Category Archives: Norway

Aiming for a Norwegian solution for Scotland would be disastrous

Røros - Sleggvegen
Røros - Sleggvegen.
Some people within the SNP are apparently thinking about aiming for EFTA membership instead of being a full member of the EU, according to The Times:

Senior [SNP] party figures want to adopt a Norway-style model under which an independent Scotland would stay inside the single market, but outside the EU, after Brexit, according to sources. They believe that this would allow Scotland to retain the benefits of the European single market while continuing to trade within the UK as it does now.

A poll published yesterday found that more than a third of people who voted for an independent Scotland in the 2014 referendum want to stay outside the EU. SNP strategists believe that this new approach would keep these voters behind their independence cause.

I think this would be a pretty bad idea for three reasons: (1) It would send the wrong message to the World; (2) it would prevent us from building a majority for Scottish independence; and (3) it would be an economic disaster.

Fortunately it seems the official position of the SNP hasn’t changed:


However, just in case anybody still thinks it sounds cool, here are the reasons why I’m firmly against it:

1. It would send the wrong message to the World

The nations of the World are currently having to choose between being part of the free world, headed by the EU and Canada, or being part of Trump’s and Putin’s alt-right-fascist dystopia that Theresa May wants to be a lapdog in. This is not the right time to be sitting on the fence.

Also, Scotland’s clear rejection of Brexit and Nicola Sturgeon’s clear message in favour of the EU have impressed and inspired governments in other EU countries, and there is a strong desire to help Scotland at the moment. Suddenly going lukewarm would send entirely the wrong signals.

2. It would prevent us from building a majority for Scottish independence

As I’ve argued before, the SNP traditionally had many members that were anti-EU (for instance in the fishing communities), and although they now form a small minority in the party, some of them are still prominent within the party (because they’ve been there for so long). They clearly don’t want to remain within the EU and I’m imagining they’re behind this story.

However, from an electoral point of view, there simply aren’t that many Yes-Leave voters left in the Yes camp (many of them have already drifted away and will now vote No), and promising an EFTA deal is unlikely to win them back.

There are many, many more No-Remain voters that could be convinced by a Scotland-in-the-EU campaign, and suddenly turning our back to the EU would make it much harder to win them round.

A Scotland-in-EFTA campaign would therefore be likely to limit our appeal to those who voted Yes last time, and we would lose again.

3. It would be an economic disaster

In many ways Scotland could live well with Norway’s current set-up, but the crucial problem is that we can’t get there without going through hell first.

The reason has to do with WTO membership, tariffs and all that.

As anybody who has read Ian Dunt’s excellent wee book about Brexit will know, becoming a full WTO member is a very hard process that can take years. You basically need to draw up a lot of schedules (lists of tariffs) and get unanimous agreement from all current WTO members. Also, you need to enter into a lot of bilateral trade agreements.

Ian Dunt argues convincingly that this will be almost impossible for the UK to do quickly, so it must be even worse for Scotland. To take but one example, do we really expect that Trump’s America will offer Scotland a trade deal that is in our interest?

If Scotland is a full member of the EU, we remain part of the EU’s customs union, which means that everything will work just like before.

In theory, we could form a customs union with the rUK after independence, but we would then depend on the deals they make (with Trump and assorted dictators from all over the World) – and although these might be better than the deals we can make ourselves, they’re likely to be worse than the very good agreements that the EU has negotiated over the years. Also, forming such a customs union would mean that we might not be able to tick the boxes for EEA membership.

This is because EEA countries have zero tariffs internally, but there are no guarantees that Westminster will achieve such a deal. The only way ensure that we fulfil the EEA rules is by having our own deal, but as I argued above, that would most likely be disastrous.

Here are some more details about it from a factsheet about the EEA produced by EFTA (PDF):

The EEA Agreement provides for a free trade area covering all the EEA States. However, the EEA Agreement does not extend the EU Customs Union to the EEA EFTA States. The aim of both the free trade area and the EU Customs Union is to abolish tariffs on trade between the parties. However, whereas in the EU Customs Union, the EU Member States have abolished customs borders and procedures between each other, these are still in place in trade between the EEA EFTA States and the EU, as well as in trade between the three EEA EFTA States. Furthermore, the common customs tariff on imports to the EU from third countries is not harmonised with the customs tariffs of the EEA EFTA States.

The EEA Agreement prohibits tariffs on trade between the Contracting Parties. Therefore, all products, except certain fish and agricultural products, may be traded free of tariffs within the EEA. In order for a product to obtain preferential treatment under the EEA Agreement, it has to originate in the EEA. The EEA Agreement therefore contains rules of origin that determine to what extent a product must be produced or processed within the EEA in order to obtain status as a product of EEA preferential origin.

