By Lesley Riddoch

Okay – the referendum’s just a few days closer than it was last week.  But that single digit change in the year will create a semblance of focus and momentum once Holyrood, Westminster, Better Together and the Yes Campaigns crank their publicity machines into action after the Festive Break.

So while there’s a lull in hostilities and a whiff of Burns Night in the air, let’s see Scottish independence as significant ithers see it and consider the apparent lack of enthusiasm amongst our small, independent neighbours.

Of course, fellow aspiring nations like the Basques, Catalans and Quebecois did try to cosy up to the Scottish Government in 2013 only to be rebuffed.  Alex Salmond apparently doesn’t want the fortunes of Scottish independence to get tangled up in other campaigns – the Yuletide flutter over EU membership doubts amongst the Catalan leadership was a case in point.

And opponents have been vocal.  Leading Spanish politicians in Brussels snubbed Scotland’s chances of automatic EU membership.  But their objectivity is questionable – Spain is clearly struggling to contain several independence movements of its own.

The Welsh rejected Alex Salmond’s preferred policy of currency union with rUK but their First Minister also suggested Scottish departure would leave a non-viable rUK (with England constituting 92% of the population.)  Our devolved Celtic cousins clearly have their own axes to grind.

Only Icelandic President Olafur Grimsson publicly welcomed a possible Yes vote arguing that small independent countries in northern Europe have fared pretty well.  In an interview for BBC Newsnight he said independence “could be the road towards prosperity and a good society.  If you take a long-term view of about 100 years or so, the history of northern Europe is that countries have become independent one after the other.”

But then the Icelanders have recent form with Westminster – being put on the terrorism register by Gordon Brown still rankles – and a long standing policy of welcoming all new states.  They were first to recognise Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Apart from that there’s been a stunning silence especially from Scotland’s nearest and dearest – the “New World” nations to which Scots emigrated and the Nordic nations which many Scots see as useful models for a new Scotland.

Canadian Colby Cosh writing in Macleans magazine said the independence campaign has been “oddly overlooked in this most culturally Scottish fragment of the old empire” but didn’t explain why.

Nate Silver did.  The American award-winning statistician shot to fame by getting the right result in all 50 states during the 2012 Presidential elections.  But last summer he caused a storm here by predicting the Yes campaign had “virtually no chance” of victory in 2014.  Whatever you think of his conclusion it explains the general international silence.

Watching London-based polls and briefed by English international relations “experts”, the corridors of power across the world ring with one view and it slavishly echoes the thinking of southern think-tanks, London policy advisers, Chatham House and the British great and good.  So it should come as no surprise to realise the received wisdom is that Scottish independence referendum is a non-event, forced on a reluctant nation by a party which surprised everyone with the scale of victory in 2011 and forced into a premature ballot on a key constitutional policy that needed longer to motivate Scottish voters.

Who knows – that received wisdom could yet be proved right.  The point is that world leaders do not jeopardise existing relations with Britain – a dominant force in world politics – to champion the cause of an apparently half-hearted wannabee.

Some may argue the lack of international support doesn’t matter.  Indeed silence from erstwhile critics like America may be golden.  The Americans were furious over the release of Lockerbie bomber Al Megrahi and only slightly mollified by the SNP’s controversial policy change committing an independent Scotland to join NATO.

Indeed after American military sources made it clear they would oppose Scotland’s entry to NATO without the assurance they could continue to use Faslane, the White Paper suggested NATO vessels could visit Scottish ports without having to confirm or deny nuclear weapons were on board.  This unpalatable volte face – to keep America neutral on Scottish independence – was made slightly sweeter with the observation that “Scotland will adopt a similar approach as Denmark and Norway in this respect.”

And this leads to the most wounding silence of the lot – that of our Nordic neighbours.

There was an expectation Norway would view Scotland’s battle for self-determination as a re-run of its own.  The Norwegians finally broke free from Stepmother Sweden in 1905 after almost a century as a highly devolved, tax-raising nation and a final stunning referendum result — 368,208 for independence 184 against.

