Thousands of people descended on a sunny and warm Stromness on Saturday 27th May to enjoy the annual Folk Festival. As well as all the musicians and singers, writer and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch was also in the town to promote her latest book, McSmorgasbord co-written with the late Paddy Bort.
Lesley Riddoch is currently studying for a PhD for which she learned Norwegian. The subject: comparing the tradition in Norway for wooden huts as ‘get-a-ways’ where there are 479,000 to the situation in Scotland with only 500. This was not the topic of her presentation, however, as she was posing this question:
“Would an independent Scotland be better off in the “halfway house” of the EEA – like Iceland and Norway — or full EU membership like Sweden, Denmark and Finland? Our Nordic neighbours offer us a Smorgasbord of options and experience in Europe — shouldn’t we pay some attention? “
For Lesley, land ownership and democracy are inextricably linked. In Norway where the Concession Laws nationalised the rivers there is a completely different attitude to accessing nature. Rivers are seen as important and they do not belong to one individual and therefore neither does the power generated for them. Norway runs on hydro electricity.
With her involvement in the organisation ‘Nordic Horizons’ she has brought speakers to the Scottish Parliament demonstrating different ways to run small nations like Scotland. The Nordic countries all have different relationships with the EU from Finland being incredibly enthusiastic members to Norway who is not a member and all things in between. The Orkney News has covered how several of them deal with their island communities in our series on self-governing islands.
The options for an independent Scotland would be membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) or the European Union (EU).
European Economic Area
The EEA was formed in 1994 and is made up of all the 28 states of the EU, Lichtenstein, Iceland and Norway. In the EEA there is the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market, as well as the freedom to choose residence in any country within this area. When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer be a member.
European Free Trade Association
” The EFTA States have developed one of the largest networks of FTAs, which today spans over 60 countries and territories, including the EU. Combining the EEA Agreement and FTAs with non-EU countries, around 80% of EFTA’s total merchandise trade is conducted under preferential arrangements. “
Given the small size of the EFTA countries it is highly unlikely that the UK would be permitted to join given its large economy. Scotland, however, being of comparable size would be a possibility.
Although the UK is set to exit the EU, Scotland voted 62% to remain in. It is not known if an independent Scotland would make that same decision due to the discontent with the Common Fisheries Policy. Scotland, however, does have all the necessary requirements to becoming a member and has benefitted from EU funding and the free movement of people.
Lesley Riddoch’s talk concentrated on the relationships the Nordic nations have with Europe and made a strong case for an independent Scotland being part of a Nordic community. A trip to the Shetland Museum and Archive , however, will show you the strong trade links that once existed between the Netherlands and Shetland. Scotland is a European nation from The Auld Alliance with France through to our strong connections with Poland (World war II), Russia (both Tsarist and Soviet) and the tantalising strands of the Scottish diaspora as they emigrated across Europe and put down roots across the continent.
The talk was informative and posed the positive choices ahead for Scotland – if she was an independent country. As a nation of 5 million within the centralised UK state those choices will not exist.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame