PUT Faroes and Scotland into a search engine and you get one very wounding result. Faroes 2 – Scotland 2. Yip, back in 2002, this tiny country of 18 barren islands and 40 thousand people, living halfway between Shetland and Iceland with 0.1% of Scotland’s population, almost overcame us in the beautiful game.

Strangely though, during a meal to celebrate the largest international conference ever held in the Faroese capital Torshavn this week, few locals could even remember a result that is painfully etched into the collective memory of the Tartan Army.

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“Did the Faroes actually win that game?”

“No it was a draw.”

“No I think Scotland won in the end.”

“No that was later in 2006. In 2002 we were winning until just before the end.”

Jings. 2002 was unquestionably a moral victory for the team of part-timers. But they don’t even remember it. All anyone vividly recalls is the Tartan Army, kilts, laughter, songs, friendships and whisky. But there’s another reason the fishermen’s victory has faded from public consciousness – there’s been an awful lot going on in the Faroes ever since.

Maybe the biggest moment was April 1, 2017, when the island cluster population finally hit the heady total of 50,000 for the first time ever. That means more folk than Inverness. It also means that many Faroese youngsters are opting to stay, or return from university in “mother ship Denmark” instead of turning their backs on a lonely backwater. What’s changed?

It’s been a slow burn – a story of political power fostering cultural and commercial confidence. A story Scotland needs to emulate.

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After being cut off from Denmark during the war years, Iceland declared independence in 1944 and two years later a referendum in the Faroes achieved a 50.7 Yes vote. But the Danes quickly offered a powerhouse devolved parliament instead with responsibility for energy, taxation, fishing and the usual devolved powers of education health and welfare. The cherry on top was the right to sign international treaties, a power the Faroese used in 1973 when Denmark joined the EU and, looking with horror at the constraints of the Common Fisheries Policy, the fishing-dependent Faroes didn’t.

So the islands are out of the EU, whilst Denmark is in. More recently, the new coalition government, with the pro-independence Republican Party and the Social Democrats, has opted to take more powers from Copenhagen – even though there’s a sizeable catch. Each responsibility devolved from Denmark to the Faroes must be financed by the Logting. If the Faroese 33-member parliament chooses to take on more powers, it must hand back millions of kroner in subsidy to Copenhagen. That’s the deal. But no-one here is complaining. The Faroese believe they must achieve economic independence before political independence is feasible. That reflects an awesome level of cultural confidence for such wee isolated islands. But it’s built on decades of steely defiance by islanders who refuse to regard themselves as remote.

Take Atlantic Airways. The Faroes state-owned carrier celebrates its 30th birthday this year and the story of its creation speaks volumes about Faroese feistiness.

Back in the 80s the Faroes were served by the Danish company MaerskAir. The connection to Copenhagen was infrequent and irregular Most of the year there was only one daily flight, often delayed for days when aircraft were needed on more important routes. Then the Faroese discovered that their planes were being used to take Danes to chartered tourist destinations in the Mediterranean instead. MaerskAir turned down repeated requests to share the route with other airlines. No wonder, because in 1987 they made a profit of £3.5 million.

Realising they were being ripped off, the islanders decided to act.

The Faroese transport minister set up a secret working party with a local helicopter service manager, a local lawyer and an accountant. They hatched a plan to find another carrier. Negotiations with new airlines meant travelling abroad. But they didn’t want to alert Maersk to their mission. “It was not easy to leave the country. The plane was sometimes overbooked and we couldn’t leave when we had to. We also could not be seen together at the airport so we had to hide that we were travelling together,” lawyer Eydfinnur Jacobsen recollects.

But it worked. They negotiated an agreement with the small Danish airline Cimber Air, who gamely defied its partner airline to help create Atlantic Airways (paying millions in compensation afterwards). The early years were tumultuous with compensation claims, operational deficits and a deep financial crisis in 1989 and declining passenger numbers. But today three jets connect the Faroese with Nordic capitals, Edinburgh and summer holiday destinations beyond.

THIS polite unwillingness to accept second best has accelerated in the past five years. Snubbed by Google as having a language too small to include on Google Translate, islanders set up their own Faroes Translate, where any translation request resulting in a bespoke, personalised explanatory video sent by a Faroese local. And of course with superfast broadband, those videos can be sent from any part of the islands – including fishing boats out at the 200-mile limit. So within weeks, Faroese Translate had gone crazy. There were 611,000 web mentions, and 1.3 million translations creating 5000 hours of film (Faroes folk like their statistics too).

Not content with making the case for their own language, the Faroese then set about tackling their exclusion from Google Street View by setting up Sheep View – live streams from cameras strapped to some of the thousands of sheep roaming the island. This prompted Faroese Ship View when camera-clad sheep were taken for day trips on boats, name-the-sheep-competitions and so much sympathetic publicity that Google finally backed down. The Faroese capital Torshavn is now included on Street View, though a breakthrough on Google Translate is taking longer.

Admiring feedback from around the world has helped prompt a change in attitude amongst the island’s young people. After years watching slight but consistent population decline, a corner was turned last year. When the 50,000 mark was reached last year, Prime Minister Aksel V Johannesen said: “This is a true milestone in Faroese history. Just a few years ago the notion of Exit Faroes stole the headlines and set the agenda with the message that the Faroe Islands were losing the younger generation to the outside world. Young people pursuing an education overseas were not returning to the Faroe Islands. Exit Faroes has now become Enter Faroes.”

Of course, some of this is simply down to economics. Fishing and fish farming are booming, partly because the Faroese have chosen to go for quality rather than quantity. One of their biggest companies Hiddenfjord has adopted the practice of leaving fjords empty after each generation of fish until the marine environment recovers.

It was scary holding staff without any income for months – but eventually the quality of Faroese salmon has risen to beat all-comers, including the Scots. Shipping is another growth industry with the Faroes fast becoming a central hub for new Arctic routes connecting Maine in America with Murmansk in the Russian Arctic and beyond as climate change opens the possibility of a north-east passage which knocks days off the Europe-Asia route.

Social change has been important too. A vote was taken last year to legalise same-sex marriage and new rules on fishing have broken up ownership patterns, giving newer entrants a chance. The auctioning of fishing licences has been controversial, but there’s near unanimous support for the government’s latest decision to ban non-Faroese residents from owning licences or boats, knocking out the danger that fishing income gets siphoned off by shell companies operating from offshore tax havens.

Speaking at the end of the Arctic Circle Forum yesterday in Torshavn, chairman and former Icelandic premier Olafur Ragnar Grimsson encouraged Scotland to think north and become part of its booming economy. “Rather than thinking how you can encourage tourists up from London, for example why not try to encourage visitors south from Iceland?”

He’s right. But the biggest lesson from the Faroes is clear. Truly meaty powers wielded creatively by their own local parliament has let big ideas become reality within months and years not decades. Witnessing their own creativity has created a cultural confidence that’d also developed the political appetite for even more control. It’s been a giddy couple of days in the North Atlantic – this is a circle Scotland must join fast.