It’s clearly a better option to remain within the EU’s customs union. (Norway has had a hundred years to enter various trade deals, so we cannot simply expect to get the same deal as a new country.) It wouldn’t even be good stepping stone to full EU membership – it would be insane to spend a decade negotiating trade deals just to bin them immediately afterwards.

Also, I simply don’t believe that staying outside the EU’s fisheries policies is really that important to most Scots. The problem at the moment is that Westminster haven’t represented Scotland’s fishermen well in Brussels (they’ve prioritised the interests of the financial industry instead), and once we get a seat at the table there, we can negotiate better terms and conditions.

Conclusion

Going for continued full EU membership after independence is clearly a much better solution that aiming for EFTA membership for a lot of reasons. Of course we must hope that the EU negotiates a great trade deal with the rUK, but it’s much better to emphasise that from the inside (together with Ireland) than to try to create a bespoke solution that will please no-one and ruin Scotland along the way.

Nobody wanted the Norwegian solution in Norway

Four flags
Four flags.
The Leave and the Remain campaigns are united in dismissing the Norwegian solution. The Brexiters want to control immigration, which is incompatible with it, and the pro-EU side rightly argues that it's a very much inferior solution compared with full membership, because it would require the UK to follow all the rules and pay a lot of money without having any influence.

However, nobody wanted the Norwegian solution in Norway, either, and yet that's what they ended up with. That's because that's what you get when a majority of the population says No the EU while a majority of MPs say Yes. Without a referendum, Norway would simply have joined the EEC together with the UK, Ireland and Denmark back in 1973, and if not then, then together with Sweden and Finland in 1995. Forced to remain outside the EEC, the politicians opted for the second-best solution instead.

Something similar might happen after a Brexit vote: Pro-EU MPs have a huge majority at Westminster (everybody from the SNP and the Liberal Democrats, almost all Labour MPs, and at least a quarter of the Tories). This means that any attempt to cut the ties to the EU completely will be voted down, and the most likely outcome is some sort of Norwegian (or perhaps Swiss) solution. The Leavers might complain that people didn't vote for that, but the Remainers will simply say that the voters were promised the UK would retain full access to the Internal Market, and this is the only way to achieve it.

If the Brexit referendum had taken place a decade ago, I'm almost certain the UK would have been offered a Norwegian solution, perhaps even with some nice little opt-outs.
However, in the current climate I fear many of the other EU countries will want to be tough on the UK. This is not primarily due to anger or a need for revenge, but because they're afraid of the own Eurosceptics. In particular, the French establishment will want to frighten their voters away from voting for the Front National in next year's presidential elections -- and indeed this party is very keen to follow the UK out of the EU.

It's still possible the UK will be offered a Norwegian solution, but it will probably be on a basis of take-it-or-leave-it, without any opt-outs. It's even possible the UK will be forced to join parts of the EU that the British government has so far managed to stay out of, such as Schengen.

The Leavers won't be very happy if this is the eventual outcome, but I reckon a majority of MPs would sign up to it if they realise it's the only way to retain full access to the Internal Market. It's almost certain none of the wild dreams of the Leave campaigners will be realised because they don't have a parliamentary majority.

So if we're lucky, a Leave vote will lead to very few changes (but a great loss of influence), and if we're unlucky, it'll lead to the UK being excluded from the Internal Market. It's really a lose/lose situation, so please vote Remain!

The Law of Jante and the Lad o Pairts

'Murder Victim' in the Basement
'Murder Victim' in the Basement.
A term that is often used to describe Nordic culture is the so-called Law of Jante:

Generally used colloquially in Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries as a sociological term to negatively describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that de-emphasises individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.
The ten rules state:

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Although there are differences, I tend to think Scottish culture can be similar to this -- people tend not to brag about their own achievements (perhaps even to the point of self-deprecation), and they tend to strive to fit in. The Scottish cringe is at least partly a consequence of this, because it is often the result of people standing out by being too Scottish compared to the consensus level. Perhaps the hatred many people feel towards Alex Salmond can also best be explained as a consequence of the Scottish Law of Jante.

However, in the Scottish version there has historically been an outlet for people who wanted to pursue their dreams, namely becoming a lad o pairts (I've seen it defined as "the young boy from humble origins who demonstrates academic talent and is able to achieve success, often in London or in the colonies, owing to the historically superior Scottish educational system").

Of course some Scandinavians have also "escaped" to other countries -- for instance, the Norwegian playwright Ibsen was absent from Norway for 27 years, and the Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt has spent most of his adult life in Greece and Turkey.

However, one of the consequences of the British Union is that it has always been extremely easy for anybody talented to have a career to London -- in many cases probably easier that achieving the same in Scotland.