Finland is another nation of five million people — ruled first by the Swedes then the Russians as a Grand Duchy until the October Revolution of 1917.  Might not the gallous Finns – who took on the Red Army twice over lost Finnish territory – express some sympathy for the emergent Scots?

Everyone needs friends, the small Nordic nations have become a template for a new Scotland and Scots would like to think the emergence of a thriving, renewable-energy generating, like-sized, like-minded neighbour could be rather useful to them.

So why the Big Silence?

Firstly, Scotland’s been a region of the UK so long we’re truly invisible abroad (apart from our whisky.)  If Nordic nations had enough time to pay attention to sub nation-state polities, the German Lander would be closer, more powerful and more historically connected than Scotland.

Secondly, Denmark – like Spain — has secession problems of its own – with Greenland and the Faroes.  So whilst its journalists are most interested, its politicians have least interest in promoting the idea of small nation breakaways.

Thirdly, Finland and Sweden have bigger international tasks to the south and east – reintegrating their economies and transport systems with the re-emerging Baltic nations and trying to encourage “Nordic-style” welfare, tax and democratic solutions there.
Fourthly, all Nordic nations have new right-wing governments more politically in-tune with David Cameron than Alex Salmond – though in practice right-wing Nordic politicians still support a big welfare state, equality and a high wage, relatively high tax society.

Fifthly all the Nordic nations – especially Norway – have long had close links with London.  The British were the first nation to validate the Norwegian declaration of independence from Sweden and the Norwegian Royal Family lived there and led the resistance from London during the Second World War.  As the daughter of a northern Scot, it’s wounding to find this royal connection is remembered in Norway whilst the Scottish sailors who risked and often sacrificed their lives to deliver resistance fighters in the Shetland Bus are not.

Meanwhile, on the cultural front, most Nordic TV stations have been importing BBC sitcoms for decades – you’re more likely to get a word perfect rendition of Monty Python’s parrot sketch in Oslo than Glasgow.  And since all the Nordic nations used subtitles, English-accented and produced comedy exports like Fawlty Towers helped create their word perfect English.  Nothing creates stronger bonds than laughter – as John Cleese discovered during his lucrative Nordic “Divorce” tour.

As it is with individual comedians, so it is with the country and culture that produced them so Britain is generally regarded with great affection in the Nordic nations – warts and all.

Strong cultural ties are most naturally built between sovereign nation states with equal status – not between nation states and neighbouring regions.  If it was otherwise, our neighbours would have a plethora of highly devolved and productive German Lander with whom it would be easier to do business.

Scots are convinced we are visible across the globe because of Braveheart, kilts, whisky, golf and our Scottish Parliament.  We are not.  For as long as energy, international affairs and defence are reserved matters, Nordic capitals are inevitably and unconsciously oriented towards London and the English view of things.  Independence supporters should understand this dynamic better than most.  It is – after all – why they want a separate Scottish state.

Finally, Scots are not the only folk with big events in 2014. On May 17th, a month before Scots commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in June, the Norwegians will celebrate 200 years of their Constitution – the radical document that shaped the nation almost a hundred years before independence from Sweden.  Descendants of the 112 “Eidsvoll men”– including North Americans who can prove “Eidsvoll” ancestry through an online genealogy site – will be welcomed back to the town where the world’s second oldest functioning constitution was written.

Indeed in April, the Irish will mark a millenium since the Battle of Clontarf when Irish forces decisively expelled the Vikings in 1014 with official events linking Dublin and Reykjavik – small country capitals with similar “wild-boy” reputations.  It helps to have feelings of comradeship with like-minded neighbours.

So some tangible support from Scotland’s nearest neighbours would have been welcome in 2013.  If not support then a tiny bit of interest.  After all, as history will demonstrate to Ireland and Norway this year, the political control of territory may change but the configuration of geography abides.

If Scots vote yes, Norway will have a different sort of next door neighbour – able and keen to strike up North Sea energy deals, join the Nordic Council (even as an observer) and share thinking on kindergarten, welfare and workplace policies (as long as budgets and political will permit).  Scotland – if it elects another SNP government – will be on its way to becoming another non-nuclear NATO member – just like Norway, Iceland and Denmark.

