Matador, or documenting the recent past


I got the wonderful Danish TV series Matador (“Monopoly”, as in the board game) on DVD for Christmas.

It follows a range of characters in the fictional town of Korsbæk between 1929 and 1947. It was made in loving detail, so apart from being great TV, it also makes for great history lessons.

Obviously, by now few people can actually remember that time well, but when it was produced (1978-82), it was still relatively recent history. It was the idea of Lise Nørgaard, who was born in 1917, so she was basically documenting Denmark as she remembered it from she was 12 until she turned 30.

It would be a bit like if person born in 1953 came up with an idea for a TV series set between 1965 and 1983, to be produced between 2014 and 2018. If it was done really well, it’s likely people would still enjoy it in 2048.

I think it’d be equally compelling whether it was set in Denmark, in Scotland or somewhere else.

How to minimise the number of students from England after independence

At the moment, the main reason why English students are not all going to university in Scotland (where university tuition is free, compared to English universities that will typically charge £27,000 for a 3-year degree) is that Scottish universities charge them up to £27,000 for their degree. This is only possible because the EU rule about not discriminating against EU students only applies to students from other EU countries (such as Ireland, Denmark or Bulgaria) and not to students from other parts of the UK (England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

As soon as Scotland regains her independence, rUK students become EU students and will have to be treated in the same way as students from Scotland.

However, some lessons can be learnt from Scandinavia. Denmark in theory has to treat Swedish students the same as Danish ones, but this is not the whole truth.

Denmark used to have a big problem with too many Swedes studying medicine in Copenhagen and then going home after graduation. In 2007, Denmark therefore did two things (link in Danish): (1) They changed the number of advanced highers (“højniveaufag”) a student needs to pass to get a grade top-up, which benefitted Danes in comparison with Swedes. (2) They changed the way they translated Swedish grades into Danes ones (that is, they made it harder for them to get in).

Apart from this, Denmark pays generous grants (typically £7616 per year) to university students who are either Danish citizens, have lived in Denmark for five years prior to starting university, or who have parents that are EU citizens and have moved to Denmark for work reasons. Other students don’t get a penny.

Scotland could copy some of these policies after independence. There are already plenty of differences between A Levels and Scottish Highers to provide opportunities for tweaking the entry requirements to make it harder for English students to get into Scottish universities (the brilliant ones would of course still get in, but that would be to Scotland’s advantage anyway), and Scotland could introduce tuition fees for everybody, but cancel out the effect by creating grants for Scottish citizens and long-term residents.

In an ideal world such measures shouldn’t be necessary, but until it dawns on the English that they’re shooting themselves in the foot by pricing bright young people out of universities, I fear that Scotland will have to take a leaf out of Denmark’s book.

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland


Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog contained a posting by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I’ve made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?

Britain and Scandinavia



The subject
Originally uploaded by Simon Collison

To what extent is Britain (or the British Isles) the same kind of construct as Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries)?

Both Britain and Scandinavia have a long and complex history, with periods of political unification and others with separate kingdoms and plenty of wars.

Scandinavia’s united period was a long time ago (1397–1523), while Britain only started falling apart when Ireland became independent again less than a century ago. On the other hand, the British Isles are to some extent more heterogenous than Scandinavia – the former is a mixture of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Norman French, while the latter consists of the descendants of the Vikings with some Finns, Lapps and Germans thrown in.

In both cases in can be hard to pinpoint exactly what Britishness/Scandinavianness means. For instance, John Major’s description of Britishness – “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and, as George Orwell said, ‘Old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’” – is so clearly a description of England that does not apply to Scotland and Ireland. In the same way, it’s very hard to define Scandinavian culture in one sentence. And yet, Scandinavians do recognise the similarities intuitively, and Scandinavians abroad tend to hang out together, for instance at international conferences.

So there are definite similarities. And just as Scandinavia does exist in spite of having been separate countries for half a millennium, Britain will always exist whether Scotland becomes independent in 2014 or not. Actually, Scottish independence might actually lead to a reevaluation of the concept, so that it ceases to be about a political construct and starts being about what actually binds people on these islands together, whether they live in Ireland, Wales, Man, Scotland or England.

A minimum price of £18 for one copy of a magazine

According to this article (in Danish), the Danish government is considering a radical price increase for foreign magazines.

At the moment, letters and parcels from outside the EU go through customs without any interference if the value is less than 80 Danish crowns (£9). However, if the value is more than £9, it will in most cases be intercepted, and Danish VAT (25%) is added (as well as any other custom duties that might apply); on top of this, the Danish HMRC add a handling fee of 160 crowns (£18). You’ll also need to pick up your parcel from the post office so that you can pay the fee at the same time. The effect currently is that Danes tend to order very cheap products from outside the EU, or very expensive ones, so that the £18 fee doesn’t make up too large a part of the final price.

However, the Danes are considering to remove the £9 limit in order to catch also magazines printed abroad. The effect will be that if you buy a magazine sent from the US costing £4 per issue, you’ll now have to pay £4 + £1 (VAT) + £18 (handling fee) = £23, as well as having to pick it up from the post office instead of having it delivered to you.

The idea behind the change is to prevent Danish magazines from being printed and delivered from Norway, which seems to happen frequently at the moment (for some bizarre reason that is significantly cheaper than doing it in Denmark).

