to pay much more attention to especially Norway, Denmark and Iceland than the UK; on the other hand, Scotland will probably not be as preoccupied with France, although I'd expect the relationship to be very friendly, perhaps even to some extent reviving the Auld Alliance.

Secondly, Scotland is likely to have a very close relationship to Canada, the US and other countries with significant numbers of citizens of Scottish descent. According to Wikipedia, there are almost 10m Americans and almost 5m Canadians of Scottish descent, which is likely to make these countries close partners. Other countries with significant numbers include Australia (1.5m) and Argentina (100k).

Last but not least, the UK's foreign policy is to a very large degree defined by be effects of the British Empire. Scotland would be much less tainted by this (although of course Scots played a full part in the Empire). So whereas the UK has a difficult relationship with Argentina because of the Falklands and with Spain because of Gibraltar, there is no reason why an independent Scotland shouldn't enjoy cordial relations with both Argentina and Spain. Scotland would also be a normal member of the UN without a veto in the Security Council and without nuclear weapons, so there would be less of an incentive to formulate a policy vis-à-vis all the countries of the World.

To sum up, I expect Scotland's foreign policy to be focused on Scandinavia and North America, and to be friendlier and less global than the UK's.

Scotland and Scandinavia superimposed

On a normal map it's difficult to see how far north Scotland is compared to Scandinavia.

To illustrate it better, I generated two Google maps of the same latitudes, just 15 degrees apart, and then superimposed them in the Gimp.

You can see the result on the right (click on it for a larger version). It's clear that all the cities of Scotland are on the same latitude as Denmark and southern Sweden, whereas only the far north of Scotland is as far north as southern Norway.

Aberdeen is on a similar latitude as Aalborg or Varberg, Dundee is like Viborg, Glasgow is like Horsens, and the southernmost bit of Scotland is almost exactly as far south as Gedser in Denmark.