Home Tags Posts tagged with "liberalism"


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?

Donate to us: support independent, intelligent, in-depth Scottish journalism from just 3p a day

<em>Picture: Toasty Ken</em>

Picture: Toasty Ken

The British political system works beautifully, but is Nick Clegg David Cameron’s fag? It was Danny Alexander wot won it for the Lib Dems. The Scots have done it, so why can’t Westminster? These are some of the fresh comments from the international press on Britain’s new coalition:

The Age, Australia

“There are risks for Nick Clegg in maintaining a clear identity for his party. He may have scored strategic points in his negotiations on coalition, but this is nothing compared with the lengthy match of being in government: henceforth, the Liberal Democrats are at the service of their Conservative masters – or, as a British commentator points out, in public-school terms that the PM and his deputy will recognise: ‘Clegg has just become Cameron’s fag.’

“More crucially, the new government must quickly gain the momentum to deal with the unstable financial woes it has inherited. Britain has waited five days for a government. There is no time to lose.

Anne Applebaum, Washington Post

“Two good things have come out of what could have been a disastrous, drawn-out political crisis. The first is that, contrary to widespread belief, the British political system works beautifully: Although Britain has not been run by a coalition or minority government since 1974, everybody knew the rules of the game, everybody followed them, and everybody appeared willing to sacrifice some personal and political gains for the sake of the greater good. Rule of law is an elegant thing, when it works.

“The second good thing is that responsibility for Britain’s current economic crisis will now fall not just to the Tories on the centre-right but also to the Liberal Democrats, who speak for a part of what might still be called “the Left”. If difficult economic decisions have to be made – and Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has himself spoken of “swingeing cuts” – then at least they will have the imprint of more than one party and, thus, possibly more legitimacy and wider public acceptance. I am not saying this will definitely be the case: The parties could squabble, the coalition could fall apart, Cameron could be a disaster. But there is, at least, a chance he could succeed – a chance that seemed far slimmer only four days ago.”

The National Review, US

“The new coalition will face formidable challenges, chief among them addressing the huge budget deficit and cutting spiraling public spending. If he is to bring Britain’s finances under control, Cameron will have to implement the kind of Thatcher-style reforms anathema to the Lib-Dems. He will also have to address the major issue of illegal immigration, a huge matter for British voters and another area where there are major differences with the Liberals; Cameron believes in tighter controls, while Clegg has called for a deeply unpopular amnesty. The gulf is also vast between the parties on Europe, national security, defense, and foreign policy, and it is hard to see how the two sides can bridge the divide in these areas.

“The main dangers of this arrangement are early paralysis within the new government or the watering down of key policies needed to enable an economic recovery. There is also the threat of the Liberals being part of the cabinet while actively working with the Labour opposition to undermine the Conservative agenda.”

Der Spiegel, Germany

“Will it be as stable as Cameron and Clegg have promised? The personal chemistry between the two party leaders seems to be good. In terms of life experience, the two leaders, both 43, are similar. Both come from middle-class homes and are products of Britain’s elite education system. Other than that though? There are so many predetermined areas of possible conflict that the first fight between the coalition partners cannot be too far off…

“British commentators are already expressing doubts about how long the coalition can last. The life span of a hung parliament – where no single party has a clear majority – is usually counted in months rather than years in the UK. So the outcome of this experiment cannot be predicted. One thing is certain though: Nick Clegg will go down in the history books anyway.”

El Mundo, Spain

“Danny Alexander, who assumes the office of secretary of state for Scotland, is Nick Clegg’s right-hand man, his chief of cabinet and his eyes at the negotiations with the Conservatives. Alexander drew up the Liberal Democrats’ electoral manifesto and his influence on the new government will go far beyond his responsibilities. He is one figure who represents the future of the Liberals, and in the medium term, is Nick Clegg’s likely successor.”

La Nación, Argentina

“It is true that the Scots and Welsh have had autonomous coalition governments before, but that experience seems to have far from prepared them [the British] for it on the big stage at Westminster.

