FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdottir, met for talks in Edinburgh yesterday. Nicola Sturgeon said: “Our countries have a long history of friendship, with many historic and cultural ties.”

For her part, Jakobsdottir said: “Iceland and Scotland enjoy a longstanding relationship.”

Iceland is the nearest fully independent island country to Scotland after Ireland, and the nations do have a shared history, although not all of it was always peaceful.


HOW about millions of years?

The same volcanic strata that lie below Iceland also once lay below some of our biggest islands such as Rum and Arran, for Scotland and Iceland were closely linked in the land mass that became Europe.

The first real links came during the time of the Vikings when both Iceland and northern and western parts of Scotland were part of what we could reasonably call the Norwegian Empire. Iceland was colonised by Norwegian Vikings late in the first millennium and they began to think of themselves as independent Icelanders fairly quickly. The new country established its own national parliament, the world’s oldest, in the year 930. Although it was Norwegians who were behind the first colonisation, the initial population had many Irish and Scottish members, mostly women captured on Viking raids. Recent studies have shown that 60-80% of Icelandic men have DNA going back to Norway, but the same proportion of Icelandic women have Irish or Scottish DNA . The ancient Icelandic sagas contain many references to Norse raiders returning from Scotland with plunder and slaves. Some sagas suggest more peaceable encounters including intermarriage between Icelanders and Scots from the Hebrides in particular.


ICELAND was taken under the control of Norway for centuries before the royal house of Norway died out in 1380, at which point the King of Denmark gained possession of Iceland, an arrangement that was to last for more than 500 years.

The Danish treated Iceland as a poor and remote colony. They imposed a trade ban on Iceland in 1602, and this was not lifted until 1854. A growing movement for self-determination sprang up in the late 19th century, but Iceland did not gain full sovereignty from Denmark until 1944. Scotland was one of the first countries to trade with Iceland, and many Scots were impressed by Iceland’s drive for statehood.

The Icelandic national anthem was actually written in Edinburgh. Lofsongur, or Hymn, was written by composer Sveinbjorn Sveinbjornsson in 1874 while he was staying in the Scottish capital – a plaque marks the composition at 15 London Street.

There have been air links between the two countries

for 70 years. There was formerly a ferry service which was discontinued in 2008.


SEVERAL Icelandic footballers have played in Scotland. The best-known was probably Johannes Edvaldsson, who was at Celtic in the late 1970s. He was known to the fans as Big Shuggie.

The most famous Icelandic Scot has to be Magnus Magnusson. The author, journalist and broadcaster was the son of Iceland’s consul general in Edinburgh. Magnusson famously presented Mastermind for 25 years and wrote many books about Scotland, Iceland and the Vikings. Magnusson was given an honorary knighthood as he never became a British citizen.