I’VE NEVER KNOWN a time in the past ten years when there’s not been more than a few months pause from Nationalists telling how we can all be like… somewhere else. It could be Ireland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand or any fantasy that fits the bill in that moment.
Like practically any other country Britain has deep-seated structural issues, but these can be addressed either at Westminster or at Holyrood in ways that could bring us closer to these particular countries if we wished – if only the government had had, 14 years, to get round to it.
That isn’t the point because solving problems means you no longer have problems to cry about. Denmark, a centre-right, Protestant monarchy with its own currency seems to be the current pop favourite so I’m going to lay out just ten reasons why Scotland would not be like Denmark, if we were independent tomorrow or even in 5 years.
The flag-bagging by Nationalists needs to be called out every time. This is the first in a series of articles where ten major differences will be highlighted to help mythbust the Fantasy Island (pictured above) we all drift off to occasionally. So here we go…
1. Smile! We can be like Denmark because its healthcare is free
Denmark’s healthcare is closer to the NHS than most EU countries but to keep the cost to the taxpayer down considerable costs are paid by patients.
Cost-sharing is applied to adult dental care (co-insurance 35-65 per cent), outpatient prescriptions, temporary home care, residential long-term care, corrective lenses, and travel vaccinations as stated by the Commonwealth Fund.
The health care system will pay a small portion of dental treatment costs, if you are over 18 years of age. For basic hygiene visits Danes pay about 60 per cent of the cost, and get about 40 per cent covered by the state. For other basictreatments like simple extractions and periodontitis (advanced gum infection) treatments you get also a good support. For other treatments you will pay 90-100 per cent of the cost.
So while Denmark spends much more on healthcare than we do, their citizens pay a lot of that extra cost themselves. Of course, we in Scotland could choose to do so too, given healthcare is devolved – but thus far our Holyrood administrations have sought to expand free healthcare as a means to get elected.
2. Education: The figures in plain English
Traditionally we think of Scandinavia as well-funded and high-achieving in education but PISA rankings show that compared with England and Scotland, Denmark’s results are very similar though Scotland is getting worse.
In 2018 Scotland’s performance in maths slipped by two points (491 down to 489) against 2016 – behind both England and Northern Ireland. In science, performance slipped seven points (497 to 490) – the total was notably behind England and slightly behind Northern Ireland. In Denmark maths was up at 507 but science was just above Scotland at 493.
University is free of tuition fees but while QS ranks Edinburgh University at 20 globally, Copenhagen ranks at 72 – just one above Glasgow’s rank of 73.
On many levels Denmark and Scotland do not seem so far apart though there remain huge gulfs between the East and West coasts of Scotland, something that will remain embedded for decades.
3. Currency: Two sides of the same coin?
Denmark has an old, esteemed central bank. Like the UK it fought the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty hard and won the ultimate concession, it kept control of its currency.
The Krone is in a strange position, of keeping the old ERM tradition of keeping its currency in a very tight band tracking the Euro, often within 1 per cent. Then again the same can be said for the Swiss Franc in recent years. It is still an independent currency and may, if it wishes, print money or decouple from the Euro entirely.
Its currency is strong and to manage its reserves it holds 66 tonnes of gold in vaults for extra flexibility. So, Denmark is rather like the UK, but not an independent Scotland that would start life without either.
4. Which socially conservative, centre right, Protestant monarchy shall we follow?
It may seem a little distasteful to market Denmark, Norway or Sweden in those terms but that is what they are. The political culture of these countries is conservative, fiercely independent of the EU in many ways, and that follows from having strong National Conservative movements in those countries.
All have their own currencies, Sweden is not in NATO, Norway is not in the EU and Denmark is profoundly anti-nuclear. No one can suggest opinion in Scotland is undivided in these fields, and constitutional monarchies tend to eschew excessive power grabs by executives.
5. På dansk? Language policy is a world apart from the SNP’s
Scandinavian countries pride themselves on speaking English to a very high quality yet their domestic cultures are monoglot which makes them hard to penetrate culturally. In this sense language is not divisive, there is one for home and one for the rest of the world.
Contrast that with Scotland where the SNP is now teaching Scots to children as a means of learning English and the PISA scores in English are not inspiring. At the same time it is nationalising Gaelic as just another front in the independence movement, copying the disastrous Irish model of coercive education rather than voluntary culture-led movements elsewhere as on the Isle of Man where Gaelg is starting to thrive again in a people who are very very British in their outlook.
All the while English is one of most marketable skills in the digital age, and we are failing to deliver where it matters.
6. Service-led economies
Denmark is capitalist. It has a mature industrial and service based economy but services are global and rely very little on regulatory integration. Danish bankers bank in… Denmark. Danish businesses tend to serve Danish markets. This is where language matters. Denmark’s financial sector does not heavily rely on Germany’s in the way Scotland’s relies on England.
It would be folly to try and compare a heavily integrated service sector in Scotland with Denmark’s that is largely self-contained. Where its services are global, such as shipping, this relies on the accumulated capital of a few large companies that have offices across the world. There is no similar machinery in Scotland. The days of shipping and shipbuilding are long gone, we can barely build a pair of ferries on the Clyde!
7. Separation of powers and the Ombudsman
The word Ombudsman originates in Scandinavia and its office is a powerful scrutineer of the parliament. Our own subcommittees are lamentable in comparison while the Presiding Officer has underwhelmed in its role during the last decade of flag-waving and game playing over the constitution.
The Hamilton inquiry, not fully released, shows the parlous state of Scottish democracy and the lack of separation of powers required in any functioning state or even devolved assembly. The dual role of the Lord Advocate has poured scorn and shame on what was a respected legal tradition. On this front, of sound, open and defined government we are sailing closer to Caracas than Copenhagen.
8. Freedom of the press
This is where Denmark excels, ranking 3 out of 180 in the world in terms of press freedom. Scotland, with controlled press briefings, local papers reliant on local government and central government funding, and the continued stifling of FOI requests it would take a prince of clowns to say with a straight face this is where Scotland is.
Routinely, it requires London-based press to force investigation of foul play by Scottish politicians, when they are not hiding behind super-injunctions to gag what journalism we do have. Instead we have compliant reporters who repeat whatever they are told without question, and we see BBC staff needlessly intimidated and without support. There is no way we compare favourably with Denmark on press freedom.
9. Voter engagement
People in Denmark have faith in their politics, to the extent they believe their vote matters. In Scotland in 2016 the voter turnout was 55 per cent, in Denmark the OECD reported it as 86 per cent. That is a colossal difference that does not require compulsory voting.
Without obsessions on the constitution, government and opposition are forced to deal with day-to-day issues and this is reflected in another global index…
Various scandals, that we are finding more about, from Salmond, to Gupta, to the third sector and its fealty to Holyrood contrasts sharply with how Denmark fares. Transparency International ranks Denmark the least corrupt country in the world. We can but dream.
We could look at many other differences between Scotland and Denmark but these ten stand out for a simple reason. We as Scotland either do equally well, such as on currency, or we can do much better within devolved government.
We do not need independence for a freer press, less corruption, better healthcare funding and outcomes, or better attainment in schools – and ironically, where Scotland is in a poorer position comparatively to Denmark much of the responsibility for that lies with the SNP. Imagine how much worse it could be following secession from Britain.