It crops up from time to time, rearing its beautiful head in the middle of a discussion like an oil-rich monster. Scandinavia. Or, to include the neighbours, the Nordic countries. Here on the Yes side, it’s easy to see the positives our Northern friends have. In general, these countries consistently hover around the top of every chart in the world in terms of happiness, education, wealth and general all round brilliance. In the No camp, however, one mention of Norway is usually enough to get an eye roll and a tut. “Here we go again. Sure, they have oil too. Sure, they eat a lot of fish too. But there’s no way on earth Scotland could ever become as rich or successful as Norway [wonder why, eh?] so drop it, guys.”
I’m currently writing my third novel. Fourth if you count the one that got as far as 50,000 words before being locked in a drawer. My first, Shop Front, comes out on March 24th and in international themes, is about Scottish people in Scotland. My second, The Salt Tree, is about Scottish people in Europe. And the one I’m working on at the moment, to go down similar lines, is about Scottish people in Scandinavia. Norway, to be precise. Having done the bare bones of what I class as research (wandering around a snowy Oslo with my partner) I’ve gotten pretty hooked on Norway and a few of her neighbours. I know in my previous column I said I’m not big on imagining what Scotland will look like after a Yes vote, but here’s a brief look at why Scotland shouldn’t be ashamed to at least look North for ideas. After all, being such close friends with America hasn’t really worked out, has it?
First, let’s talk armed forces. We all know voting Yes leaves Scotland open to a whole world of bad guys who probably won’t care about us because we won’t be involved in a bunch of illegal wars any more. Oh sorry, no that should have been ‘bomb us to shreds because that’s what they’re like’. Either way, seeing as Scotland’s main focus seems to be getting nuclear waste and weapons out of its waters and making friends with other countries, I don’t think we’re likely to need much in the way of guns and tanks. Especially since the current global nuclear weapons situation is in a massive pointless deadlock. Alternatively, have a Google and see if they put Argentina off trying to reclaim the Malvinas.
Now let’s see what Iceland are doing. Building warheads? Training killers? Nope. Iceland don’t have any sort of army. If they ever came under attack (which seems unlikely because of their official ‘we’re staying out of it’ policy) they have a bunch of more paranoid friends both East and West that’d jump to their aid. This leaves Iceland open to invest all of the money they save from financing horrible deathmachines into nice things like green energy and gender equality. Or, if we did decide to keep a bunch of soldiers, why not follow Norway’s example and go all friendly and vegetarian? After all, it’s much better for you and helps the environment too.
Let’s move on to education. It’s been clear for a while that the UK isn’t so hot in these waters. I wonder where might be good at stuff like that. Hmm… How about Finland? The Finnish school system is generally considered one of the best in the world. David Cameron himself has previously singled Finland out for being so awesome. The reason for this, it could be argued, is that the emphasis is on real learning, not exam results. Children start school at seven years old, as an earlier start has not been proven to be of any educational use whatsoever. This gives them time to grow and develop as pleasant, social human beings (unlike some). And when they do start school they have a tiddly 12 students per teacher, providing ample support. What’s more, there are no grammar, religious or private schools, so everyone on the education spectrum is on equal terms. Pretty good building blocks for a fairer society, I’d say. Finally – and get this – the person in charge of education actually has qualifications in education. Not an English degree. How radical is that? I mean, seriously, I have a degree in English but I wouldn’t dare have a go running the UK’s education system. Sharpen up, Westminster.
And now for the cherry on top – money. When I visited Norway I was struck by the extent to which this once rich, great country had been laid waste to by ravaging winds and clumsy socialist policies. Oh no, wait: Norway’s fairer, more equal society is actually thriving far better than the ‘left wing = bad’ America or the UK big spenders. My mistake. And if you look at their books, you’ll see that they have a good head on their shoulders and make brilliant use of their natural resources while they’re at it. The same cannot be said for the UK, which ploughs everything from oil revenue to taxes into … well, where does the money go? All we’ve seen is cuts and redundancies. Hang on again, here’s where our money goes.
Norway’s housing market is another wee jewel in the crown. Not satisfied with making every Norwegian the equivalent to a millionaire just the once, they decide to have a peek at what their houses are worth and, surprise surprise, it’s another NOK 5000 billion. All of that and they’re not even in the EU. Good job, Norway.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying the Nordic countries are perfect. They have problems with racism, cultural integration and fluctuating economies the same as the majority of the rest of the world. I’m just saying that on the other side of the coin they’ve got a lot of good things. Things better than we have right now. So the next time you get talking to someone who rolls their eyes at your mention of Sweden being a better place to live than the US, point out that while they have the exact same downsides as us, they’re enjoying a much better quality of life, and that there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to that. There’s nothing to stop Scotland from being at the top of these charts one day. Nothing except political disparity and infighting.
To use Scotland’s previous voting trends as evidence, we are a left-leaning country big on equality and support. And while bits of England might be happy shifting to the right, by and large countries that do that don’t sound so great to live in. Simply put, a union of countries with different political beliefs, priorities and identities just doesn’t make sense. Voting Yes, however, puts the power into our hands and allows us to transform this country into any vision we have for it. I’ve already shifted my gaze up North – why not join me and we can get cracking into some of this equality lark?
Photograph of Mäntsälä, Finland by Mikko Muinonen