All posts by thomas

All Danes are nationalists in the Scottish sense of the word

Dannebrog 120/365
Originally uploaded by Blue Square Thing

When I lived in Denmark, I was a Social-Liberal Party activist. This party is very internationalist in its outlook, and I’m sure many members would define themselves as anti-nationalists.

These days I’m a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), and I’m sure some of my Danish friends might feel slightly surprised by my personal political journey.

However, I don’t think I’ve changed very much politically in the past decade — I’ve moved slightly towards the left, but I definitely haven’t given up on my internationalist outlook. However, in Danish terms the SNP isn’t a nationalistic party at all.

The SNP’s strand of nationalism is what is called civic nationalism, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Liberal nationalism, also known as civic nationalism or civil nationalism, is a kind of nationalism identified by political philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism compatible with liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights.[…] Liberal nationalists often defend the value of national identity by saying that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous lives and that democratic polities need national identity in order to function properly. Liberal nationalism is the form of nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry (see popular sovereignty), from the degree to which it represents the “general will”. It is often seen as originating with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially the social contract theories which take their name from his 1762 book The Social Contract. Liberal nationalism lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism, but as a form of nationalism it is contrasted with ethnic nationalism.

A good example of this was Ruth Wishart’s speech to the independence march and rally in Edinburgh last year:

A Scot is someone born here, and anyone who has paid us the compliment of settling here.

This sentiment is completely alien to the xenophobic far-right nationalistic parties that are unfortunately common in Denmark and many other European countries.

Arguably almost all Danes and all Danish political parties are nationalistic in the Scottish sense of the word, in the sense that they all consider Denmark to be the best basis for Danish democracy.

In the SNP, we certainly do not wish to exclude anybody from Scotland. We just want Scotland to become a small boring Northern European democracy, enshrined in the EU, like Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, instead of being a very small part of the United Kingdom, which in many ways is very different from Scotland.

It is probably unfortunate that the SNP chose to use the word national in its name because of the connotations this word often has. This was why Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP group in Westminster, felt compelled to say the following in an interview with an Austrian newspaper:

Wir Schotten sind offene, freundliche Menschen, wir sind Weltbürger — von daher ärgert mich die deutsche Übersetzung meiner Partei: Wir sind keine Nationalisten. [We Scots are open, friendly people, we are citizens of the world — because of this the German translation of my party annoys me: We are not nationalists.]

(This article is a modified translation of this one that I wrote in Danish a few months ago.)

Did the creation of the BBC go against the Acts of Union?

The Acts of Union went to great lengths to guarantee the separateness of Scotland. In the words of Wikipedia, “[it] guaranteed that the Church of Scotland would ‘remain the established church in Scotland, that the Court of Session would remain in all time coming within Scotland,’ and that Scots law would ‘remain in the same force as before’.” Although a separate education system wasn’t explicitly mentioned, I presume it was an automatic consequence of keeping an independent church and a separate legal system.

In other words, the Acts of Union did a decent job at establishing a monetary and fiscal union while keeping the nations culturally distinct.

In this light, it’s natural to wonder whether the establishment of the BBC under a Royal Charter in 1927 was contrary to the spirit (if not the words) of the Acts of Union. Even its original motto, “Nation shall speak peace unto Nation”, seems bizarre for a union of four nations.

There’s not much we can do about it now (apart from voting Yes in 2014), but it seems obvious that the UK would have looked very different at the moment if there had never been British radio and TV channels, but only separate ones for each nation.

Why Westminster will do anything to hold on to Scotland

Wings over Scotland recently published an interesting article which contained the following illuminating passage:

So why would the UK deliberately undermine the long-held view that the UK is a political union of different countries? The answer may be seen in a passage from the report stating that “Since the rUK (remainder of the UK) would be the same state as the UK, its EU membership would continue”, and that after independence, representatives of the UK Government would enter negotiations on the terms of independence “as representatives of the continuing state of the UK”.

From these two snippets it appears that the repositioning of the Act of Union as merely an enlargement of England is an attempt to retain sole-successor status in the same manner as Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Westminster government is so desperate to keep hold of the permanent Security Council seat that they’re willing to undermine the constitutional arrangements of the UK in order to ensure they keep it in the event of a Yes vote.

I’m not an expert on UN membership rules, but I would have thought there was a decent chance the rUK will retain the UK’s permanent seat on the Security Council. However, even a modest risk of losing that seat is probably enough to give the politicians and mandarins in the FCO and the rest of Westminster sleepless nights. Sacrificing the happiness and wellbeing of the Scots is a very small price to pay for maintaining a place amongst the great powers of the world.