Sandwiched between superpowers, neutral, conciliatory and peacekeeping, enthusiastic importers of British culture and sovereign states relating primarily to other sovereign states over defence, energy and international relations — it should really have come as no surprise that Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have kept their diplomatic powder dry over Scotland’s independence adventure and will continue to do so during 2014.

But that’s not to say there isn’t personal, unofficial interest at the highest levels.

A Danish friend discussing Scottish independence with diplomatic colleagues got a lukewarm response until they started discussing the prospects for a posting in Edinburgh. “Fabulous city – wonderful location, great place to live, brilliant arts scene etc etc.”

Plus ca change.  Small, modern aspiring nations have always done the heavy lifting alone until the exercise of their own democracy has conferred legitimacy and attracted international recognition.

In 2014 and beyond, Scotland will be no different.


Lesley Riddoch is the author of ‘Blossom – What Scotland needs to flourish’
Blossom can be bought in bookshops, online at or on kindle


2014-01-05 00:48

Change should be an inside out process. Shaping a new Scotland through the will of its people will create a country with the right principles at heart which will match our resource rich and diverse economy. Scotland has a track record for innovation and creating a modern constitution to serve the people is very much within our capabilities. We will not be long in garnering support from around the globe after independence. Welcome to Newsnet Scotland Lesley and I look forward to reading more of your informed articles on the real issues of the debate.
2014-01-05 01:50

Great to see you back Lesley. It would be nice to have recognition from our Nordic and Scandinavian neighbours, but in the final analysis it’s 50%+1 that wins it and it looks like we’re on song.

John Mulvey, the ex-leader of Lothian Regional Council has stated he is going for YES. Welcome, John.
2014-01-05 03:22

Brilliantly clear analysis of the ‘Big Silence’ and one which I accept entirely. It’s our neighbours inside Scotland we need to convince, motivate and stir into action. Not easy, but there is a lot of great stuff happening and a lot more to come I hope.
2014-01-05 07:20

Oh well, another encouraging story.
2014-01-05 08:08

Good article.
2014-01-05 09:07

Having spent a couple of days in those Nordic countries does not qualify me to speak but I will say that having had a confrontation on a bus at the Vasa Museum, when the guide had asked where we were from, the English naturally said they came from England, and we, fools that we were said we were from Scotland. The jeers and cat calls from our “fellow” countrymen astounded her something rotten.
It was heartening therefore to listen to the guide in Gothenburg who during her commentary spoke about the close ties they had with Scotland. We are liked in Scandinavia, maybe the Politicians are reluctant to comment for fear of upsetting the apple cart, but the ordinary people like us,nay prefer us, I think the guide had perhaps heard this before in Stockholm, I was not shocked and shall we say P&O; are now poorer as we had experiences this year that we will not be repeating.
2014-01-05 09:19

And where do you stand Lesley in the “debate”? You always seem non-committal in your writing as if you are hedging your bets. Could you be brave and come out as either a “Yes or a “No”.

[Admin – Lesley confirmed she would be voting Yes some time ago.]
2014-01-05 10:11

I find a lot of interest in Scotland’s independence debate at the international events I attend.

It is unrealistic to expect other countries to express support before the vote. They have to maintain good relations with whatever state we find ourselves in after 2016.
Edna Caine
2014-01-05 11:39

I was interested to learn how so many of the “silent” Nordic countries have close ties with the established UK. It is perhaps surprising that none of them have spoken up in favour of the Union.

But then, I couldn’t really give a toss what nations furth of Scotland think about the debate. Their view is unlikely to influence anyone’s vote so it’s time to get back to focussing on the real issues which concern the Scottish people alone.
2014-01-05 12:13

Excellent commentary. We need more people like Lesley, Jeanne Freeman etc, who are not recognisably SNP spokespersons, to articulate the case for independence. I hope the Yes campaign recognise this and make sure that their voices are heard on Any Questions and radio and TV phone ins. The more we take out party politics out of the referendum debate, the more we can convince the undecided.
2014-01-05 18:01

After the drubbing and humiliation Lesley gave to Jim Wallace with the help of Nicola on one of the initial BBC Big Debates I can’t see The BBC letting her anywhere near any future debates with Project Fear.

