Is Scotland really a long-lost bit of the Nordic countries—and could little Iceland help shape Scotland’s constitutional future?
The next meeting of the think tank Nordic Horizons, held on March 29 in the Scottish Parliament, will focus on the Icelandic Constitutional Council. One of the council’s members, economics professor Þorvaldur Gylfason, will lead the discussions.
News review by Lesley Riddoch.
The Icelandic Constitutional Council. Photo by Páll Kjartansson.
Geologically speaking, Scotland was once part of the Nordic landmass.
Genetically speaking, island Scots have more Norse DNA than any other Britons.
Culturally speaking, Norse occupation left Scotland with Viking place-names and a Presbyterian share of the Lutheran distaste for pomp, bling, display and status.
But England had its own brush with Viking occupation. Trade also linked Scotland to Holland and France. The Empire saw wealthy Scots trade tobacco, sugar and slaves across the world. Last century Irish immigrants piled in from the west and the rule of law stretched up from the south.
The Scots are a mongrel nation and (usually) proud of it. So why have SNP strategists suggested Scotland could “join the Nordic circle of nations” if there’s a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming independence referendum?
Are the Nordic nations sought out just because they are “family” or because they’ve become the smartest, healthiest and most successful country cousins for miles around?
Eurozone collapse has doubtless hastened the SNP’s search for a more stable block of trading partners. But Scotland’s Nordic connections are not just historic.
Scotland, like Norway, has important oil, gas, hydro and fish reserves. Scotland, like Sweden has emerged from half a century of solid Labour voting. Parts of Scotland like Finland are struggling with a legacy of bad diet and Scotland like Denmark has embraced wind and marine energy.
But Scotland like tiny Iceland (and of course the mighty USA) was brought to the edge of bankruptcy by its banks. The RBS bailout from the London government destroyed the first attempt by SNP leader Alex Salmond to encourage Scottish independence by comparing Scotland to Iceland, Ireland and Norway in what he called the “Arc of Prosperity.”
The fear was—would Scotland have gone bankrupt without England? Nonetheless Scotland is heading for a referendum on independence in 2014—but there’s no clear idea of what “going it alone” would mean. That’s natural—the experience of each nation is unique. But knowing more about the story of neighbours can help.
That’s why—after making a BBC documentary on Norway’s Outdoor Kindergartens in 2010—I set up a think tank called Nordic Horizons with a colleague here in Scotland. We felt there wasn’t enough information about how other small northern countries operate—devolved or fully independent.
In policy—and maybe in politics—Scotland clearly has as much to learn from its left-leaning, small-nation Nordic cousins as from our right-leaning, 50 million strong English partners.
We’ve held well attended meetings in the Scottish Parliament for policy-makers and the public on municipal government, women’s quotas, oil, gas and the High North, kindergarten and the Nordic Model(s) to Scotland.
The next meeting on March 29 in the Scottish Parliament will focus on the Icelandic Constitutional Council.
Economics professor Þorvaldur Gylfason will lead the roundtable discussion along with Scottish professors David McCrone and Elizabeth Meehan and the Convenor of the European and External Affairs Committee, Christina McKelvie MSP.
We want to explore how the people of Iceland took the lead in rewriting the Constitution and ask what lessons Scots can learn as we start our own constitutional process.
For further information, go to nordichorizons.org.
Click here to read more about the Icelandic Constitutional Council.