Merryn's Blog

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

Scottish nationalists often like to compare Scotland to Norway. But perhaps they should be looking to the Faroe Islands instead.

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.

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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".

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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'.

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