Nordic Council

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:34 pm on 30th October 2002.

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Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 5:34 pm, 30th October 2002

It is important that, as a new Parliament and a new democracy, we do our utmost to learn from other countries. We are going through a learning process in running our own country, so we should look to the nordic countries. I congratulate Kenny MacAskill on securing this timely and interesting debate.

The league tables that sometimes appear in the Financial Times showing the quality of life or the standard of living in countries across the world show that Norway comes top and that Sweden and Denmark come within the next four or five places. That tells us something that we in Scotland should learn from. The nordic countries do many things very well, although we are hoping that they do not do too well with their joint bid for Euro 2008, because we want to beat them.

Until recently, Scotland's salmon farming industry was largely owned by the Norwegians. The Dutch have now bought a fair chunk of it, but we should learn. How did Norway end up owning Scotland's salmon farming industry? It runs its salmon farming industry much better than Scotland does and we should learn from that.

Norway is one of the top maritime nations in the world. It has a population of only about 5 million, but I think that it has the second largest tonnage of merchant shipping on the planet. That shows its clout in that sphere. It is also Europe's other major oil producer and Scotland has many links with it through the oil industry. Recently, I was privileged to be part of an all-party group that went to the offshore northern seas exhibition in Stavanger, where I spoke to officials from the Norwegian oil sector. We met officials from Statoil, which is the state-owned oil company in Norway. It is clear that it has got its act together. Again, we should learn from what it has done and what it is achieving. A £55 billion oil fund has been built up for future generations of Norwegians. Perhaps we should have learned to do that a long time ago in this country.

Norway and Scotland have many sea fisheries links. Next week, talks will begin between the European Union and Norway over the future of white fish stocks in the North sea. Believe it or not, quotas are decided by those talks and not by the rest of the EU. Scotland will not be there, but Norway will, despite the fact that it is not a member of the EU.

Consider the renewable energy industry in Denmark. Scotland is the best-placed country in Europe to develop a renewable energy industry, but Denmark has developed such an industry and owns all the technology. We should learn how it did so, find out what we can do and work closely with it to develop our sector. Recently, Finland has stolen much of Scotland's timber market and paper industry. It is making inroads and we should work closely with it in that sphere. I should not admit this, but my first two cars were Volvos, which is a reminder that Sweden still has its car manufacturing industry.

Many academics in Scotland are experts on nordic rural policy and land ownership patterns, which are pertinent to what we are discussing. In recent decades, we have failed to learn what we should have learned from what has happened in the nordic countries.

When I was a student, I went to Denmark to do my dissertation on managing sovereignty in the EU. I wanted to find out how small nations do so and found that the Danish, like their counterparts in Sweden and Finland, are comfortable as members of the EU. They feel that they have real influence. Such influence was demonstrated when Denmark brought Europe to a halt with its vote on the Maastricht treaty in the early 1990s. Through speaking to politicians, civil servants and others in Denmark, I found an enormous affection for Scotland. Such people want to see Scotland play a greater role in Europe.

As enlargement takes place, the Europe of the future will be a Europe of many circles. People will work together on common agendas. It makes sense for Scotland to join the nordic countries. We have more in common with such countries than with many others. Last week, the Danish presidency announced that the nordic countries will come together after the next EU Council to discuss Europe. Would not it make sense for Scotland at least to listen, go along and engage in dialogue with those countries about what is happening, so that we can learn about agendas that affect that part of Europe?

A couple of months ago, the President of the Norwegian Parliament visited the Scottish Parliament and I had the privilege of meeting him. The idea of a cross-party group on the nordic countries was discussed and the Norwegian parliamentarians would certainly support it. I hope that we can progress more joint initiatives, such as the seminar in a few weeks' time, which will be interesting, and an all-party group.