Is Norway Scotland’s twin nation – or is it Denmark?

Lesley Riddoch and Phantom Power have finally released their third Nation film (after excellent ones about the Faroes and Iceland), and it’s really great:

The only bit I didn’t really like was the title: I’m not sure Scotland is quite as similar to Norway as Lesley would like us to believe, and I do wonder whether it’s overlooking the parallels with Denmark.

Scotland and Norway can look quite similar in tourist leaflets – spectacular hills and fjords/lochs – but there is one crucial difference: Most of Norway looks like this, and that’s actually where people live (as the film mentioned several times), whereas in Scotland, most people are clumped together in the Lowlands, and we mainly venture up to the Highlands to pocket a Munro or to visit a distillery.

The Lowlands of Scotland are arguably much more similar to Denmark: Located on the same latitude, there’s lots of agriculture (incl. lots of fruits and berries) and a mainly urban population. In fact, Scotland is probably more urban than most places I know – many families have lived in cities for four generations or more (often since the Clearances), not just for two or three as I think is more common elsewhere.

Norway, on the other hand, is extremely rural. The government has been spending a lot of money to keep the countryside populated, and one of the main reasons the country didn’t join the EU was because the rural population was worried their subsidies would disappear under EU policies, which could lead to people moving to the cities.

I’m not saying the Norwegian policy is a bad one, but it’s too late for Scotland to copy it. It’s not a question of preventing people from leaving the farms and villages, because they left 150 years ago. There’s of course an argument for repopulating the Highlands, but that would require rather different policies than what the Norwegians are doing.

The same goes for fisheries – it’s much more important for Norway than for Scotland, it’s a way to keep people living in the villages, and again, that was a huge reason for them to remain in EFTA. That’s simply not the case in most parts of Scotland.

Then there’s oil – and yes, that’s common to Norway and Scotland (Denmark also has oil, but not nearly as much) – but as the film pointed out, it’s probably too late for Scotland to become a second Norway in this regard.

Denmark is a small, open economy that needs access to England, Germany and many other countries. Denmark has a lot of agriculture, but it’s based on exporting products, not on keeping the countryside populated. Doesn’t that sound more like Scotland?

I completely understand that many Scots look at Norway and wish that Scotland had copied Norway for the past two centuries. I can sympathise with that. We have to look at the present, however, and Scotland is today much more similar to Denmark than to Norway.

I really enjoyed this film, though, and I very much hope Phantom Power and Lesley Riddoch will make another one about Denmark. It might prove my point.

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