Category Archives: Denmark

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.)

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.

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!

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?

Will the Scottish-English border look like this?

There’s an article on Yes Scotland’s website today about border controls in Scandinavia (or rather the lack thereof).

At first I thought it was a rather pointless article, given that the absence of actual border controls is the norm in most of Europe these days.

However, as the article points out, “for those who travel infrequently, or who usually fly rather than make land crossings, the concept of moving between neighbouring countries without having to show any form of identification, or even stopping at the border, can be hard to envisage.”

So to illustrate how easy it is to cross a national border in the EU at the moment, I’ve found a small video on YouTube showing how to drive from Germany into Denmark:

Will the Scottish-English border look like this after 2014?

The Constitution of Scotland

When Scotland becomes independent, it would be a wasted opportunity if the new (or rather, reborn) country didn’t get a written constitution — the UK’s unwritten one has always struck me as a bizarre contraption.

I’m by no means the first person to have had this thought — see amongst others Better Nation and the Constitutional Convention, as well as the SNP’s ten-years-old proposed constitution (PDF). There are also some plans about crowd-sourcing a Scottish Constitution, which I might write more about another day.

Without going into the details of what it should and shouldn’t say, I have a few ideas about the length and scope:

  • It shouldn’t be too long. If it is (like for instance the doomed Constitution for Europe), it will be too specific, which means that it will need revising all the time, and by doing so, it loses its constitutional nature.
  • It shouldn’t be too specific. Apart from the problem with continuous revisions if it is, it also creates problems if external factors require a constitutional change that there might not be a political will to implement.
  • It shouldn’t be too hard to change. If it is, it will start to be reinterpreted, with the result that nobody really understands what it means. For instance, the Danish Constitution is almost impossible to change (it was last changed in 1953), and when it mentions the king, it means either the queen, the prime minister or the government, depending on the context, which isn’t ideal.
  • It should be easy to understand. Although many laws are by nature highly complex, the constitution should be a straightforward text that school children could learn and discuss at school.
  • It should make us proud. Like the Declaration of Arbroath and other such documents through the ages, a good constitution should be an inspiring document that will inspire its readers centuries for now.

If all of this seems a bit daunting, at least there are plenty of existing constitutional documents from all over the world than can be used as a basis, so it should be doable.

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.