Lesley Riddoch, acclaimed Scottish journalist and commentator, visited the University of Oslo on 28 February to give a lecture on Scottish independence and Nordic linkages. The event was co-hosted by British Politics Society, Norway and the students’ union at the Department of Political Science.
In front of a young academic audience, Riddoch emphasised the proximity between Scotland and the Nordic countries – geologically, historically and culturally – on the basis of which Scotland may be perceived as the southern tip of the Nordic region just as much as the northern tip of Britain.
The relationship with Norway may have a particular relevance when seen against the latter’s short history as an independent nation and the many shared characteristics of the two countries, such as the extensive rural territory, the reliance on natural resources and the way in which a national culture has been nurtured from below. Arguably, there were similar nation-building processes underway in both countries during the 19th century, which would fade in Scotland in the first half of the 1900s while in Norway the process was consolidated in the wake of independence in 1905.
A number of concrete policy areas where Scotland may take inspiration were mentioned in the lecture. Kindergartens, geared towards providing children with vivid (and outdoors) experience, is one such area. Housing policy is another, in terms of self-ownership as well as the quality of construction and maintenance. Public health is an obvious candidate, Riddoch applauding (to some amusement) the hillwalking, healthy nutrition and responsible alcohol consumption assumed to be characteristic of Norwegians. Although an “independence diet” would not make Scots a healthier nation, there are numerous issues of public health which Scotland, according to Riddoch, could address better as an independent nation. Finally, the exploitation of natural resources was a topic addressed in the seminar. Whereas oil and gas have been fundamental to the booming Norwegian economy since the 1970s, the future relates as much to renewable resources reaped from tidal energy, waves and windmills, and here there is an obvious shared agenda for Scotland and Norway.
The distinctiveness of Scotland vis-à-vis England was duly noted by Riddoch, who pointed to the wider educational system, the egalitarian outlook and a less adversarial political culture (e.g. disposed to proportional representation rather than first-past-the-post). On the issue of egalitarianism, Riddoch’s argument was that there is a strong leftist bent in Scottish political culture, in sharp contrast with the conservative south of England. However, the assumed social democratic creed shared by both the SNP and Scottish Labour stands on feets of clay without full fiscal responsibility in the Scottish Parliament. Moreover, there is room for much improvement in the form of co-operatives as well as the third sector in order to break with the sterile state vs market dichotomy where Scots have often opted for the state. On this latter topic there should be a great deal of common ground when it comes to ideological renewal on both sides of the North Sea.
For more information on the enthusiastic hosts – the British Politics Society, Norway, see http://www.britishpoliticssociety.no/