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As Others See Us: The View from Norway

David Leask and Camilla Hellum ask Norwegians what they think of Scottish independence.

THEY may be the pin-ups for Scottish independence but Norwegians don't know it.

Our nearest Scandinavian neighbours - by and large - remain blissfully unaware of just how big a role their social-democratic success story plays in the "Yes" case.

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Norway, the nationalist story goes, has thrived since it split from Sweden more than a century ago and proved - as if proof was needed - that medium-sized nations are every bit as viable as giant ones such as the UK.

SNP leaders regularly cite Oslo's defence strategies, welfare schemes, monster oil fund and internationalist aid programmes as evidence of what Scotland, as a "small" independent state, could achieve.

The problem is Norwegians, still firmly attached to the idea of an island nation called Britain across the North Sea, don't return the compliment.

Øivind Bratberg, an expert in British politics at Oslo University, is one of the few in Norway to pick up on Scottish interest in his country, nationalist or otherwise.

"Up till now it has rather a one-way relationship whereby the Scots take an interest in and admire aspects of Nordic societies without Nordic intellectuals paying much attention the other way," he said. "I know very well that links are being made between the Nordic centre left and the Scottish vision of future politics.

"But most people don't, even in the political elite."

Norway's media has covered Scotland's constitutional debate relatively closely (this is a country where strictly domestic UK stories such as the Savile scandal get big licks). Every now and again there have jokey stories about Scots wanting to be "Scandinavians". Think kilts and Viking helmets.

But Norwegians, reckons Mr Bratberg, haven't quite grasped that Scotland's independence movement can have a social democratic edge.

"There is a lack of understanding of the nuances in the Scottish debate in Norway," he said. "We fail to see how nationalism and the idea of it a more leftist Scotland go together.

"Most people don't think of [First Minister Alex] Salmond and the SNP as a centre-left project.

"They think of it as more of a slightly odd small state nationalism.

"We have always perceived Britain as a whole to be the unit to relate to.

"We take a fascination in Scotland as well but we still find it difficult to perceive an independent Scotland being represented alongside the Nordic states.

"Even in a small recently independent country such as Norway you find this idea that the British and the UK belong together. That is what we learned in our childhoods and it sticks in our minds."

Norwegians, reckons Mr Bratberg, need to go through a "pedagogical exercise, a learning process" on Scotland. Why? Because he reckons there are bigger political and ideological overlaps between nationalisms in the two countries than are realised on either side of the North Sea.

He explained: "It's funny the Norwegians fail to understand the distinctive centre-left social democratic project of Scottish nationalism.

"Because we have our own history as grass-roots centre-left nationalism from the late 19th prior to our independence from Sweden.

"Whether now - or back in the 19th century - there are clear bridges between the Norwegian and Scottish forms of nationalism.

"Scottish independence may still seem far-fetched here.

"But there is a potential for brotherhood between the two countries. ....there is just too little awareness of this prospect.

"Scots and Norwegians share a common interest in universal welfare and the idea of more proportional politics.

"So there is obvious scope for a closer relationship but people need to become accustomed to the idea."

There have been voices in the Nordic world who have suggested Scottish independence may be no bad thing for their region, their world view. Iceland's president Olafur Grimsson, for example, has suggested splitting with the rest of the UK "could be the road towards prosperity and a good society". Some Danes too have been exploring the idea of a Scotland in the Nordic Union.

However, don't necessarily expect a Grimsson-style intervention from Norway.

Oslo politicians all see London as a firm Nato ally - the American-led nuclear alliance is relatively uncontroversial in Norway.

Insiders, meanwhile, whisper that more Scottish-aware Oslo politicians were quietly pleased when the SNP u-turned on Nato membership last year - although I am afraid I can't find a on-the-record source for that titbit of information.

However, Britain remains such a strategic ally that open Norwegian cheerleading for Scottish independence seems unlikely.

But what about those Nordic social-democrats? Won't they come to the aid of like-minded Scots? You never know: but probably not. Why?

Norway's left has traditional links with the Labour Party, not the SNP.

So the big hitters that Scottish nationalists might like to woo are firm allies of unionist politicians here in Scotland.

Atle Wold, one of Mr Bratberg's university colleagues, explained: "I can't remember ever coming across any politician openly supporting Scottish independence.

"There is no great sympathy for Scottish independence in Norway. That is: the more general view seems to be one of indifference or lack of interest.

"Moreover, the SNP's use of Norway as a "model country", and the many analogies they try to see between Scotland and Norway have not really generated much debate or interest over here.

"This a bit odd, since there clearly are some striking analogies between Scotland and Norway, particularly concerning their relationships with England and Sweden respectively.

"Both countries, I'd say, have the same "little brother" mentality, and the same craving to to be taken seriously.

"So the Norwegian press overflows with reports on Sweden, while there is nowhere near as much on Norwegian issues in Swedish newspapers. And so, while Norwegians really care about beating the Swedes at sport, the Swedes aren't that bothered.

"Norwegains, of all people, should understand and sympathise with Scotland's position in the UK but, as it is, they don't seem to have noticed it."

Norway's chattering classes, as Mr Bratberg stressed, should be able to grasp the civic nationalism of Scotland thanks to their own 19th century history.

But they also ought, in theory at least, find it easy to get their heads around British unionism- and even the SNP's rhethoric on post-independence Britishness. Why? Because of Scandinavianism.

This was a 19th movement that sought to unite Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, with their mutually intelligible languages in to a single state.

The movement revived - arguably - in the 20th century as a drive for cross-Nordic co-operation on everything from law enforcement to the creation of a single Scandinavian flagcarrier airline, SAS.

Could this new notion of Scandinavianism help those in the SNP who talk of a residual Britishness outlasting the union?

Well, residual Scandinavian-ness survived ad-hoc unions between Norway, Denmark and Sweden, although always as a secondary identity.

And the Nordics, including Finland, have come up with solutions - such as a common travel area or "passport union" and respect for each other judicial decisions which would prove incredibly useful in a post-UK island of Great Britain.

Have Norwegians noticed the parallels between their own Scandinavianism and British unionism - or modern Nordic co-operation and the Scottish nationalist vision of post-independence co-operation across "Britain"?

No - well, just Mr Wold.

 

What do ordinary Norwegians think of Scottish independence? We stopped a few in the streets of Oslo to find out.

Ask a Norwegian whether they think Scotland should go it alone and they'll probably say that is up to Scots - but that they should think carefully about money first.

Take Lene Opsiøn, 23. She said stressed she hadn't given the issue much thought before reflecting on her own country's history. " I think the situation can be compared to if Norway was still in a union with Sweden.

"I'd rather live in an independent country and not be dependent on others. However, it is important to think about the economical situation, and if Scotland get most of their economical support from England, this has to be taken into consideration before voting yes in the referendum."

Money worries 86-year-old Egil Johansen. "I don't think it's a good idea," he said when asked about a Yes vote in the referendum. "I don't think it would be beneficial for economical reasons."

Ole Hellum, 20, was more enthusiastic, despite sharing financial concerns. He said: "As far as I'm concerned, Scots have some of the same political values, such as free health care and education, as we have in Norway.

"I don't think it will be too popular if Scotland separates from Great Britain, and they might face some economical difficulties. However, I like what they're trying to achieve so I don't see why they shouldn't do it."

 

*Camilla Hellum is a Norwegian journalist studying in Glasgow.

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