“They have found it so hard to adjust to the idea of watching a leader speaking to more than one political tribe that yesterday more than one political commentator fell into the mistake of referring to ‘David Clegg’ and ‘Nick Cameron’… Many are wondering how long the square peg can be kept in the round hole, because the ideological differences between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats run very deep.”

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg will use the lessons learned by his Scottish party in twice negotiating a share of government at Holyrood to ensure the Liberal Democrats wield as much influence as possible in a hung parliament, he revealed today.

The Liberal Democrat leader told The Caledonian Mercury that he had discussed the issue of negotiating a share of government with Jim Wallace, his party’s Scottish leader when the Liberal Democrats went into power with Labour for the first time at Holyrood in 1999.

And although Mr Clegg stressed that his focus was on winning as many seats as possible and not on coalition negotiations, he said that the biggest lesson from the Scottish experience was to have a clear set of priorities which were deliverable and which were known about in advance of any talks.

He said: “The main lesson [from the Scottish experience] is simple. It is that, in an election where all bets are off, where things really are wide open, where you can have a range of different outcomes, it is all the more important that politicians come clean with people about what their core priorities are.

“The clearer you can be on what your core handful of priorities are, the easier it is to make sure those are actually delivered in whatever circumstances you find yourself in. I think we have been much more explicit, much more candid and open with the British electorate than either Labour or the Conservatives have.”

Mr Clegg said his priorities were:

  • tax reform (raising the basic tax threshold to £10,000),
  • a “pupil premium” (smaller class sizes and more one-to-one tuition),
  • splitting up the banks, forcing them to loan money to small businesses,
  • and a complete clean up of the mess at Westminster.

The Liberal Democrat leader added: “That’s the lesson I learned from Jim Wallace and others – I have spoken to Jim about this – be open, be clear and don’t have any surprises up your sleeve about the things you want to see delivered.

“We are more open to the idea that if the British electorate doesn’t give any single party a majority then of course politicians will have to speak to each other. What the British people then deserve in that environment is a responsible, sane government steering this country through difficult times and I think our priorities do just that.”

Mr Clegg criticised Alex Salmond and the SNP on two fronts: firstly, for arguing that Scotland should escape the worst of the forthcoming cuts and, secondly, for trying to force his way into the leaders’ debates.

On the cuts and Scotland, Mr Clegg said: “I think when you have a structural deficit which affects the whole of the United Kingdom, the pain to alleviate is on those on low incomes, struggling to make ends meet frankly wherever they are.

“I think it is typical of Salmond that he talks about fairness on the one hand and then seems to be arguing that if you are poor and live in another part of the United Kingdom, that somehow you should take a bigger hit than if you are poor and live elsewhere.

“I believe in fairness across the board.”

And, on the leaders’ debates, Mr Clegg said the Liberal Democrats deserved to be at the table because they were a truly national party, unlike the SNP.

He said: “At the last General Election, one in four people who voted, voted for the Liberal Democrats, that’s six million people. I am very confident we will have many, many more people voting for us this time.

“Now let’s look at the geographic spread of the parties across the country. We are the only party that is truly national. The Conservatives are non-existent in the big cities in the north of England including my own, the city of Sheffield, they have one MP here north of the border. The Labour Party is non-existent in Cornwall. The SNP is irrelevant south of the border.

“For Alex Salmond in the face of those facts to stamp his foot and say petulantly ‘me too, me too’ is absurd. He is utterly irrelevant to this General Election.”

Mr Clegg insisted – in what is likely to be a major campaign theme – that the Liberal Democrats were now the most trusted party on the economy. He contrasted that to the Conservatives, who, he claimed, had lost the reputation they once had for fiscal responsibility.

He said:: “The Conservative Party has transformed itself from a party which used to pride itself on fiscal responsibility to a party which now believes in funny money and voodoo economics.”

And he added: “The Liberal Democrats, I think, have now emerged – and it surprising to some people – as the guarantor of fiscal responsibility while the other two parties are in complete denial about it.”