Should Scotland be more like Scandinavia?

5:31 min

Lesley Riddoch is one of Scotland's most well-known journalists. She is also a vocal advocate of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom and believes that an independent Scotland should draw inspiration from the much-celebrated Scandinavian model. She set up the Nordic Horizons policy group to encourage Scottish politicians to institute Nordic-style reforms. Radio Sweden met Riddoch at the Battle of Ideas festival in London.

The Scottish independence referendum will be held in September 2014. But what should an independent Scotland look like? How should it be organised? What needs to be reformed?

At a recent debate in London, Riddoch mentioned three key traits that she would like Scotland to emulate: genuine localism, independent-mindedness and a more equal distribution of land. And in all of this, size matters, she said.

"Certainly, what seems to have happened in British society is a complete rubbering of any comparators from the Nordic societies. How often have we heard debates, for example, that talk about the triple A-rated nations of the world, citing only Germany and Canada when actually the rest of them are pretty well all the Nordics minus Finland, I think, as well as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg? They're all small countries of around 10 million or fewer people. Small works."

Riddoch set up the Nordic Horizons policy group after travelling in the Nordic countries.

"I began to notice quite a lot of impressive differences which Scots could only wish for, particularly in service provision - kindergarten, old folks' care in Sweden, and very good welfare services really throughout," Riddoch told Radio Sweden.

"I began to see that there was something we could learn from other small countries... I think the whole of Britain has looked west to America or further south to the large powers of France and Germany because, after all, Britain is largely dominated by England, which is a large country. So it looks to its own kind and it sees countries of five million as almost impossible to get its head around."

The Scottish government is now looking at all sorts of Nordic policies, said Riddoch, to say this is what we could achieve if we controlled all the revenue, had all the tax-raising powers and if we managed our defence. Those powers are all in the hands of the British government at the moment, she explained.

But how keen are the Scottish people on emulating the Nordic model?

"People are sceptical about the Nordic model because they think you guys are untouchable. They rightly think, you've had hundreds of years slowly to work up to the situations of trust that you currently have," she said.

"It's true as well that politicians are always keen to try and grab low-hanging fruit, which are policy initiatives that look like a Nordic idea but aren't founded in the same way."

Riddoch continued: "We have a very centralised country in Scotland, we have the largest local authorities in Europe. That's very different from the Nordics. So there are lots of ways in which the foundations of Scotland are not the same as the foundations of any Nordic country and it's hard to put a house on top of foundations that are different and still have the same outcome. So I think we'll have problems."

However, she added that Scotland does not want to be a carbon copy of any other country.

"Scotland's possibility is to fuse the Celticness of Scotland with the Nordicness that is also in Scotland, actually, and some of our British heritage into a new thing."

So, how keen are the Nordics on having the Scots emulate them?

"Not at all I think, to be blunt," said Riddoch. "It's a bit wounding sometimes to find just how little interest there is in Scotland. But then, on the other hand, we're just a region. If every country was to be interested in regions that neighbour them, then you'd need to be interested in the regions of Germany, Poland and everywhere else."

"So, for the time being, when I'm in Norway, people will perhaps pick up my Irish accent and they know Ireland, they're familiar with it. But Scotland? It does Whiskey..."

And on a cultural level, what are the similarities and differences between Scotland and a country like Sweden?

"Well, we go to pubs and the Nordics tend to go home. And this thing about home is quite important, because home in the past for Scots has been a place that is too small and chronically overcrowded. That, in part, has created our pub culture."

"Swedes also go to huts. We don't have huts because land is almost unavailable since we still have almost feudal control of land with huge estates that just one person owns."

"So there are social differences. On the other hand, we believe in solidarity and we're strong on community. And perhaps we still believe in a centralised state. I'm not sure we believe that local communities have the power to run themselves and to me, that's the key thing that would make a difference to us."

"When I travel between Norway and Scotland, I feel like I've just moved from one city to another. And the Icelanders - half their DNA is Celtic! I'm told it's the bit that created the madness that lead them to their economic crash."

Once you travel, you begin to see similarities, said Riddoch, adding that "the key thing is, we haven't travelled. We've been going in all sorts of directions other than finding out about our nearest neighbours."