Category Archives: Iceland

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.

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.

International support for Scottish independence

The March and Rally for Independence in Edinburgh last Saturday was full of people from all over Europe supporting Scotland's quest for independence: There were fifty Flemings, a large group of Venetians, and smaller groups of people from Catalonia, the Basque Country and Padania (North Italy).

However, there were no Danes (apart from me and my daughters, I presume), no Estonians, no Croats.

In other words, the international supporters were all from other non-sovereign nations seeking their independence, not from countries that are already internationally recognised independent states, even if that independence was only achieved within the past twenty years.

I guess it's natural -- Scotland, Euskadi (the Basque Country), Catalonia and Flanders all face similar obstacles, and they can help each other overcome them.

However, it's a bit of a shame that the sovereign countries don't want to get involved.

In the case of the neighbouring countries, such as Ireland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark, the emergence of an independent Scotland would have a significant impact on their world, and they might well find Scotland easier to work with than the current UK, so it could be in their interest to support the Scottish independence movement.

In the case of the countries that gained their freedom within the last couple of decades, they must have gained a lot of experience in the process, experience which could benefit us in Scotland.

I suppose sovereign countries will get in trouble if they support other countries' independence movements openly. However, I don't believe there's anything that would prevent private citizens in other countries from forming groups to support Scottish independence.

Perhaps I should simply start up Danes for Scottish Independence on Facebook?

Britain and Scandinavia



The subject
Originally uploaded by Simon Collison

To what extent is Britain (or the British Isles) the same kind of construct as Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries)?

Both Britain and Scandinavia have a long and complex history, with periods of political unification and others with separate kingdoms and plenty of wars.

Scandinavia's united period was a long time ago (1397–1523), while Britain only started falling apart when Ireland became independent again less than a century ago. On the other hand, the British Isles are to some extent more heterogenous than Scandinavia – the former is a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norman French, while the latter consists of the descendants of the Vikings with some Finns, Lapps and Germans thrown in.

In both cases in can be hard to pinpoint exactly what Britishness/Scandinavianness means. For instance, John Major's description of Britishness – “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, 'Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist'” – is so clearly a description of England that does not apply to Scotland and Ireland. In the same way, it's very hard to define Scandinavian culture in one sentence. And yet, Scandinavians do recognise the similarities intuitively, and Scandinavians abroad tend to hang out together, for instance at international conferences.

So there are definite similarities. And just as Scandinavia does exist in spite of having been separate countries for half a millennium, Britain will always exist whether Scotland becomes independent in 2014 or not. Actually, Scottish independence might actually lead to a reevaluation of the concept, so that it ceases to be about a political construct and starts being about what actually binds people on these islands together, whether they live in Ireland, Wales, Man, Scotland or England.

Nordic Horizons



noctilucent clouds
Originally uploaded by kanelstrand

The newspapers have recently been full of stories about how an independent Scotland will try to move closer to Scandinavia.

I think it started with this article in The Independent, which was their mostly commented article for days.

Then a journalist called Lesley Riddoch wrote this article in The Guardian, saying many of the same things but also drawing attention to her think tank and Facebook group, Nordic Horizons.

A few days later, the story appeared in Danish and Norwegian newspapers.

As a consequence of this, the Facebook group I mentioned above has grown considerably, so now a meeting has been arranged for the 19th of January in the Counting House. Will I see you there?

Banks in an independent Scotland



Wallace Monument
Originally uploaded by john1710

Lots of unionists seem to see in the problems of Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) the ultimate proof that Scotland is too small to be independent.

Not all unionists are convinced, however.

Apart from Fraser's points, it's worth remembering that independence would have consequences in many unexpected ways, and the size of banks is likely to be one of them.

If Scotland had been independent for the past hundred years, it's unlikely that BoS and RBS would have grown so big. Other small countries don't tend to have any banks that large. (Apart from Iceland, that is.)

It might also be that independent Scottish competition authorities would feel obliged to split up the banks as they're too dominant here.

But even if Scotland was home to the headquarters of massive financial institutions, they probably would have separate structures in Scotland and England, and Scotland would only have to save the Scottish bit.