MANY times over the past few years, and especially since Brexit, numerous independence campaigners have pointed to Norway as a model for an independent Scotland, not least because it is closest to us in Europe in terms of population, and we share the benefit of oil and gas resources, though these have been used quite differently.
Scotland and Norway have centuries of historic links. Orkney, Shetland, the Hebrides and parts of the mainland were at one time part of the Kingdom of Norway, and while our two nations were at war in the 1260s, there has been peace and co-operation between us ever since the Treaty of Perth in 1266.
Norway became fully independent from Sweden in 1905, the break being achieved peacefully.
Loading article content
The connections between Norway and Scotland since then have grown stronger – there are thriving Scottish Norwegian Associations and many twin town links such as Aberdeen-Stavanger, Dunfermline-Trondheim, and Orkney-Hordaland, with Edinburgh’s annual Christmas tree being provided by the people of Hordaland and Bergen.
It was to Scotland’s capital that King Harald V made a state visit in 1994 at his request.
The development of North Sea oil and gas has brought industrial co-operation, which is continuing in the renewables industry, while Norway’s other principal economic activities of agriculture, fisheries and fish farming and forestry mirror that of much of Scotland.
So could an independent Scotland become another Norway, as the Westminster Government presses ahead intention to railroad Scotland into a hard Brexit against the will of the Scottish people?
Norway is not an EU member but it is one of the four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, along with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, and is also one of the three European Economic Area (EEA) countries, Switzerland not being in the EEA.
As Europe’s largest oil producer, whose biggest trading partner is the UK, Norway might just be the benchmark for where an independent Scotland wants to be economically.
- Population: 5.25 million
- Area: 148,710 sq m (385,170 sq km)
- GDP (per head of population): £46,000
- Life expectancy: M 79.8 yrs, F 83.7 yrs (15th highest in world)
- UN Human Development Index: 0.949 (1st)
- Curreny: Norwegian krone
- Oil fund: £700 billion
- Population: 5.3 million
- Area: 30,414 sq m (78,770 sq km)
- GDP (per head of population): £28,600
- Life expectancy: M 77.1 yrs, F 81.1 yrs (45th highest in world)
- UN Human Development Index: 0.909 (16th in world as part of UK)
- Currency: Pound sterling
- Oil fund: Nil
At £312 billion in total, Norway has a much higher GDP, per capita and total, than Scotland. It has a lower unemployment rate, a stable centre-left government with progressive social welfare policies including boosted pensions, and an Oil Fund that bankrolls the lot. Could our wealthy Nordic neighbour even be the lender of last resort for Scotland, rather than the Bank of England? And could Scotland enjoy the privileged positions Norway has gained in relation to Europe?
Dr John Skatun, senior lecturer at Aberdeen University and a graduate of Bergen University in Norway, said: “There are long historic links between the two countries, and we have the similarities of oil, fisheries and agriculture.
“Norway at present is a member of EFTA but not the EU, but it has to follow the rules and regulations of the EU, though they have two exemptions on agriculture and fisheries.
“Norway manages its own fish stocks and any fishing by European nations in Norwegian waters is through bilateral agreements.
“A lot of agricultural production in Norway is quite expensive because we are quite far north and we have a district policy in order to maintain rural communities.
“So Norway is outside the Common Agricultural Policy as well and there is not quite free trade in these two products, though 60 per cent of fish products in Norway go to the EU.
“It’s complicated as there are differing tariffs for processed products – it’s two per cent on fresh salmon but 13 per cent on smoked salmon exported to the EU.”
Norway’s people rejected the EU in a referendum in 1994 – the percentage vote was 52-48 for No, the same as in the UK last year – but has always stayed close to the EU.
Skatun added: “Norway has no voting rights in the European Parliament and no representation in the European Commission, but it has observer status in several committees.
“For instance, they have observer status on the Standing Committee for Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, so Norway can give its opinions and evidence to the committee.”
Perhaps if we are indeed outside the EU on March 30, 2019, an independent Scotland in the EFTA/EEA could also enjoy the same autonomies as our friends and neighbours in Norway.