2014-01-05 12:18

Lesley is right regarding the false belief that many Scots have that we are well known as a country around the world. In a recent BBC report the historian Professor Graeme Morton of Dundee University repeated this illusion by claiming “People outside of Scotland know Scotland is a nation”.

I lived in France for a couple of years and was shocked to find out that many French people had barely heard of Scotland never mind thought of it as a nation. Eventually my heart would sink every time I was asked the question “Where are you from?” It meant me having to go into a long winded response as to what Scotland was and where it was.

France is one of our nearest neighbours, when you get further afield and are asked where you’re from you may as well say you’re from the planet Zog, you’ll get a similar response.

Professor Morton’s claim is here:
2014-01-05 12:24

You’re right of course. When I first moved to Ireland I was amazed at how ignorant people were of Scotland, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that all formal international meetings, discussions, etc, take place only between sovereign states and Scotland, even to folk here, is only a region of the UK. The media here also report the referendum as a non-event with no expectation of a Yes outcome. Their UK correspondents are based in London and regurgitate the prevailing opinion there. When devolution was being voted on there was concern here that Scotland could compete in terms of attracting foreign direct investment from multinationals, but after looking at the limited powers of the parliament the conclusion was ‘not a threat’. This time round they aren’t even bothering to discuss such possibilities. Yet, that is. Will be interesting to watch as September approaches.
2014-01-05 12:45

Every country,as far as I’m aware,takes the view that this is a decision for the Scots to make,and that it’s not their place to interfere.That is as it should be.Nice article.Lots more still to say.
2014-01-05 13:05

Nothing succeeds like success. Until we recover national sovereignty we are invisible. There is no room for nostalgia or romanticised kith and kin notions of continuing to be British ie In real world terms English/Anglais/Ingles/Angliskii etc., after the hoped for great result. Socially we have little in common with Nordic states. We have levels of poverty and deprivation they associate with the third world. So lets get real. Its up to us. Little Montenegro, Slovakia, Georgia did the deed. So what’s to stop Scotland? Only our fear of shadows?
2014-01-05 14:05

Speaking about the apparent “invisibility” of Scotland among our more established countries only brings to my mind my own experiences. I have now lived and worked extensively in Central and South East Europe. Among countries, some of which were only (re)established in the last 20 years. When asked where I come from, “Scotland” always gets a smile and a warm greeting, soon followed by the question, “Will you be independent soon?”

So, perhaps we are more in tune with countries that have recently gained their independence, and the other, more established nations pay us minimal regard. Who knows, and to be honest in my case “who cares?”

We have a propaganda media and the BBC to fight. It may be nice to think that others view our struggle with interest, but in the end, it won’t change the vote.
2014-01-05 16:12

Your clear headed realism is, as always, very welcome Lesley.

While holidaying in Scotland last year, a Dutch friend’s husband said he had grave misgivings about Scotland’s ability to survive independence. When I enquired as to why, he cited, almost verbatim in his perfect English, everything we have heard from Better Together. Project Fear writ large, with the BBC’s aid no doubt. I couldn’t help but smile. This brought a look of puzzlement to his face. How could I be so flippant in the face of this impending disaster? I included a print out of numerous articles in their Christmas package, all from NNS or it’s sisters, in the hope of giving him, his family and friends some much needed balance to the British state’s diet of gloomy propaganda.

However, it is Scots own perception of their country which needs changed. Until we ourselves believe, how can we convince others?
2014-01-05 17:56

The advantage of Scottish independence will be felt here in Scotland – or not. Does Norway have anything to gain from an independent Scotland? Sweden? USA? Not really.

I am quite sure they will all welcome Scotland onto the world stage once we are independent, but without a direct vested interest in us becoming independent, nobody is going to put their shoulder to the wheel.

