Scotland: more in common with the Faroe Islands than you think?

One of the interesting things about the Scottish referendum on independence is the fascinating historical detail it keeps throwing up. The separation of Norway and Sweden in 1905 is a case in point.

Scottish separatists often point to Norway as an example of what Scotland could become if it were to vote against remaining part of the UK. But they fail to mention a few vital points along the way.

First, Norway has significantly more oil than Scotland. Second, it runs a fiscal surplus. Third, the years post-independence were very hard indeed.

As a letter to the Scotsman points out, GDP per capita in Norway remained lower than that in Sweden, Denmark and the UK until 1974 with the country only kept going by “unity, national pride and stupidity”.

This brings us to the fourth and most vital difference between the Norwegian vote and the coming Scottish vote. The Norwegians (well, the male ones at least – women were not yet allowed to vote) all wanted the same thing: 99.5% of them voted for a separation. They had a tough time, but they had unity to help them along the way.

If Scotland votes for separatism, it won’t have the same amount of oil as Norway; it won’t have a fiscal surplus; and it most certainly won’t have much in the way of unity – whichever side wins, a good 40% of the electorate will be left feeling extremely aggrieved (unless everyone is lying more than usual to the pollsters).

So, Norway doesn’t help us out much. But there is another referendum in the area that might, given that the polls in Scotland are relatively close. In  September 1946, the Faroe Islands held a referendum on independence from Denmark.

The result was stunningly close – 50.74% voted to go, 49.26% voted to stay (although the count was apparently a bit confused as not everyone ticked the boxes – some just wrote on the papers – and in the end, there were only 166 votes in it).

However, some of those that voted to leave clearly didn’t really mean their vote to count: the Danish annulled the declaration of independence, and the Faroese electorate then voted in a pro-Denmark government.

Then in 1948, after more lobbying all round, the Danish finally granted the Faroese home rule, or what we in Scotland might call ‘devo-max’.

• Home rule hasn’t done the trick – here’s the Facebook page calling for another go at full independence.

  • Sceptical

    “… whichever side wins, a good 40% of the electorate will be left feeling extremely aggrieved…”

    Too right Merryn not to mention those among us expatriate Scots, disenfranchised by the greasy weasel (Salmond to you) but who are still, according to him, to be regarded as Scottish citizens if the ‘Yes’ vote wins. I presume that’s because he wants to retain the right to regards us as domiciled in Scotland for tax reasons?!

    • 4caster

      Sceptical, how would you define an expatriate Scot for enfranchisement? By place of birth? Parents’ places of birth? Accent?

  • EM99

    Hi Merryn,

    How about, for the sake of balance, pointing out some of the other economic advantages that Scotland has other than oil?

    Best wishes,


  • Llaregubber

    If the UK is a U of Ks then, Post independence, as there are only two Ks in the UK, surely what is left is no longer a “UK” or rUK, but really just a K plus dependencies. Will Scottish passport holders resident in the Kingdom of England+ become non-doms and pay no tax? If it’s a NO and UKIP force us out of the EU, can I buy a Golden Visa in one of the PIGS and pay no tax for ten years? It’s an ill wind…

  • Ali_H

    Hi Merryn,

    Use of the phrase “separation” or “separists” is a misrepresentation that is used by the No side in the Scottish independence campaign as you are no doubt aware.

    Having heard you speak in the media recently about things Scottish, I was rather taken aback by your lack of understanding of the people, culture and society in which you live.

    Take yourself off to the Edinburgh International Film Festival and get yourself up to speed.

    You’ve missed Border Warfare and The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, but there is still time to see There Is A Happpy Land.

    • jimtaylor

      “Having heard you speak in the media recently about things Scottish, I was rather taken aback by your lack of understanding of the people, culture and society in which you live.”

      I couldn’t agree more. The UK is currently not as united as it should be because of the ignorance of too many English people regarding Scots and Scotland and a colonial tone does not help in any way.

66% off newsstand price

12 issues (and much more) for just £12

That’s right. We’ll give you 12 issues of MoneyWeek magazine, complete access to our exclusive web articles, our latest wealth building reports and videos as well as our subscriber-only email… for just £12.

That’s just £1 per week for Britain’s best-selling financial magazine.

Click here to take advantage of our offer

Britain is leaving the European Union. Donald Trump is reducing America’s role in global markets. Both will have profound consequences for you as an investor.

MoneyWeek analyses the critical issues facing British investors on a weekly basis. And, unlike other publications, we provide you with the solutions to help you turn a situation to your financial advantage.

Take up our offer today, and we’ll send you three of our most important investment reports:

All three of these reports are yours when you take up our 12 issues for £12 offer today.

MoneyWeek has been advising private British investors on what to do with their money since 2000. Our calls over that period have enabled our readers to both make and save a great deal of money – hence our position as the UK’s most-trusted investment publication.

Click here to subscribe for just £12