By Fiona Grahame
With the economic consequences of a hard Brexit starting to be realised and the lack of direction from the UK Government attention in Scotland is turning more towards links with our northern neighbours. Whilst trade and engagement with adjacent nations is always to be looked on favourably perhaps in our haste to promote these links we need to be aware of a more complex picture of the activities of those we share the northern seas with.
Orkney’s position where the North Sea meets the North Atlantic has placed it for millennia in a favourable strategic location both for military and trade purposes. Once part of the Pictish nations of Scotland it was successfully conquered by the Norse Vikings in the 8th C who ruthlessly obliterated the native culture.
In 1472 the islands became officially part of Scotland in a Royal trade deal as part of a dowry between the Scottish crown and King Christian of Norway and Denmark.
It was important as the last watering hole for ships plying the route to Canada as part of the Hudson Bay Company. During both World Wars the sheltered bay of Scapa Flow played host to the Royal Navy and protected the UK from invasion via Nazi occupied Norway.
Today Scotland takes part in meetings hosted by the Arctic Assembly. For the first time Scotland hosted a Forum in Edinburgh from 19th – 21st November 2017 and talks explored the shared challenges facing northern nations, including those affecting remote and island communities, such as:
- Growing tourism in a way that involves and benefits local people, while also safeguarding the environment
- Experiences from across the region in local projects to harness renewable energy and low carbon technology
- Ensuring young people have a voice and are able to influence the decisions on the future of their communities
Chair of the Arctic Circle Assembly Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former President of Iceland said:
“Scotland has formed policies in areas which are of great importance to us in the Arctic, including climate change, clean energy, new forms of economic activity, shipping and tourism. Therefore I very much look forward to participating in the forum in Edinburgh, and furthering the Arctic Circle’s links and cooperation with the Scottish Government.”
Membership of the West Nordic Council consists of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. NORA involves Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Coastal Norway.
Writing in CABLE magazine Morten Stemre an advisor with NORA who lives in the Faroes said:
“Representatives of NORA and the Highlands and Islands Council share an interest in preserving the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme as an important source of development financing, once the UK – and by extension Scotland – exits in European Union in 2019.”
Describing Scotland’s involvement as a new ‘North Atlantic Rim’ Morten Stemre states:
“As it pursues its opportunities in the ‘New North’, Scotland – and indeed the Highlands and Islands as a distinct entity – can possibly lead the way towards new regional cooperation and organisational setups across the North Atlantic Rim”
The three island authorities of Scotland have pursued stronger links with the Faroes. Sandy Clunes of SIC (Shetland Islands Council), Stephen Hagan of OIC (Orkney Islands Council ) and Alex MacDonald of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) first officially visited the Faroe Islands in 2004 where they met with the Prime Minister Joannes Eidesgaard. This was to see a succession of meetings taking place between the island authorities and the Faroes.
Although not in the EU The Faroes have a very lucrative fishing deal .
3.2 The Delegations agreed to grant reciprocal access for 2018 to one another’s waters as follows:
- The European Union is granted access to fish 30,877 tonnes of its 2018 catch limit in Faroese waters
- The Faroe Islands are granted access to fish 30,877 tonnes of their 2018 catch limit in EU waters of ICES Sub-area 6a north of 56* 30’N1
What the Faorese were also extremely interested in was delivering fast broadband connections. A plethora of correspondence took place between leaders of OIC and Faroese Telecom to broker a deal.
Páll Højgaard Vesturbú, managing director of FT Net said:
“The local councils and the population in general have shown great interest in our proposal in both Orkney and Shetland. We have also felt a large demand in the Northern part of Scotland and in the Hebrides for Faroese Telecom to solve their problems with poor mobile coverage.”
Their proposals can be viewed here. SHEFA Presentation OE2013
They had support from influential journalist Lesley Riddoch who wrote in The National
“Faroese Telecom are ready and able to provide mobile broadband on Shetland as comprehensively as they have done on the Faroe Islands thanks to a fibre-optic cable that runs from the Faroes to Shetland and Orkney before dropping down to Banff. ”
Instead the Scottish Government announced in December 2017 that it will focus on delivering superfast broadband access to Scotland’s rural and island communities, ” to provide a truly national fibre network.” Targeting Superfast Broadband for Rural Areas
Fergus Ewing, Connectivity Secretary in the Scottish Government said:
“Reaching 100% will not be easy to achieve, however achieve it we must. Fast and reliable digital connectivity is a fundamental expectation of all communities, regardless of location.
“To deliver our ambition, this government is investing £600 million through the Reaching 100% programme – more than any government in the UK has ever invested in broadband.”
More recently Stornoway born Angus MacDonald SNP MSP for Falkirk East who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Nordic Nations has proposed new ferry links between Scotland and Scandinavia.
Speaking to the Holyrood Magazine Angus MacDonald said:
“it is vital that we develop and maintain strong connections with the rest of Europe in order to keep enticing tourists to Scotland – and the economic benefit of increasing visitor numbers from some of the world’s wealthiest nations is clear, with Scandinavian tourists spending nearly £8.5 billion in the UK between 2011 and 2016.
“And it is not only tourism that could benefit, but our whole economy – a potential passenger/cargo ferry could have the twin effect of increasing tourist numbers as well as growing our exports across the North Sea.”
No one would deny that stronger trade and social links with our northern neighbours would not be beneficial to all concerned but before we launch into actual negotiations and sign any deals we have to look at other aspects of those nations which should cause us to stay our hand.
The Faroes, not an independent nation but part of the Kingdom of Denmark takes part in The Grind. A barbaric slaughter of pilot whales and other marine mammals that get caught up in it. Environmentalist campaigners Sea Shepherd actively oppose The Grind.
“While the Faroe Islands are not a member of the European Union, they remain a Danish Protectorate. In other words, even though the Faroes are self-governing, Denmark controls the police, defense, foreign policy, and the currency. All trade with EU countries is handled through the Danish foreign ministry. The primary reason for the Faroes abstaining from joining the EU was in an effort to prevent the EU from meddling in their fishing policies. The slaughter of cetaceans is illegal within the European Union.”
The written and photographic accounts of The Grind are truly horrific . Report on the first grindadráp of 2017
Consumption of this whale meat is considered by many in the international community to be unsafe due to the large number of pollutants found in it. According to Sea Shepherd ‘ Meat resulting from the grind contains high amounts of arsenic, cadmium, zinc, lead, copper mercury, and selenium.’
Whaling continues in Norway.
“Norway hunts minke whale’s under an ‘objection’ to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) global ban, or moratorium, on commercial whaling. The hunts rely on state subsidies and the government is constantly searching for new markets to exploit, with young people and tourists being major targets. Norway has aggressively fought to retain its right to hunt whales despite it being unnecessary, uneconomical and unquestionably cruel.” Whaling in Norway
In 2016 Norwegian whalers killed 590 minke whales.
Those who support having closer ties with the Nordic nations have argued that with more engagement Scotland could more effectively voice its objections to the continuation of whale slaughter. Highly debatable given the lack of effect international condemnation has had.
Our elected representatives need to think long and hard about what they do in our name. Forging links with nations who continue to flout international laws and participate in these atrocities comes at a price to our reputation as a nation. A nation which prides itself as being forward thinking and internationally responsible in its actions.
“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.” David Attenborough