Category Archives: Scandinavia

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.

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!
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.

Irvine Welsh: “Better together? Yes, certainly, but better independent and free together.”

IRVINE WELSH: IN PERSON by EIFF
IRVINE WELSH: IN PERSON, a photo by EIFF on Flickr.

Bella Caledonia has today published an original article by Irvine Welsh (of Trainspotting fame).

It's a very thoughtful piece by a writer who has spent a long time in England, and I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.

Here are a few bits that struck a chord with me:

[The British] state has stopped England from pursuing its main mission, namely to build a inclusive, post-imperial, multi-racial society, by forcing it to engage with the totally irrelevant (from an English perspective) distractions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. From the viewpoint of the Scots, it has foisted thirty-five years of a destructive neo-liberalism upon us, and prevented us from becoming the European social democracy we are politically inclined to be.

[...]

The idea of the political independence of England and Scotland leading to conflict, hatred and distrust is the mindset of opportunistic status-quo fearmongers and gloomy nationalist fantasists stuck in a Bannockburn-Culloden timewarp, and deeply insulting to the people of both countries. Swedes, Norwegians and Danes remain on amicable terms; they trade, co-operate and visit each other socially any time they like. They don’t need a pompous, blustering state called Scandinavia, informing them from Stockholm how wonderful they all are, but (kind of) only really meaning Sweden.

[...]

The Union Jack is the increasingly shrinking fig leaf that strives to cover the growth of an English nationalism and consciousness, which is visible in almost every aspect of life in these islands over the last thirty years. And that, in a post-imperial world, is how it should be, and probably how it has to be. The problem that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish have to face, is that they have no place at this party, and neither should they: it just isn’t a great deal to do with them.

It's a very powerful article, and even more so because Irvine Welsh knows England so well. As he concludes: "Better together? Yes, certainly, but better independent and free together."

The two meanings of ‘British’

Nationalists and Unionists have been having a curious little spat for the last couple of days. I think it started with Ed Miliband claiming that Scots will no longer be British if their country votes to leave the United Kingdom. Nationalists were quick to reply that given that Scotland is geographically a part of Great Britain, Scots will always be British, no matter which state they're living in.

I do believe it's a bit of a silly fight to get into.

It's a matter of fact that the word British has at least two meanings in modern English:

  1. relating to, denoting, or characteristic of Great Britain [where Great Britain can then mean either just the island or include also the small adjacent islands such as Skye and the Isle of Wight] -- parallel to the modern use of Scandinavian
  2. relating to, denoting, or characteristic of the United Kingdom -- parallel to the occasional use of Scandinavian to refer to people from the short-lived Kingdom of Sweden and Norway

The second meaning is probably more frequent than the first for the simple reason that there isn't any other convenient adjective describing somebody from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and it's obviously this meaning that Ed Miliband was referring to. However, the first meaning seems more primary, and of course you can't tell people in Scotland that they suddenly aren't allowed to use this sense of the word.

I guess it's related to the question of what the rUK will be called after Scottish Independence:

  1. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? It's really not a good name when one half of Great Britain has just left.
  2. The United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland? Although Wales was part of England prior to the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, I doubt they'd accept this.
  3. The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland? I'd say this is the most likely result.

However, which adjective will people use to refer to somebody or something from The United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland? Although it will annoy the Northern Irish and the Scots in equal measure, I have a feeling many English people will continue to use British. I mean, what's the alternative? Engwalnish?