Jockeying for position: Scottish nationalists want to join the Nordic family

If Scotland chooses independence, some want warmer relations with northern cousins

Edinburgh and Glasgow are on the same latitude as Copenhagen, but is geography enough to justify an independent Scotland becoming the newest member of the Nordic Council should there be a ‘Yes’ vote in the country’s upcoming referendum?

“Makes perfect sense”
Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party (SNP) foreign affairs spokesperson, makes it clear that closer ties would be desirable. “Following a Yes vote, Scotland would seek a closer relationship with our Nordic neighbours,” he said.

“Scotland is in an important northern European location and it makes perfect sense for the Scottish Government to work bilaterally with neighbours such as Denmark, Norway and Iceland and multilaterally with the Nordic Council and other regional bodies,” he said. 

Taxing comparison
The Nordic countries are sometimes held up as a model for what an independent Scotland could become. But not all comparisons are favourable. Brian Graham, an associate professor at Aalborg University and a Scot living in Denmark, highlights taxation.

“The notion that there’d be political will for higher taxes in an independent Scotland – so that income tax became as high in Scotland as in, say, Denmark – is wishful thinking in the extreme,” he said.

Nordic vision
Indeed, higher taxes don’t appear to be part of the SNP’s Nordic vision.

“With independence the Scottish Parliament will have full control over taxation. We will be able to create a more efficient tax system, but there will be no need to change tax rates under current spending following a Yes vote,” Robertson said.

Co-operation, not replication
But Robertson is of the opinion that co-operation would be of mutual benefit.

“We have a lot to contribute to our shared region that is in our interests and also those of our neighbours. There are big environmental challenges as well as opportunities, especially in energy and these will be major priorities,” he said.

Similarities and differences
Dr Tarrin Wills is the acting director of the centre for Scandinavian studies at the University of Aberdeen and has lived in both Scotland and Denmark. “I don’t think it’s very likely Scotland will join the Nordic Council,” he said.

“The existing members have such a long-standing co-operation: a long history of being ruled by one another, similar languages and religion,” he said. 

“One example of where the societies could come into conflict is attitudes to crime,” he said.

“Scotland’s use of sex offender registers can be contrasted with Scandinavia’s approach of treating criminals and trying to reintegrate them into society. This is a sign that there are some fundamentally different values,” he said.

“Some things are quite similar, like the drinking culture and the food culture, but there are also a lot of differences.”

Culture clash
Davie McCurdie, a Scottish banker who lived in Denmark for several years until 2013, thinks that there could be a culture clash. “Norwegian girls are rugged types – the kind who could catch your dinner, chop down a tree and fix your car,” he said. “Whereas with a Scottish girl, you’d catch something from her, she’d steal your dinner and shags mostly in cars.” 

Professor Donna Heddle, the director of the centre for Nordic studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, is of the opposite opinion. “There would be no culture clash,” she said.

“Scotland has a strong Nordic heritage and a political tendency towards models of Nordic democracy and social justice that is markedly different from the rest of the UK,” she continued.

Nordic Horizons
The think-tank Nordic Horizons invites Nordic experts to advise on policy in Scotland. Lesley Riddoch, the co-founder of the organisation, doesn’t think there would be a compatibility issue if Scots became closer to the Nordics.

“There’s something quirky about the Danes that goes down well over here,” she said. 

She is in no doubt that Scotland would have something to gain from closer relations. “But whether this would be considered mutual is another question,” she said.