Last week I took some time out from the Scottish referendum campaign and spent a week – eating too much – in Denmark, the country where even the Conservatives are Social Democrats. Or they might as well be.
Easyjetting in from Blighty where, these days, even Labour is Conservative – or might as well be, the culture shock is palpable.
And hanging out for a while in Scandi-land, it soon becomes clear just how bemused Borgen is by Scotland’s 50/50 independence dilemma. Not that the Danes are ill informed, Danish newspapers and TV news bulletins are endlessly rolling with curious coverage of the Scottish referendum story 24/7.
But our Nordic neighbours are also profoundly puzzled by the thought that Scotland, a country much like their own (pop 5.614 million), is still run by a Parliament from ‘another country’. “Sounds like a Sven Forkbeard trick from days of yore” opines my mate Erik, referring to a time when Denmark ruled the waves a thousand years ago.
Erik is an English teacher and generally aligned with the curve, so it’s surprising that he doesn’t realise that the powers of Scotland’s parliament only stretch as far as Westminster allows them to reach – like down to the garden gate and no further. It seems that he imagined that, with Holyrood up and running, some sort of federal power model was a formality.
Be that as it may, with the “Better Together” campaign’s doom and gloom scenarios of independence still clanging in my ears, my focus is on the features that particularly exercise the ‘No’ camp. So let’s compare & contrast our two compatible countries.
Doom and gloom No 1: The banks will up and leave! You’ll have no money!
A half hour stroll through the centre of Copenhagen reveals a plethora of solid, shiny banks, all seemingly happy to oblige. An interesting footnote here is that Borgen’s banks, while not entirely immune from the 2008 crash, didn’t get bailed out by Borgen, who has kept an iron grip.
After a spot of weeding and allowing failing banks to, er, fail, a series of mergers and consolidations has seen a healthy banking sector emerge from the dust and rubble. The stamp of quality control of a smaller government, acutely aware of its communal mandate.
Doom and gloom No 2: You can’t keep the Pound! You’ll have no money!
I detect no evidence of Danes moaning about the absence of the Pound, being quite proud, actually, of their Danish Kroner with a hole in the middle. Ok, so the Swedes have their Swedish Kroner and the Norwegians have their Norwegian Kroner but they all seem to jangle along perfectly happily.
Doom and gloom No 3: You won’t be able to pay pensions and benefits! You’ll have no money!
My 88 year old Aunt Gerda keeps a handy stock of Jägermeister in her kitchen cupboard and even provides a daily supply of Wienerbrød on her pension, without any apparent signs of hardship. As for benefits, Borgen is rated among the world’s most generous governments and still seems to have enough stashed behind their IKEA sofa for a truly spectacular 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.
Doom and gloom No 4: Your NHS will collapse because…You’ll have no money!
Thursday mid morning I have the pleasure of accompanying Aunt Gerda for her three-monthly hospital check-up in the next town. The hospital is sending a taxi to collect us and, upon arrival, we are offered fresh coffee and smart sandwiches. The free WiFi comes in handy for a quick campaign tweet. The place feels more like one of those airport hotels, efficiently minimalist, full of friendly staff. And it isn’t private either. And the taxi driver returns us to our front door. Nice Turkish bloke. I think.
Doom and gloom No 5: You won’t be able to defend yourselves! You need to be members of NATO!
Not especially belligerent, Borgen is nonetheless a NATO member. In fact, a previous inhabitant of Borgen’s Premiership, Anders Fogh Rasmussen is currently NATO boss. And there’s wee Denmark, totally devoid of Nukes. Pish.
Doom and gloom No 6: There’s no going back! This is forever!
Er, that’s kind of the point, Dave. No independent Commonwealth country was spotted beating a path to No 10 asking to ‘come back’ after the magnificent Glasgow 2014. And remember Portugal and Iceland and Ireland and Greece – the PIIGs? Oh how we all wailed and warned about their imminent demise back in 2008, a result of the banks’ self serving, reckless handling of the global economy. But the PIIGs didn’t fall into the sea. They’re still here, busily putting their countries back together again. And whatever crazy obstacles a scorned Westminster flings over Hadrian’s Wall, Scotland will be just fine. It’ll make it through the rain, just like the rest.
So enough of these patronising shock tactics. With the polls currently level pegging, voters are clearly not buying this line of spin and the “Better Together ” campaign still hasn’t answered the awkward question, repeatedly put to it:
“If we’ll be better together, why aren’t we better together already?”
The long and the short of it is:
Denmark is one of the most prosperous countries in the EU and Borgen doesn’t even understand why a vote is needed for a country to become, well, a country. As far as Scotland’s cousins across the water are concerned, just get on with it, vote YES and breathe in the fresh air. Take charge and become a ScandiScotland!