Nordic Council

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:18 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 5:18 pm, 30th October 2002

When the Vikings popped across to Scotland for a bit of burning, pillage and rape, our history and, I suppose, some of our genes intermingled. Indeed, large parts of Scotland—the Western Isles, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland—were until relatively recently Scandinavian. Many of our place names retain their Scandinavian origins.

The process was two-way. People need only go to Stockholm and look at the names of the noble families in the Riddarholmskyrkan to see that many of them originate from the Scots generals who fought for Gustavus Adolphus. Indeed, it is possible to this day to see there the colours and trophies of the Scots regiments.

Go to Piikiö in Finland, where as early as 1580 a Scot—one William Reid—called on the house of a bailiff with 14 armed Scottish horsemen. Go to Copenhagen or Bergen and see the houses of the Scots merchants. Go to Iceland or the Faeroes and see where the Celtic monks settled the land. Go to Mariehamn in Åland and see the ships that Scots built to ply the Baltic trade.

History has a habit of repeating itself. As Europe's centre of gravity moves to the north-east, so too do our links with the nordic countries. The long-established presence and activity of their consulates in Scotland is proof that they value us and our input on common issues such as fishing, energy, the environment and our shared peripherality.

I will make only three brief points. First, although conflict within the nordic countries is unthinkable today, that situation was not always so. There were wars between the Scandinavian countries and, as late as 1920, Finland and Sweden very nearly went to war over the status of the Åland islands. Today, Åland is demilitarised, as is Spitzbergen. I wonder whether there is a model here that the British-Irish Council could consider in relation to Northern Ireland, where the conscious removal of all weaponry along nordic lines might become a political goal.

Secondly, no nordic country has lost any sense of identity within the wider union. Although there has been a passport union since 1974, a common labour market and a common convention on social security, diversity—the spark of life—still exists within that unity. Indeed, John Farquhar Munro, who is introducing proposals on Gaelic, might remember that all small linguistic groups in the nordic union can address the union in their own language, be it Faeroese, Inuit or even Saami. Furthermore, if we asked any Norwegian whether he would like to roll back history to before 1905 and become a Swedish citizen again, we would get a very dusty answer.

Thirdly, the nordic union has been most successful when it has dealt with business from the bottom up and when politicians have encouraged trade unions, professional organisations, teachers and health workers to co-operate across frontiers. It has also been successful where practical programmes such as Nordjob, Nordpraktik and Nordplus have been introduced.

I give the chamber an example from my own experience with the International Red Cross. When disaster or war strikes, the first in the field are always the nordics. In work where there is so much unnecessary duplication, their Red Cross societies work to common procurement standards and plans—one has responsibility for the field hospital, another for emergency supplies, another for accommodation and so on. That is only plain common sense. We the Scots, the English, the Welsh, the Manxmen and the Channel islanders could do much the same if we also invested in new institutional architecture that is based on our respective strengths.

The words of Michael Collins are appropriate both to the nordic union and to a future expanded council of the isles. He said:

"Free association on all matters should naturally be the common concern of nations living so closely together".