By the same token, it’s not that Spain or Brussels lack objectivity in attacking Scottish independence, but that they do recognise some self interest in derailing separatist movements in their own countries. We shouldn’t be surprised, nor should we condemn them out of hand if they find common purpose with Westminster. But truthfully, if it wasn’t for the obvious parallels with Catalonia, I don’t expect Scottish independence would even feature on Rajoy’s political radar.
This issue is about our own self determination. Nobody will do it for us.
2014-01-05 19:32

“… a whiff of Burns Night in the air”

I wonder if Lord Robertson has been invited as an honoured guest to any such event? Maybe he will be in Catalonia where they do have language and culture?

We Scots have to take responsibility for our national low profile in the world. There is a golden chance to remedy this in 2014.

Thanks for a very good and informed article Lesley.
2014-01-05 20:02

As has been mentioned by previous posters the London based media are not only trying to persuade the Scottish public that independence is not viable they are also trying to persuade the world.

For example this piece of nonsense on the American network CBS news site:…/…

This so called journalist makes a series of innacuarate claims regarding independence and its consequences:

Border posts: Wrong
New currency: Wrong
Scottish parliament already has huge power: Wrong
Queen’s houses under threat: Wrong
Oil and gas belonging to Scotland is just a nationalist claim: Wrong
Condemning rest of UK to eternal Conservative rule: Wrong

This kind on ‘news management’ by the British establishment could go someway to explain the lukewarm reception the story is receiving internationally  .
Marga B
2014-01-05 21:44

James – you can do something by commenting. They’re not the BBC, they do react.

If you want a recent example from Catalonia, then put the words “Catalan TV Network Reflects Separatist Fervor” (if you put in the link you hit the paywall). It is a nasty article by the Madrid correspondent of the Wall Street Journal trashing Catalan TV for bias and implying that Catalan society is brainwashed into being independentist.

Next day the Catalan press reports that the journalist is defending himself from a Twitter attack, and I imagine a good few emails too.…/

Keep these people on the run, and do it in public if possible!

2014-01-05 21:08

Maybe we should refuse to sell the countries of the world whisky, unless they can pass a Scottish test…How long before Scotland would be on the tip of their tongues?
2014-01-05 21:54

Two recent events suggest that senior Establishment figures in Nordic countries are letting slip their admiration for an independent Scotland and our government.

Last year I was a guest of a Finnish government agency with an impressive international reputation. The senior management spoke very highly of the Scottish government, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of our country despite some never having set foot in Scotland and said the door was open to Nordic Council membership.

In the summer at the Green Pilgrimage Conference in Trondheim a former Norwegian Prime Minister and now involved in the Council of Europe told my friend that as Norway had managed independence it should be no problem for the Scots. He did suggest that there was wide International concern about rUK.
Ewan G Kennedy
2014-01-06 06:53

It’s difficult to generalise from one’s own experience but for what it’s worth I have quite a few Swedish and Danish friends who are well aware of the issues and see Scottish independence as a no-brainer.

Ditto some Estonian friends living in Glasgow. One of them tells me that when Estonian were discussing independence from Russia they got exactly the same “too wee, too poor too stupid” stuff plus loads of supposedly respectable economists telling them they couldn’t go it alone.

What is extremely interesting and more relevant than the views of ordinary people living abroad or the politicians in their countries is how Scottish residents of other nationalities will vote. (to be continued)
Ewan G Kennedy
2014-01-06 20:02

… I’ve spoken to some Glasgow-based Poles who are voting yes, but on a trip North last summer was told there are a lot of Poles around Inverness discussing the issues and inclined to vote no. I think the reasons are:- Yes voters feel they have happily integrated in Glasgow – go to Celtic Park, lots of Polish delis, Churches do services in Polish. No voters are being reminded of British efforts in the War and subsequently – it seems discussions about Solidarity don’t automatically produce the outcome one would expect.

A final thought. I have a blog on maritime matters, scottishboating  , and wrote a while ago about Robert Bontine Cunningham Graham. The post has been getting an incredible number of hits, most from places like Poland. This suggests a great deal of grass roots interest.

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