IN 2016 the policy group Nordic Horizons organised an event in Edinburgh in which speakers from the Nordic countries explored their “smorgasbord” of relationships with the EU and whether post-Brexit Scotland could learn any lessons from their experiences. The presentations were subsequently transcribed and prepared for publication.

Nordic relationships with the EU range from Greenland and the Faroe Islands outside it; to Iceland and Norway in the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association; to Denmark and Sweden in the EU but not the Euro; to Finland which is almost completely integrated into the EU. This bewildering range doesn’t exclude commonality in other respects. My initial reading of the book coincided with the publication of the annual World Happiness Report. It considers “happiness” in the broadest sense, as supported by “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance”. Norway, Denmark and Iceland occupy the top three places in the 2017 version; Finland is fifth, Sweden ninth.

The happiness club is one that just about any country would be happy to join. Canada, for instance, is in seventh place, perhaps because it reinvented itself in the 1970s as a European-style social democracy heavily influenced by Nordic models. Among other things, this distinguished it from the grunting elephant to the south that it was sleeping with. Scotland too sleeps with an elephant and, as it suggests in the introduction here, “maybe like Russia’s tiny Nordic neighbour [Finland], our choices are more limited by the proximity of England than we think.”

If Scotland sheds those limits and finds a place to be in the early days of a better civilisation, it will have to start by defining its relationship with the EU and there is nary a contribution here that isn’t fascinating and revelatory. The part played by the proximity of Russia in Finland’s decision to be the most “European” of the Nordic countries, for instance, is nicely treated by Tuomas Iso-Markku, a Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. Finland’s free trade agreement with the European Economic Community sparked a lot of soul searching about its special relationship with Russia. The latter’s subsequent instability, however, persuaded Fins to see the EU as a stabilising force. Iso-Markku also cites identity issues and the fact that membership of the EU enhanced Finland’s western or European identity.

Finland’s pro integration stance was also based on the fact that it wanted to be an influential player within the EU and this influenced its decision to adopt the Euro. Iso-Markku, like the vast majority of the speakers here, is more concerned with laying out his own country’s story than making any kind of prescription for Scotland, but he does say this: “The situation that Scotland finds itself in shares some similarities with the situation in which Finland was in after the Cold War. Back then, the basic pillars which Finland’s foreign, security and integration policy had been built on were all moving. And in Finland’s case that led to the response that Finland wanted to join the EU and wanted to become a core member state within the EU.”

ONE issue that may dissuade Scotland from full integration is fishing. Norway and Iceland are two of the top twelve fish producing countries in the world and have relationships with the EU that reflect that. The tiny Faroe Islands is heavily fishing dependent and Faroese politician Bjort Samuelsen has a succinct answer to why the islanders were so resistant to joining the EEC: “fish”. Samuelson also has some interesting things to say about the Faroes Parliament which she calls “the parliament of a self-governing nation under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Denmark” despite the Danes retaining some legislation rights over Faroese matters. The degree of independence this tiny nation enjoys extends to it not being in the EU when Denmark is and sometimes finding itself on opposite sides of the table to the Danes during fishing disputes.

One can’t help but be struck by the relaxed confidence with which the speakers here approach their subjects: explaining the history of their country’s relationship with the EU, outlining challenges overcome and avoiding telling Scotland what to do. One exception is Dundee-born, Norwegian citizen Duncan Halley, a wildlife researcher whose frustration with his homeland is almost palpable. Scotland, he says, is a bit parochial while thinking itself outward-looking and “things considered impossible in Scotland were actually and easily happening here.” His description of how Norway runs its sustainable fisheries is as envy-inducing as it would be if his business was, say, oil and gas.

Lesley Riddoch’s summative piece has a frenetic feel to it. Perhaps that’s because Scotland’s possible futures won’t have much time to evolve after the triggering of Article 50 and the days of festooning them with question marks are probably over. The one thing that seems certain is that the UK lacks the political imagination that the Nordic countries share.

McSmorgasbord: What post-Brexit Scotland can learn from the Nordics by Lesley Riddoch and Paddy Bart is published by Luath, priced £7.99