Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:26 pm on 30th October 2002.
I am pleased to support and endorse the motion proposed by Kenny MacAskill, particularly where it concerns the development of closer political ties with the Nordic Council and between the Scottish Executive and the nordic council of ministers.
Geographically, Scotland is on the periphery of the European Union. In nordic terms—taking into account Iceland and the Faroe islands—it is pretty central.
I admit that I had never visited the Orkney or Shetland islands before I became a Highlands and Islands list member, although I am sure the minister had. I have enjoyed the privilege of visiting the northern isles to discover that so much of the culture, the language, the traditions, even the law, is more nordic than Scottish. Others have mentioned the pronunciations, the place names, the street names, the accents and the dialect.
On my most recent visit to Shetland, we attended a concert by the Shetland Fiddlers. I thought I would recognise all the tunes—no way, they were quite different. I also saw some Shetland dancing and I expected to see the dancers in tartan, but there was none. The traditional clothes, the stories we were told and the history were more different than I had appreciated.
We talked to the enterprising Shetland Council, which has a share in the Smyrill line ferries that sail from Denmark, Shetland and the Faroe islands to Iceland. The route cuts out all the parts of Scotland with which I was more familiar.
Probably the most striking difference is in udal law. When some ladies came to me—Jim Wallace knows the ladies to whom I refer—to say that they own properties but do not have title deeds, I said, "I'll sort that one out." Then I realised that udal law is the law of the ancient Scandinavian empire. Just as we hold on dearly to our Scots law, equally, people in Orkney and Shetland want to hold on to their udal law. That was a learning experience for me, as I had not even heard of udal law until then. There has been a recent change in the law and proof of ownership must be established by next April. I hope that talks with the Nordic Council will help us to ensure that people without title deeds in Orkney and Shetland will establish the ownership of their properties.
I use those examples to highlight the diversity of culture in Scotland. The northern isles often have more in common with nordic countries than we realise. One of the greatest successes I have heard of since becoming a member of the Scottish Parliament—Dorothy-Grace Elder, my colleague on the Health and Community Care Committee will acknowledge this—is a public health project in North Karelia in Finland. During the past three and a half years, I have stated that I would like to visit Finland to learn about its excellent practice in public health. We are never too big to learn from other people. That is one example of an area in which Scotland could learn a great deal from the nordic regions.
I am pleased to join in the congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the Nordic Council.