The Faroe Islands (NASA image)
I was about to pen a profound piece on Scottish ‘exceptionalism’ (I may yet – minus the profundity) when someone brought to my attention the fact that old friend of this blog Lesley Riddoch has just written an article in The Scotsman entitled Let Faroes [population 49,500 – my note] be our inspiration. Coming hot on the heels of Alex Salmond’s advocacy of Liechtenstein [population 36,900] as a future model for the relations of Scotland [population 5,348,000] with the UK [population 64,100,000] and the EU [population 743,100,000], this was too good to miss. As Ms Riddoch says, although not with the same intent as me,
It’s heady stuff.
Her article isn’t quite so heady. After praising one or two ex-Labour politicians who’ve been ambiguous about separation for a long time, she spends a good deal of her piece having a go at parties other than the SNP because they don’t support the SNP’s doomed eating-your-cake-and-having-it approach to stay in both the UK and the EU:
They would do well to learn more about the gutsiness of the tiny territory with which Ms Sturgeon seeks to compare Scotland. A trip there this summer was certainly the highlight of my year.
There follows a generous encomium of the Faroese, their way of life, governance, environment etc etc. I won’t plod through everything that is praise-worthy but just mention one or two points that will make you realise where Ms Riddoch is coming from and going to:
- they have their own nightly TV news bulletin (Scottish Six alert)
- their fleet of aircraft (three strong) can fly Edinburgh-Thorshavn (the capital) quicker than FlyBE does Edinburgh-Shetland (this blog records some of Lesley’s other travel issues – no Scottish books at that same Edinburgh airport, Transport for London might not accept Scottish banknotes)
- their parliament raises its own taxes and doesn’t need the permission of Denmark to create new ones (said without any critical gaze at Holyrood’s tax-raising powers and how the SNP government uses/doesn’t use them).
I suspect she’s got a few facts wrong, like the Faroes’ ‘cheekily’ establishing a ‘diplomatic presence’ in a few foreign capitals. Perhaps not so ‘cheeky’ as ‘they do have political relations directly with other countries through agreement with Denmark’ (Wikipedia). In any event no cheekier than the SNP’s government overseas representation in Brussels and the USA.
She’s also missed a few points:
- their economy is very narrow and based almost entirely on fishing (Economy of the Faroes)
- although their unemployment is very low this is because so many young people move to Denmark and elsewhere after their education, leaving a largely middle-aged and elderly population (same source as preceding bullet point)
- they indulge in what might be called recreational whaling, not to most people’s taste (numerous web references both for and against)
- pehaps most telling in terms of the aspirations of Scottish separatists, they receive an annual subsidy from Denmark, in 2014 about $US73.240 million (figure calculated from the CIA World Fact Book – as with all the facts I cite in this blog, I’m happy to receive corrections).
The other issue Lesley’s article doesn’t address – why should she? – is the general issue of international comparisons. She’s a big fan of everything Scandinavian, which tickles the fancy of many SNP politicians too (see our first minister’s recent visit to the Arctic Circle assembly in Reykjavik). Once upon a time Alex Salmond fantasised about Scotland’s membership of an ‘arc of Northern prosperity.’ Then again, he waxed eloquently and convincingly about the ‘Celtic Tigers’ (pre-2008 Irish crash). Now, as touched upon in the introduction to this post, he advocates Liechtenstein as a model for Scotland’s relations with the UK and the EU.
Nationalists, and the SNP in particular, are engaged in a ceaseless search for international comparisons for places Scotland is, could or should be like. It’s as if that underneath all the bravado and chest-puffing, they’re secretly and fundamentally uncertain about what they really want to be.
I was amused that Lesley Riddoch wrote, towards the end of her article,
There is something inspiring about the unassuming ambition of the Faroese.
It’s some way from arcs and tigers but if it’s unassuming ambition you went to be inspired by, then why not? It’s probably what you’ll get with separation anyhow.
Meantime, the latest Panelbase poll for the Sunday Times has shown that only 27% of respondents in Scotland want another independence/separation referendum before Brexit. There’s an excellent analysis of the whole poll on the What Scotland Thinks website – Ms Sturgeon’s Brexit Difficulties. This is the sort of stuff the SNP should be paying attention to, not the faffing around of journalists and ex-first ministers with tiny places like the Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein.
Heady stuff or the dust of dreams?