Category Archives: 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?

Scotland and Scandinavia superimposed

On a normal map it’s difficult to see how far north Scotland is compared to Scandinavia.

To illustrate it better, I generated two Google maps of the same latitudes, just 15 degrees apart, and then superimposed them in the Gimp.

You can see the result on the right (click on it for a larger version). It’s clear that all the cities of Scotland are on the same latitude as Denmark and southern Sweden, whereas only the far north of Scotland is as far north as southern Norway.

Aberdeen is on a similar latitude as Aalborg or Varberg, Dundee is like Viborg, Glasgow is like Horsens, and the southernmost bit of Scotland is almost exactly as far south as Gedser in Denmark.

Scotland and the rUK in the EU

I’ve blogged before about the fact that Scotland on its own has a very normal-sized population within an northern European context.

It’s quite illustrative to look at all the member states of the European Union (logarithmic scale):

Scotland (the small pink column) is slightly smaller than the average, being of almost exactly the same size as Denmark, Slovakia and Finland, and somewhat more populous than Ireland.

Interestingly, the graph also says something about England’s reluctance to let Scotland leave: While Germany is by far the most populous country, the current UK and France are competing for second place; however, without Scotland, both France and Italy have significantly larger populations that the Rest of the United Kingdom (rUK) – I’m sure this relegation won’t go down very well in certain quarters.

A future hut heaven?

There’s an interesting article in The Herald describing how a charity is planning to build a thousand huts in Scotland.

It’s interesting, because despite Scotland’s similarity to the Scandinavian countries, the hut culture is entirely different (or rather, it’s non-existent): “In Norway more than half the population has access to a [hut]. [The proportion is] one in 12 Swedes, one in 18 Finns and one in 33 Danes. […] However, in Scotland 10 years ago a study showed there were just 700 holiday huts […] for a population of five million.”

Norway might be a difficult act to follow, but I can’t help thinking that building 1000 huts is a very small step if the deficit is about half a million!

It’s a good idea, though. The Scottish countryside is amazing, but most of the population is bottled up within the central belt. Wee huts around the lochs would be a welcome sight.

Update: It’s worth comparing the statistics about the person-to-hut ratio with the person-per-km² figures illustrated in my blog posting about wee gardens.

Not too small

When ordinary Scottish voters are asked whether they’d vote yes or no to Scottish independence, one frequent response is that Scotland is too small to be independent.

I really don’t understand how anybody can believe this. Surely it must be a consequence of living in a big country and being used to comparing yourself with Germany and France.

In reality, Scotland has a very average size for an independent country in northern Europe. Have a look at the graph on the left, which shows the population sizes of various northern European contries (it’s Scotland in blue).

Of course Scotland won’t have the same influence as England, but similar countries such as Denmark, Norway and Ireland typically feel they have plenty of influence.

I definitely don’t know of a popular movement in any country the size of Scotland that advocates joining a bigger neighbour because their country is too small to remain independent. Even very similar countries with a long shared history, such as Denmark and Norway, never seriously discuss becoming one country again.