Can Scotland be Scandinavian?
When we’re faced with trouble, many of us look to our peers for reassurance. We wonder how they’re happy when we’re not, or what they have that we don’t.
Such a state of fraught fancies has at times been Scotland’s. One of the main tactics during the Scottish referendum was to draw parallels between it and other nations; namely, its Scandinavian neighbours. In fact, some of the referendum narrative went so far as to envisage the momentum of a newly independent Scotland giving way to closer union with Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
There is some ground for this hope. Some hundreds of years ago a Nordic settlement was founded in Scotland, influencing a large part of the North’s culture. Whilst this doesn’t mean that everyone’s walking about with spiked helmets and Tolkien-inspired dwarf beards (unless you’re of the hipster variety), it does leave enough of a trace for some Scottish hopefuls to follow. In the age of discontent, the ties to the UK aren’t as attractive or as inspiring as the potential ties to their prosperous Scandinavian partners.
But far greater than a casual interest in Viking apparel, is the idea of an alternate Scotland, one which would re-identify with its Scandinavian routes as an independent nation. The socialist democracies of Scandinavia have definitely proved a source of fascination for many ailing countries, and are particularly a favoured point of reference for right wing millennials who see a brighter alternative to the rugged and heartless capitalism, carved out of a Nordic heritage.
Basically, it was the idea that something isn’t working for Scotland. And when things are broken, we tend to look outwards before we look inwards. Norway, like Scotland, possess a hefty oil reserve. For the SNP, this was more than fate; it was yet further evidence of how a future Scotland could emulate the Nordic economy and quasi-socialist market. Norway’s oil reserve has stacked up to over £800 billion over 20 years, a feat deeply admired and coveted by pro-independence advocates.
Oil, however, was just the most obvious parallel. What the Scandinavian leaning really became about was shedding the skin of Western capitalism that had choked Scotland, stemming the blood of equality. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century lit a firework under right wing thinking, and has no doubt part fed into the Scotland’s Northern admirations. The essential premise of Piketty’s thought is that modern capitalism correlates to growing inequality. Wealth is controlled by the select few, inherited and otherwise, whilst earnt wealth holds no hope of matching or growing as fast.
However, estimates of Scotland’s Gini coefficient, which is the measurement of an economy’s inequality, places the country at about 30 compared with 24-26 for the Scandinavian countries. There might simply be something rotten in Scotland that isn’t to do with Scotland at all, but with the capitalist markets which have proven unable to fairly distribute acquired wealth. Piketty’s contention is that in scenarios in which the return on capital outstrips growth rates, further inequality will inevitably ensue. If we take a look at Scotland’s wealth distribution statistics, and that all-powerful 10%, this would be hard to argue against. Scotland lacks social mobility, and the Scandinavian model provides an answer. But it isn’t really socialism, and the similarities aren’t as concrete as SNP ministers would like to think.
There is a disparity between Scotland’s and Norway’s economy that can’t be reconciled by a loosely shared heritage. Sure they’re both dark and cold, but Scotland’s problems are Scotland’s problems. It’s easy to imagine the SNP sitting around and dressing up as Vikings talking of a potential future, of a revised social-economic structure that raises a crass middle finger to the British and the 21st century capitalism that has chained it. There’s something to be learnt from these socialist-capitalist hybrids, but they aren’t the answers to a problem. The best we can say is that Scotland has shared problems; it’s not unique in its current level of inequality, but it is arguably worse off. Nevertheless, Scotland has the strength to solve its problems for itself, and style a future bloomed from nothing more than a cultural shift and an effort to redistribute its own wealth.