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As Others See Us: the view from Denmark

DAVID LEASK says the Danes are taking a close interest in their use as a role model by the SNP

They have almost become the poster girls of Scottish nationalism, whether they like it or not.

The prosperous social democracies of Scandinavia must be cited more often than any other nations as examples of what an independent Scotland could achieve.

But how do they feel about being held up as SNP role models? And what do they think of the independence referendum?

Take Denmark, a country still wrestling with the breakaway aspirations of its own Atlantic territories, the Faroes and Greenland. What does it think of a Yes campaign?

Officially, nothing. Danish politicians, explains Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, are "too polite" to get mixed up in the constitutional affairs of other nations. They are not alone.

But Rasmussen, who teaches at Copenhagen University, doesn't have any such diplomatic qualms.

Last week, writing in Denmark's august and ancient national newspaper, Berlingske, he basically declared Scottish independence to be good for HIS country. Why? Because Scotland would join - and bolster - the Nordic family of social democracies.

"An independent Scotland is probably in Denmark's interest," Rasmussen wrote. "If Scotland became independent, there would suddenly be another Nordic country. A country with emphasis on the welfare state and state schools - just like Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

"It would be another like minded vote in the European Union and in other organisations where our values need support."

But do Danes know what Scotland is - beyond the cliches of kilts and malts? Some, of course. But Rasmussen in Berlingske admits most Danes continue the "deplorable trend" of referring to the whole island to their west as England.

Here's the thing. In many respects Denmark's constitutional problems are more akin to England's than Scotland's.

It has granted home rule to the Faroes and to Greenland. But as anyone who watched hit BBC4 Danish drama Borgen knows, Greenland, in particular, is a running sore.

There are those in Denmark who want to get shot of the two territories. And those who would like to keep them. Some Danes can talk in an exasperated way about their Faroese or Greenlander fellow citizens as a burden - much like some "Little Englanders" feel about Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Rasmussen in his Berlingske column thought the Scottish independence referendum might help find some ways out of his own country's constitutional problems.

"Scottish independence may well give Greenland and the Faroe Islands inspiration to pursue their own autonomy," he said, before adding: "An independent Scotland could make post-colonial scenarios less awkward for Denmark."

Scotland, he might have added, may have something to learn on devolution, home rule and independence from Denmark too.

After all, Iceland, another Atlantic territory, was part of a "personal union of the crowns" with Denmark until World War II. Until the end of World War 1 the island had been directly ruled from Copenhagen.

Rasmussen, meanwhile has a controversial suggestion for Scotland. Let Scotland join the Nordic Council, the body that binds Denmark to  nations such as neighbouring Sweden and Norway but also Iceland, Finland, Greenland, the Faroes and the Aland islands.

He wrote: "Scotland would be a natural member of the Nordic Council and give the Nordic co-operation a new dimension and a much needed revitalisation."

He even joked that Scottish membership would mean meetings were conducted in English. That might help Scandinavians - whose languages, rather like broad Scots and English, are sometimes mutually intelligible more in theory than in practice - get along a bit better.

This view is not universally shared. Earlier this year another influential Danish daily, Politiken, raised the same issue but got a different answer. Torkil Sorensen, an international adviser to the council, cited existing agreements between the Scottish Government and the Nordic Council. But Sorensen also suggested the Nordic world might not want to clutch Scotland to its bosom.

"We do not interfere in the process of Scotland's relationship to the rest of Britain," he told Politiken. "But the Nordic Council is likely in the future to consist of core members and with that base turning more toward international co-operation."

The three Scandinavian nations are all big defence spenders - although Sweden remains outside Nato. They spend far more per capita than the UK but are often cited by the SNP's defence spokesman Angus Robertson as potential models for a Scottish military.

This did not pass by Rasmussen in last week's Berlingske column. He wrote: "The Scottish Nationalists have long had an anti-nuclear agenda that would find more sympathy in Oslo and Copenhagen than in London.

"But Scotland also has proud military traditions. Scotland would be a natural partner for Denmark in the security policy area and a partner that would strengthen us in our continued co-operation with Britain and the USA. Along with Scotland and Norway, Denmark could make a meaningful contributions to a variety of international operations."

Rasmussen has one last slightly more controversial argument for Scottish independence: the military expertise of George Robertson. Yes, he really does mean the peer and former Labour defence minister, the man who suggested devolution would kill independence "stone dead".

Thanks to Danish-speaking Herald reporter Ewan Fergus for helping with today’s blog.

Reading anything about Scotland's independence referendum in the foreign press? Then let me know. You can get me at david.leask@theherald.co.uk

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