THE Nordic Council is a body focused on collaboration between the Nordic region and its close neighbours. Since its establishment in 1962 it has maintained its core members of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway. One of the most interesting benefits that Nordic countries have shared in the past is freedom of movement.

The Nordic Council has aided in stabilising the post-Soviet Baltic region, co-operating with countries such as Latvia and Estonia where it has opened its own offices. Current affairs reinforce the importance of collaborating on this issue amongst many others, given the frequency of Russian aircraft approaching British airspace.

There’s no doubt that both Scotland and the council, particularly Denmark and Norway, will seek to maintain security in the North Sea over the coming years. Membership of the Nordic Council would clearly prove beneficial to Scotland as it pursues its independence, but could this be possible as a devolved nation?

Whilst the 1998 Scotland Act granted Scotland many powers, it did not include the area of international relations. It also specifically did not include international development assistance. Yet Scotland has strayed into this vaguely reserved matter, particularly in recent years. Scotland commits £10 million to an annual international development fund. It has also bolstered its international ties with the establishment of offices across the globe including in Paris, Ottawa and Berlin.

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A quote published by EuroNews from former SNP MP Stephen Gethins (below) best sums up foreign affairs under devolution: “ If there’s ambiguity, there’s opportunity.”

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The Nordic Council does already have members that come under the sovereignty of separate states. For example, Greenland and the Faroe Islands are under the kingdom of Denmark. The difference between Scotland and these regions is that they are under the sovereignty of a country that is already a member of the Nordic Council.

Unlike the EU, the council does not have the full power to implement law. Member states implement proposals by consensus. At first, this would seem to make Scotland’s membership more plausible by maintaining the alignment of Scotland- UK law on reserved issues. The main problem when it comes to full membership lies in the mechanics of that consensus as set down in the Helsinki Treaty which acts as the Nordic Council’s constitution, not to be confused with the post-war Helsinki Accords.

The Nordic Council’s constitution (the Helsinki Treaty) states that “Decisions on matters that under the constitution of any one of the countries require parliamentary approval, however, are not binding on that country until approved by its Parliament. If such approval is necessary, the Council of Ministers shall be informed thereof before making its decision. Until parliamentary approval has been obtained, no other country is bound by the decision”. In short, full members must be independent to pass motions in their own parliaments across all areas.

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However, this does not stop Scotland from becoming a permanent observer of the council for the time being. This form of membership would be similar to that held by the indigenous peoples’ Saami Parliamentary Council. The Scottish Government’s open approach to external relations in the past has clearly opened this up as a possibility.

The idea of Scotland gaining observer status was floated by Finnish MP Mikko Karna after the last Holyrood election. In fact, MP Douglas Chapman attended last year’s gathering of the council as a guest.

Organisations and regions fortunate enough to gain observer status have the benefit of tapping into the council’s wealth of policy developments and debates. Scotland would be able to learn from those areas relevant to devolved powers and implement them through Holyrood independently. Deepening ties with Nordic nations through this form of participation will allow Scotland to pursue a more engaging role in the future.

Scotland continues to benefit from its efforts to develop its image in the world separate from the UK Government without breaching the terms of devolution. Whilst full membership of the Nordic Council might not be possible as a devolved nation, Scotland has already taken concrete steps to ensure strong ties with the council in the future.