Besides, the unionist politicians in Westminster are not the only ones who are worried. David Leask quotes Phillips O’Brien of Glasgow University for the following: “France’s place in the world would come under real pressure if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom[.] In the first place, it could lead to reform of the UN Security Council and the concurrent loss or reduction of French influence in the UN.”

Personally I’m pretty relaxed about a reform of the Security Council, but I can understand that for a small group of politicians clinging to the remnants of the empire, it can seem like the end of the world as they know it, which explains why they attack Scottish independence so vociferously.

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.

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

Ballot paper QR code by nickj365
Ballot paper QR code, a photo by nickj365 on Flickr.

I don’t have any problems with the Electoral Commission’s proposed question (PDF) for the 2014 referendum, namely “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

My main reason for preferring the Scottish Government’s original proposal (“Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”) was that I thought referendums in Scotland and the UK tended to introduce the question with “Do you agree…”, but that’s not actually the case. Here are the questions and options from the past referendums that I have been able to find:

  • [2011] At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?
    • Yes
    • No
  • [1997] Parliament has decided to consult people in Scotland on the Government’s proposals for a Scottish Parliament.
    • I agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.
    • I do not agree that there should be a Scottish Parliament.
  • [1978] Do you want the Provisions of the Scotland Act 1978 to be put into effect?
    • Yes
    • No
  • [1975] Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?
    • Yes
    • No

It will be interesting to see whether the Electoral Commission will also reject other questions that begin with “Do you agree…” in the future.

The 2015 jobs boom in Scotland

Edinburgh, October 2005 by landhere
Edinburgh, October 2005, a photo by landhere on Flickr.

What will happen in 2015 if Scotland has just voted Yes to independence and if it’s looking increasingly likely that England will vote to pull the rUK out of the EU, and potentially even out of the Internal Market?

A large number of English companies are making their living trading with the EU, and it will be tempting for them to relocate to a country that will remain in the EU before it’s too late. Many countries are likely to benefit from this company exodus, e.g., Ireland and France, but surely the easiest option for many of these companies will be to relocate to Scotland (even if Scotland still hasn’t completed the negotiation of the EU membership terms and conditions at this point in time).

Because England is about ten times bigger than Scotland, this will have immense consequences for the Scottish economy, even if only a small percentage of English companies relocate north of the border. In conjunction with the other jobs created by independence, it’s likely that the years immediately after the independence referendum will be remembered as the great jobs boom.

PS: This blog posting was inspired by a chat with my mum in Denmark, who had been watching a programme with Uffe Ellemann and Mogens Lykketoft (both former foreign ministers of Denmark), in which they apparently touched upon this topic; however, I haven’t been able to find either a version of the programme that I can watch or a transcript. If you know more, please let me know!

Will Scotland be richer than Norway after independence?

Scottish Thistle Coin 1602 by Tropic~7
Scottish Thistle Coin 1602, a photo by Tropic~7 on Flickr.

There was an extremely interesting blog posting on Wings over Scotland about the size of Scotland’s exports.

This made me think about the consequences for the finances of an independent Scotland.

First of all, the figure provided by WoS is $20,886 per capita, but that’s excluding oil. According to STV, Scotland’s oil and gas exports are worth about £7.6bn, which is about half the amount produced. If we assume that half of this is actually exported to England, we get a rough figure of £11.4bn, which is $18bn. Per capita this is $3400, so a very rough estimate of an independent Scotland’s exports including oil would be slightly more than $24,000 per person, which would make us number six in the World rankings, between Norway and Ireland.

There also tends to be some kind of correlation between exports and GDP. Looking for similar countries in this table, one finds Denmark and Sweden around 50%, Norway at around 40% and the UK at 30%. In other words, it would be really strange if Scotland’s GDP was very low, and one would probably expect a GDP figure per capita between $50,000 and $60,000, which would definitely place Scotland in the World’s top-10, way ahead of the UK (which has a GDP per capita of slightly less than $40,000).

My calculations are very rough, so it’s hard to say exactly how rich an independent Scotland would be, but it looks likely it would be much richer than the UK, and potentially even richer than Norway.

My only remaining question is why previous calculations of how much better off Scotland would be after independence have been so cautious. It seems to me that we’re likely to be talking about every single person in Scotland being better off to the tune of about £10,000 per year (between $10,000 and $20,000). Where has Westminster been hiding all that wealth?