We had a fabulous Nordic Horizons event in Edinburgh University this week with Øivind Bratberg (left) Dept of Social Science, Oslo University and British Politics society along with co-author of forthcoming book on Norwegian Social Democracy with fellow Oslo academics Dag Einar Thorsen and Nik Brandal. Oivind had a great opening line -- 'Great to see the small nations that don't qualify for the European championships spend their evenings on hope building activities instead!' If you want to see a quick summary of his speech plus questions and answers from the 100 folk packed into a very warm lecture theatre -- try the Nordic Horizons website. There will also be an audio version of his speech there soon. But meantime, a thought.
I was speaking afterwards to Nik Brandal, Oivind's strangely Liverpudlian sounding fellow Oslo academic. Nik is a big Monty Python fan, loves the Thick of It and watches Heartbeat. The BBC has successfully exported almost every sitcom to the Nordic countries - its one of the reasons their English is excellent -- but since BBC network output is dominated by London-based talent Norwegians haven't been exposed to the sense of humour in the rUK. Nik had seen Monarch of the Glen -- nuff said!! I'm not saying John Cleese is a one-man block on Nordic support for more Scottish autonomy -- indeed Nik's total fave prog is Father Ted! But sharing an "English" or British (whatever that is) sense of humour and a mania for English football teams is pretty common in Norway. By contrast Nordies are usually much less clear what Scotland is about culturally unless they've heard Shetland fiddlers at school or worked in the oil industry with Scottish "bears."
While we're at it, the Norwegian Royal Family spent the war in London and Norwegian social democrats took their inspiration from the (largely) English Fabians and the UK's Beveridge Report. Of course the Scots made a huge contribution to Norway during the war – many were killed transporting resistance fighters in the Shetland Bus. But it's a mistake to think proximity, shared oil, geography and some shared history mean today's Norwegians have an automatic affinity with Scots and not with London or Britain. I think that's what makes their observations about Scotland's current situation so interesting – academics like Oivind are informed, interested but neutral commentators. Meantime thanks to Edin Uni's Public Policy Network who helped with catering, Nicola McEwen of the Dept of Governance who responded to Oivind and Paddy Bort who booked the room, Jenny Marra MSP who came along to host the event, and the great team of volunteers who made this NH event work – Dan Wynn, April Cumming and Rachel Heydecker on invitations and room organisation, Lily Greenan with the kinda accurate, speedy notes only a former stenographer can produce and Sandy Miller for room ventilation and photos (he has yet to post, hint). It's great to see Nordic Horizons working in such a "flat", open Nordic way to make events work. Though if Oivind and friends weren't in town already for a conference we wouldn't have been able to hear them – NH has no pot of funding and applies to each Nordic Embassy for help with transport and accommodation costs. There is a limit to how generous the Norwegian Consul can possibly be! So we've also applied for some Scottish Govt cash to invite more speakers and take time to connect them with interested MSPs, "opposite number" Scottish professionals, relevant policy makers and civil servants and expand the NH website. Fingers crossed – but it will be a small amount so we still need help to find some more sponsorship cash. Anyone with time/expertise do get in touch.