Category Archives: Sweden

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.

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.

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.

How to minimise the number of students from England after independence

At the moment, the main reason why English students are not all going to university in Scotland (where university tuition is free, compared to English universities that will typically charge £27,000 for a 3-year degree) is that Scottish universities charge them up to £27,000 for their degree. This is only possible because the EU rule about not discriminating against EU students only applies to students from other EU countries (such as Ireland, Denmark or Bulgaria) and not to students from other parts of the UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

As soon as Scotland regains her independence, rUK students become EU students and will have to be treated in the same way as students from Scotland.

However, some lessons can be learnt from Scandinavia. Denmark in theory has to treat Swedish students the same as Danish ones, but this is not the whole truth.

Denmark used to have a big problem with too many Swedes studying medicine in Copenhagen and then going home after graduation. In 2007, Denmark therefore did two things (link in Danish): (1) They changed the number of advanced highers ("højniveaufag") a student needs to pass to get a grade top-up, which benefitted Danes in comparison with Swedes. (2) They changed the way they translated Swedish grades into Danes ones (that is, they made it harder for them to get in).

Apart from this, Denmark pays generous grants (typically £7616 per year) to university students who are either Danish citizens, have lived in Denmark for five years prior to starting university, or who have parents that are EU citizens and have moved to Denmark for work reasons. Other students don't get a penny.

Scotland could copy some of these policies after independence. There are already plenty of differences between A Levels and Scottish Highers to provide opportunities for tweaking the entry requirements to make it harder for English students to get into Scottish universities (the brilliant ones would of course still get in, but that would be to Scotland's advantage anyway), and Scotland could introduce tuition fees for everybody, but cancel out the effect by creating grants for Scottish citizens and long-term residents.

In an ideal world such measures shouldn't be necessary, but until it dawns on the English that they're shooting themselves in the foot by pricing bright young people out of universities, I fear that Scotland will have to take a leaf out of Denmark's book.

Update (May 2013): Denmark's rule about only giving grants to long-term residents has been found unlawful by the EU Court of Justice. Now everybody who has moved to Denmark in order to work (even if only for the summer holidays before starting university) has the right to get Danish grants when studying in Denmark.

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland


Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog published an article by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I've made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?

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?