Of course, in today's globalised world talented people from everywhere flock to London, New York and other global hotspots, and indeed talented Scandinavians seem to emigrate much more than they used to.

The Scottish lads o pairts therefore don't depend on the UK any more, and it would probably be much better for the Scottish economy if it was easier to have a successful career without having to leave Scotland.

Update (15/01): See also Gerry Hassan's article about the Scottish Tut.

A fax democracy?

Abandoned Fax Machine
Abandoned Fax Machine by Abhisek Sarda, on Flickr.
There was a rather odd article by professor Vernon Bogdanor, David Cameron's former politics tutor at Oxford University, in The Guardian recently.

In the first half, he seems to argue that Scotland will have a lot of influence -- although he makes it sound like it would be a bad thing because we might not always want to copy Westminster:

[T]he EU, despite its rhetoric, has not succeeded in establishing a common foreign or security policy. Indeed, in most of the foreign policy crises of the last 25 years – the first Gulf war, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Iraq war – the EU has been divided.

An independent Scotland, therefore, could decide its own foreign and defence policy. The SNP proposes that Scotland should become a non-nuclear state. An independent Scotland could, if it so wished, leave Nato. And we only have to look across the Irish Sea to appreciate that Ireland has considerable scope for independent policies. Whereas in 1914 Ireland, as part of the UK, was a combatant in the first world war, an independent Ireland in 1939 chose neutrality in the second. It makes a great deal of difference, therefore, which country one belongs to.

However, he then seems to change his mind and starts arguing that Scotland will become a fax democracy in thrall to Westminster:

Scotland would no longer send MPs to Westminster. Scotland would be represented in London not by MPs and by a member of the cabinet, the Scotland secretary, but by a high commissioner. So Scotland would have no political leverage over decisions made at Westminster.

[...]

An independent Scotland would have no right to a shared currency or shared social union. Its only right would be to propose them. It would then be up to the rest of the UK, a country in which Scotland would no longer be represented and would have no electoral or political leverage, to decide. The terms of independence could not depend on Scotland alone.

A yes vote would be a vote to disclaim the union. It would not then be possible for Scotland unilaterally to choose which aspects of that union it was able to retain. The nation would have to negotiate for what it now enjoys as a right.

The position of an independent Scotland negotiating with the rest of the UK would resemble that of Norway negotiating with the rest of the EU. Norway is in the position of a lobbyist – sometimes called a "fax democracy", because the proposals of the council of ministers are faxed to Norway for its comments. But whatever these comments are, it is rare for the council to alter its proposals.

An independent Scotland would be a mere lobbyist in Westminster – and would also be in danger of becoming a fax democracy.

This is really odd. Professor Bogdanor seems to confuse the independence negotiations with life as an independent country, and it's strange how he can even begin to see Scotland's relationship with the rUK as similar to Norway's non-membership of the EU.

Of course the independence negotiations will be conducted between Scotland and the rUK, not between Scotland and the UK (in other words, Scotland wouldn't be represented on both sides of the table). However, we're talking about a negotiation here ("a discussion set up or intended to produce a settlement or agreement" according to the CED), so obviously it won't be a case of the rUK deciding the terms and conditions for independence unilaterally after receiving a fax from Scotland.

Once Scotland has become an independent country, it's true Scotland will be represented by a high commissioner in London (Commonwealth countries tend to call their emissaries high commissioners rather than ambassadors). However, Westminster laws won't apply north of the border any more, so Scotland won't have any reason to fax comments down to Westminster. Of course some laws will have implications for Scotland, but that won't be unique to rUK laws -- no country exists in complete isolation -- some Norwegian or Irish laws will also be of interest to Holyrood. This is one of the reasons why countries have embassies abroad.

The reason Norway is occasionally called a fax democracy is because Norway is part of the EU's Single Market, but without being part of the EU. This means that when the EU makes decisions in this area (through the normal EU institutions -- the Commission, the Council and the Parliament), Norway is not represented at all. All Norway can do is to send a fax begging the EU to take its views into account, but if the EU ignores the requests, Norway will still have to implement the decision. This would be almost like withdrawing the Scottish MPs from Westminster while remaining part of the UK.

It seems to me that professor Bogdanor hasn't really understood that Scotland will be a completely normal independent country after independence. We won't depend on Westminster any more. There won't be any need to send them any faxes.

The government Scotland voted for

The governments of the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The governments of the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. 'L' means Labour or equivalent, 'T' means Tory or equivalent, and 'U' means undecided (Scotland sent the same number of Labour and Tory MPs to Westminster for a few years).
One of the more popular indyref illustrations circulating on Twitter points out that Scotland has voted Tory for 6 years out of 68 but has had Tory governments for 38 of those years.

