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high rates of tax

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway <em>Picture: Ernst Vikne</em>

Atlantic Ocean Road, Norway Picture: Ernst Vikne

What do you think of when you hear the word Scandinavian? Is it liberalism? Or social democracy? Perhaps high standards of living? Or high tax rates? Maybe saunas and snow?

Whatever it is, could we become Scandinavians – and, if we could, would we want to?

That was the issue which was raised to the top of the political agenda over the weekend when it emerged that SNP strategists believe that an independent Scotland’s future lies in looking north and east, not south.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s foreign and defence spokesman, has been leading the charge towards the Nordicisation of Scotland and his arguments are compelling.

He points to the opening up of new shipping lanes over the north of Russia because of global warming. These new routes offer to save companies 40 per cent on fuel and time costs in journeys from the Far East to Europe.

At the moment, that trade will go to Rotterdam. But what, Mr Robertson argues, if some of that trade could be persuaded to come through Scotland – and, in particular, through a new container hub at Rosyth?

Then there is energy, and proposals for a super-grid between Scotland and Norway. Then there is oil, and fishing and maritime surveillance and defence.

Mr Robertson’s argument is that Scotland used to enjoy close trade, diplomatic and maritime links with Scandinavia, but these were lost when Scotland joined the Union with England and started looking south.

With independence, he says, it is time to look towards our old neighbours again.

But there is more. Along with this new, Scandic, approach to diplomacy and trade is a defence strategy designed to dovetail with the Norwegians, the Swedes and the Danes and provide Scotland with the sort of defence forces which the other Scandinavian countries have pioneered.

This means small, high-tech, deployable forces designed to look after our corner of the world which, along with the Norwegians, Danes and Swedes, means the High North and Arctic – not the plains of Germany, the deserts of Irag or the mountains of Afghanistan.

That is the overt message. But is there a subliminal one, as well? How much do we want to become like the Scandinavians domestically, too?

By talking about trade and diplomacy and energy and minerals and fishing and defence, senior Nationalists have started creating an image of an independent Scotland as one that is similar – at least outwardly – to its Scandinavian neighbours.

They insist that this would not mean punitively high rates of tax or conscription or any of the other aspects of Scandinavian life which may appear unpalatable.

But how would we feel if we went further and started to aspire to be like the Scandinavians in social policy, or in penal policy, or in taxation?

Everybody seems to agree that the Scandinavians enjoy an enviable standard of living, generally, and that they seem to reach agreement on key domestic agendas by doing what is right, rather than by political dogma – but Sweden also seems to have the highest tax rates in the world, and these have been blamed for limiting ambition and economic growth.

But maybe that is a good thing. Given where Scotland is at the moment on a whole range of different indices, maybe it would be good to swap what we have for the Scandinavian model – regardless of the downsides.

What is certain, though, is that we have to have this debate. The SNP leadership has opened up the prospect of Scotland shifting its focus dramatically after independence and this then raises fresh questions about what sort of country we would want an independent Scotland to be.

The SNP’s political opponents will accuse the Nationalists of simply repackaging the old “Arc of Prosperity” slogan – but this new “Nordic” model is more complicated, better researched and more rounded than the now discredited “Arc of Prosperity” mantra.

Whatever the political views about this new approach, what does need to happen is that we need to discuss it, debate it and explore all its pros and cons in a mature, rational and lengthy discourse.

After all, isn’t that what the Scandinavians would do?

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