Category Archives: England

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.

Moving the UK to CET/CEST

Crazy Timezones
Originally uploaded by tm-tm

The UK government’s recent idea to move the UK from GMT/BST to CET/CEST and the Scottish Government’s refusal to play along is quite interesting.

Let’s have a look at various locations in the UK and compare it with a city on the same longitude but further south, Málaga:

Equinox (23/09/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Glasgow 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Belfast 7:12 19:19 8:12 20:19
London 6:49 18:56 7:49 19:56
Málaga 7:07 19:13 8:07 20:13

Obviously there’s not much difference between any of these locations, and one might argue that CEST is a better time zone at this time of the year.

Summer solstice (21/06/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 4:20 22:17 5:20 23:17
Glasgow 4:33 22:04 5:33 23:04
Belfast 4:49 22:02 5:49 23:02
London 4:44 21:19 5:44 22:19
Málaga 6:00 20:38 7:00 21:38

At all of the UK locations, the sun rises at an impossibly early time, so either time zone is feasible in the morning. In the evening, either time zone is feasible in Scotland, but I can understand if people in London would rather have brighter evenings.

Winter solstice (22/12/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 9:00 15:30 10:00 16:30
Glasgow 8:48 15:43 9:48 16:43
Belfast 8:47 15:58 9:47 16:58
London 8:05 15:52 9:05 16:52
Málaga 7:28 17:04 8:28 18:04

This is the problematic time. In London, it’s probably not a big deal whether the sun rises at 9 instead of 8, and they would enjoy having daylight until 5pm (and this tendency is even more pronounced in Málaga). However, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it would mean not seeing the sun till around 10am in the winter, which makes for very depressing mornings.

I must therefore support the Scottish Government’s stance on this – moving to a time zone further east makes good sense the further south you are, but north of 50°N it’s not a good idea (remember also that most of the UK is further west than London).

I probably believe so more strongly because of growing up in Denmark. In Denmark, schools normally start at 8am, not at 9am like in Scotland. The effect is therefore the same as if Scotland moved to CE(S)T. And I must say that I found going to school in the winter utterly depressing, and I was very happy to move to a country where people get up later in the morning.

Scottish passports and the Scottish-English border

Most people have assumed that an independent Scotland won’t introduce passport controls at the Scottish-English border.

I’m sure that’s not the intention, but as a blog posting on Better Nation pointed out today, Scotland will probably have to join Schengen at some point post-independence, simply because England will be seen as the continuation of the UK, so Scotland will be treated as a new EU member, and they generally don’t get many opt-outs (which will also mean that Scotland will eventually need to join the Euro).

Personally I’d be delighted if Scotland joined Schengen, given that we tend to travel much more often to Schengen countries (such as Denmark, Germany, France and Italy) than to England. Who knows, it might even convince the English to join, too.

Writing this blog posting, I was a bit surprised that I couldn’t find a realistic mock-up of what Scottish passports will look post-independence, given that the layout of EU passports is heavily regulated.

It didn’t take me long to make one myself in the Gimp, though. I made the assumption that it’ll be the lion rampant that will be on the front page, although it might of course be some other emblem.

The effect of the new government in Scotland

Act of Union_stamps
Originally uploaded by CowGummy

If I haven’t blogged very much about the new UK government, it’s mainly because it’s so hard to blog about from a Scottish perspective.

Most of the interesting things they do don’t apply to Scotland, and you can only blog so much about their deficit reduction plan.

I’ve found two good articles about this.

The first one is by Iain Macwhirter:

[F]rom a Scottish perspective it’s hard to pass much of a judgment on the performance of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition so far because, in terms of domestic policy at least, it’s almost completely passed Scotland by. Of the many initiatives that have been launched by the coalition in its first 100 days, very few actually apply here, apart from the deficit reduction programme and that hasn’t been implemented yet.

The second one appeared in the Caledonian Mercury, and it describes well how radical the new government is in England:

England is embracing the free market, a smaller state and weaker local authorities and Scotland is sticking with what it’s got – comprehensive education, a totally state-run health service and powerful councils.

So, if all this is happening in England, where does this leave Scotland? The blunt answer is: in a mess. Scotland is going to get the cuts but without the reforms. It is going to see swathes of public servants thrown out of work but without anything new structurally to take their place.

Although it might not have been the coalition’s intention, I think it’s becoming abundantly clear why Scotland needs full independence, or at the very least full economic autonomy. The alternative is the abolishment of Scottish devolution, and that wouldn’t go down very well north of the border!

Banks in an independent Scotland

Wallace Monument
Originally uploaded by john1710

Lots of unionists seem to see in the problems of Bank of Scotland (HBOS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) the ultimate proof that Scotland is too small to be independent.

Not all unionists are convinced, however.

Apart from Fraser’s points, it’s worth remembering that independence would have consequences in many unexpected ways, and the size of banks is likely to be one of them.

If Scotland had been independent for the past hundred years, it’s unlikely that BoS and RBS would have grown so big. Other small countries don’t tend to have any banks that large. (Apart from Iceland, that is.)

It might also be that independent Scottish competition authorities would feel obliged to split up the banks as they’re too dominant here.

But even if Scotland was home to the headquarters of massive financial institutions, they probably would have separate structures in Scotland and England, and Scotland would only have to save the Scottish bit.


NHS Family Planning Advice
Originally uploaded by Firefalcon

There is no single health service in the UK. People speak about the NHS, but it’s actually four different organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I think using the same name is unhealthy. It means the English find it illogical that they aren’t getting the same treatment in England as is provided by NHS Scotland.

So the four services should be renamed. They already have different logos, so surely that wouldn’t be too hard.