Nordic Council

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:13 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 5:13 pm, 30th October 2002

I echo Irene Oldfather's congratulations to Kenny MacAskill on bringing the issue to the Parliament's attention and I echo his congratulations to the Nordic Council on its 50th anniversary. I, too, look forward to the event in November, not least because the Norwegian fisheries minister is due to be present. John Farquhar and I met him in August when we visited Bergen with some colleagues to see salmon farming. The fact that the Norwegian fisheries minister will be in Edinburgh in November is timely, to put it mildly, given current events.

It is important to acknowledge—I am sure that the minister will touch on it—that the recess featured the successful Scotland in Sweden event, in which not only the Government but the Parliament played an important role. That is an illustration of the development of the links that Kenny MacAskill was right to talk about and to push for more of.

It is arguable that my constituency, given its geography, has a slightly different perspective on the issue from that of other parts of Scotland. Shetland has an historic link with our Norwegian and other Scandinavian neighbours. After all, for many years it was ruled from Norway and latterly Denmark. Indeed, some people might argue that Shetland continues to be technically on loan to Scotland. During the height of the 1980s campaign against the proposed massive expansion of the Douneray nuclear plant, the declaration of Wyre was signed by many Orcadians and Shetlanders. The declaration was sent to the Queen of Denmark, with a request to take back Shetland and Orkney, as that would aid the campaign.

The historic links have led to more recent ties, including those that were forged in the second world war when the Shetland bus was manned by Norwegians who were living in exile in Shetland. The "bus" maintained vital supply lines to the west coast of Norway and the Norwegian resistance who were fighting the occupying German army.

Other Norwegian servicemen were based in Shetland. Their legacy is a generation of Norwegian men who married Shetland women and settled on one or other side of the North sea. Many old memories were stirred and new links forged when the restored Shetland bus vessel the Hitra sailed over to its wartime base in Scalloway. For the modern generation of Norwegians who visit my constituency in some numbers, a visit to the Scalloway Museum is part of their itinerary.

As Kenny MacAskill rightly said, the Nordic Council has nurtured two of the main areas of nordic co-operation—culture and the environment. Both areas have strong relevance to Shetland. Our island culture has many roots in its nordic past. That is best personified in the modern age by Up-Helly-Aa, a festival that is a century old but that looks back to our Viking past. It is also possible to hear the echo of Norwegian, Scandinavian and Scottish music in the distinctive Shetland fiddle music of today. Most if not all Shetland place names echo their Norse origin.

Shetland's environment depends on the North sea, which we share with our nordic neighbours as well as with our Orcadian and Scottish neighbours. I have already mentioned the declaration of Wyre. It was natural that Shetland should turn to the nordic nations when we were faced by a threat to our environment from the Dounreay plant. Those nations feel as strongly as we do on that subject.

The Shetland campaigning group NENIG—the Northern European Nuclear Information Group—took its campaign against the Dounreay expansion to the Nordic Council and won its support. As the importance of the environment increases, further co-operation can only be a welcome factor, as Kenny MacAskill mentioned.

I look forward to seeing Scotland as a whole build better relations with the Nordic Council, working together on our common interests, particularly those relating to culture and the environment. No remarks about Scandinavia are complete without the excellent illustration of what I have been saying that was made by Jo Grimond. When, on his election, he was asked by The Times of London for the name of his nearest railway station, he replied "Bergen".