When you look at how Scotland voted and the resulting UK government, Scotland got what it voted for 54% of the time since 1945. However, this actually makes it sound like Scotland has a decent amount of influence. An analysis by Wings over Scotland showed that "for 65 of the last 67 years, Scottish MPs as an entity have had no practical influence over the composition of the UK government," and the conclusion was stark:

The truth is that the only people who can vote the Tories out are the English. It doesn’t matter what Scotland does: we get the government England votes for every time, it’s just that sometimes – less than half of the time – our vote happens to coincide with theirs and we feel as if we played a part when actually we didn’t.

This made me wonder how Scotland's voting patterns compare with the three Scandinavian countries -- Norway, Sweden and Denmark -- so I created an illustration of the largest party at general elections in Scotland as well as the political alignment of the governments in London, Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Denmark is an even worse match than Westminster (Scotland and Denmark overlapped for 53% of the time compared with 54% for Westminster), but Norway is a much better match at 63% and Sweden topped this comparison with an overlap of 69%.

That's right -- for 69% of the years since 1945, the Swedish government in Stockholm has been in alignment with the wishes of the Scottish electorate, in spite of the fact that Scotland sends no representatives there.

This is not an attempt to argue that Scotland should form a political union with Sweden instead of England (although the government of the United Kingdom of Sweden and Scotland would probably act in accordance with the wishes of the Scottish electorate much more often than Westminster does). However, it's important to realise that Scotland influences the composition of the Westminster government so rarely that the government overlap with independent but like-minded countries like Norway or Sweden is actually much greater.

Being in a political union with a country that is ten times larger and has very different voting habits doesn't lead to a sense of enfranchisement in the population. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Independence.

The Scots language in an independent Scotland

Attenshun, mind yer step
Attenshun, mind yer step, a photo by x_goMad on Flickr.
I've met many people on either side of the independence debate who seem to regard Gaelic as one of the biggest casualties of the Union.

However, I think it's likely that Gaelic would have declined at a similar pace even if Scotland has remained an independent country forever -- a large reason for the lingering death of Scotland's Celtic language is the depopulation of the countryside, and most Western countries have seen this development, at least to some extent.

On the other hand, I don't think there's any doubt the Scots language wouldn't have been suppressed and dismissed as a mere dialect of English if the Kingdom of Great Britain had never been created. Scots, not Gaelic, would have been the majority language of Scotland today if Edinburgh had remained the capital of an independent country.

After a Yes vote we'll be in a situation similar to the one Norway found itself in after the ties to Denmark were cut as a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars: Lots of people still speak the original national tongue, but they write in the dominant language of the union. In the case of Norway, the written language was Danish, and the remnants of Norwegian were seen as uncultured dialects.

However, in a surprisingly short amount of time, Norway got rid of Danish and created not just one, but two varieties of Norwegian: Bokmål, which is a Norwegianised form of Danish, and Nynorsk, which is based more strongly on Old Norwegian and on the dialects. The two varieties have converged a lot, so even standard Bokmål these days can be pretty different from Danish.

I wonder whether the same could happen in an independent Scotland. Will Scots gradually gain higher status? Will it become more acceptable to write in Scots, or at least to use Scots words when writing in English?

It's impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if a hundred years from now, 2014 will be seen as the year when the decline of Scots was reversed.

The Three Hundred Year Night

Holberg
Holberg, a photo by JsonLind on Flickr.
If you read Norwegian texts from the period when Norway was ruled from Copenhagen (1397--1814), you don't get the impression that Norwegians were terribly unhappy about their plight. In fact, they didn't take any steps towards independence until Denmark had to hand Norway over to Sweden after the Napoleonic wars. It's quite possible Norway would have remained part of Denmark if Denmark-Norway hadn't been on the losing side in those wars.

However, after Norway became independent again in 1905, it became popular to refer to the years of Danish rule as firehundreårsnatten "the four hundred year night". With hindsight, they suddenly realised that Norway could have done so much better if it had been run by Norwegians for Norwegians in Norway all along, and they were kicking themselves for having put up with Danish rule for so long, even though at the time it seemed like a reasonable set-up.

Will Scots in the same way talk about the period from 1707 to 2016 as the "three hundred year night" in a generation's time? Will people be shaking their heads in disbelief at what their forebears thought was an acceptable state of affairs?

PS: The photo shows a statue of Ludvig Holberg, who lived from 1684 to 1754 and is often considered the father of Danish literature. He wrote in Danish because Norwegian had ceased to exist as a written language, in the same was as Scots is now often seen as an English dialect. Although he was born in Norway, he studied in Denmark, worked in Denmark and lived in Denmark because Denmark didn't see any need to build a university in Norway. It's quite lucky the Scottish universities were founded before 1707.