Last night I attended an event we supported in the Scottish Parliament, Northern Horizons: Is Scotland’s future Nordic? This was a very well supported gathering of politicians, academics, business, trade unions and others with an interest in exploring the Nordic model and how it could apply to Scotland.
UNISON Scotland has regular contact with our sister unions in Scandinavia, particularly Norway - a country of similar size and population to Scotland. There are three aspects of their model that most appeals to me:
The respect for the public realm funded through fair taxation that supports a more equal society. As recent research has shown (The Spirit Level et al) more equal societies do better at almost everything.
A strong social partnership model leading to stable industrial relations.
Political pluralism with proper research and debate for long term solutions. Change is incremental and politicians don’t see the need to react to every fleeting media headline.
Contributions from Scandinavians living in Scotland were particularly interesting. One contribution highlighted our use of ‘working mothers’ when in Norway they would say ‘working parents’. This is more than nomenclature. It reflects a culture of support for working parents that is reflected in their impressive kindergarten system. Several speakers, including business leaders, reflected that the biggest culture shock for them in Scotland was our unequal society and the social consequences that follow from that.
UNISON sponsored a Compass booklet in 2005 by Robert Taylor on the Swedish model that questioned the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the allegedly superior British model. As I re-read this booklet on the train to Edinburgh, I was struck by how prophetic this was post the banking collapse. It’s a pity that more people in government (UK and Scottish) didn’t take note of the message in this booklet. However, we still have an opportunity to learn from our Scandinavian cousins and I look forward to taking this debate forward.