Book Review

Lesley Riddoch and Eberhard Bort, McSmorgasbord: What post-Brexit Scotland can learn from the Nordics, Luath Press, £7.99, pp196, 1912147009

McSmorgasbord is in essence a conference report. In October 2016, the policy group Nordic – with Lesley Riddoch and the late Paddy Bort at the helm – convened a conference in Edinburgh, bringing together over 300 people including senior policy-makers to consider options for Scotland post-Brexit. It focused on what relationship Scotland should pursue with other European nations, whether as a devolved country within a multi-national Britain, or as a future independent state. This book collates the main papers, together with a brief appreciation of the authors and an intro and outro from the editors. As an introductory guide to terms and history, McSmorgasbord provides the reader with a Europe 1.01 primer and is useful for anyone needing to know their EFTA from the EEA.   

The Nordic region, or Norden, comprises five countries: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Each is focused on in turn. Although the countries have much in common in terms of shared demography, religion and history providing a regional identity, they are also very different. Each of the five have a different relationship with the institutions of Europe ranging from Finland’s enthusiastic participation in the EU and Euro to a more sceptical approach of Norway and Iceland (which are in the EEA but not the EU). The historical and political factors at work in each case are examined and throughout the question posed is: what can Scotland learn from these diverse experiences?

Is Finland’s position of living in the shadow of the Russian bear analogous to Scotland sitting atop a much more powerful nation? Might the breakdown in that relationship catapult a newly independent country into the heart of Europe? Just how important is the fishing sector? In Iceland, it’s undoubtedly the prime determinant in that country’s decision not to keep its distance from the EU.

A concluding chapter by Riddoch pulls the diverse contributions together and considers options for Scotland. She opens by noting how fast moving the politics of this is. Indeed, her piece proves the point. Writing earlier this year, she rules out the possibility of a differentiated single market solution for Scotland within Britain, citing the Westminster government’s negative response to Holyrood overtures. She was right at the time. But the election has changed things again and this might well come back on the agenda now.

But what if Scotland was to become independent – what would be the best option then? And perhaps more importantly, how does advocacy of a particular relationship with Europe build support for the proposition of independence in the first place? Two broad options would be on the table, join EFTA or join the EU. Riddoch notes the changing attitudes towards the latter from the Euro body politic with Scotland now seen as the good guys and independence no longer the bogeyman it was when partners were anxious not to upset Britain.

If you didn’t know it before, however, the main point here is the variety of bespoke arrangements that individual countries can achieve in relationships with the gang of European nations, and the willingness of the continental institutions to embrace them. It might even, as Riddoch concludes, be well possible for Scotland to have its own relationship with the EU, Scandinavia and Britain which no-one has yet charted – a dash of haggis on the Smorgasbord indeed.

Tommy Sheppard is the (SNP) MP for Edinburgh East.