However, whereas these Danish magazines from Norway will just move to some other location within the EU, the real victims of the proposed change will be Danes with special interests that are best catered for by foreign magazines, and especially foreigners in Denmark who are trying to keep up to date with developments in their home countries.

I really don’t understand how the Danish government can even consider such a ridiculous proposal. From my point of view it’s insular, xenophobic, anti-intellectual and just plain stupid.

Slut med pasudstedelse på konsulaterne

Man har hidtil kunnet forny sit danske pas på ambassader og konsulater i udlandet. For eksempel fornyede jeg før jul mit pas og fik første danske pas til Anna og Amaia på konsulatet i Bishopbriggs nord for Glasgow.

Desværre ser det ud til, at de nye skrappere krav til danske pas betyder, at man i de fleste lande skal til nærmeste ambassade for at forny sit pas, da der skal bruges en elektronisk fingeraftrykslæser og andet avanceret udstyr. (Her er listen over steder, der har udstyret, og her er den sorteret efter land.)

Hvis man bor i Storbritannien skal man altså til London, og det er en lang tur, hvis man bor i det nordlige Skotland. (Hidtil har man kunnet få nyt pas på alle konsulater, i Storbritannien altså Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford/Leeds, Bristol , Cardiff, Dover, Dundee, Edinburgh, Gibraltar, Glasgow, Goole, Grimsby, Harwich, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle upon Tyne, Plymouth/Dartmouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stornoway, Whitehaven og Wick.)

Helt galt bliver det andre steder i verden. Hvis man fx bor i New Zealand, skal man nu til Australien for at forny sit pas, og hvis man bor i Alaska, Texas eller Vestaustralien, bliver rejsen til ambassaden også ganske lang.

Hvis man som mig har børn (hvis pas jo kun er gyldige i to eller fem år, afhængigt af alder), skal man altså til ambassaden ganske ofte (sammen med de relevante børn).

Gad vidst, hvad der sker, hvis ens pas bliver stjålet, mens man fx er i New Zealand? Kan konsulatet i New Zealand udstede en form for pas, der gør det muligt at komme til Australien, eller sidder man fast i New Zealand på livstid?

Man kan også ansøge om nyt pas, hvis man tilfældigvis er i Danmark:

It is already possible today – and cheaper – to get a passport from a municipality (kommune) in Denmark. All Danish citizens can apply for a passport at the Civil Service Centre (Borgerservicecenter) in any municipality. It is not necessary for you to reside in or in other way be attached to the municipality. […] You may wish to call beforehand for information on opening hours, booking of appointment etc. and inform them that you reside abroad. The processing time for an ordinary passport is approximately 10-14 days. The Civil Service Centre can issue an express passport faster than 10-14 days and an extra fee will be charged.

We recommend that you apply for a passport during your stay in Denmark well ahead of your departure, in order to receive the new passport before you leave Denmark. Another option would be to try to make an agreement with the Civil Service Centre so that they will send your new passport via courier service to your address abroad.

Problemet er jo bare, at jeg sjældent er i Danmark i mere end en uge ad gangen, og jeg kunne forestille mig, at danske statsborgere i New Zealand eller Sydamerika måske ikke kommer forbi Danmark hvert år. Hvis det var normal procedure at sende det nye pas med anbefalet post, var det jo ikke så galt, men citatet ovenfor får mig til at tro, at Borgerservice godt kunne finde på at sige nej, når man beder om at få det tilsendt. Problemet findes også på ambassaderne: “You may enquire at the mission that will be issuing your passport whether it is possible to have the new passport sent to you, but you must be aware that the old passport must be handed in for cancellation, before the new passport can be delivered to you.” Potentielt skal man altså rejse fra New Zealand til Australien to gange med få ugers mellemrum.

Jeg tror, man måske har glemt, der er mange danske statsborgere, der ikke ofte er i Danmark og heller ikke ofte er tæt på en ambassade. Og der er altså økonomisk krise i store dele af verden, så mange danskere i udlandet kan altså ikke bare købe flybilletter, som om det var slikpapir.

Jeg kan forestille mig flg. muligheder for at gøre systemet mere fleksibelt:

  • Gør det til en ret at få tilsendt sit nye pas med posten, uanset om man får dem udstedt på en ambassade eller i Danmark, og giv denne service en fast pris.
  • Giv flere konsulater udstyret til at tage fingeraftryk etc. Det ville ikke være nær så slemt, hvis jeg skulle en tur til Edinburgh eller måske Manchester i stedet for London. I det mindste burde mindst ét konsulat få udstyret i hvert land.
  • Lav en pasbus, der kører rundt i Europa. Hvis jeg vidste, den fx var i Skotland hvert år i december og juni, ville det være fint nok.
  • Indfør en form for minipas (el. id-kort) uden fingeraftryk, der er gyldige i rejser i Europa, og som kan udstedes på konsulaterne.
  • Hvis fingeraftryk i pas er et EU-krav, kunne man så ikke dele udstyret med andre lande, så man kunne blive biometrisk opmålt på et hvilket som helst paskontor i EU, men få passet udstedt i det land, man er statsborger i?

Jeg håber meget, de danske politikere hurtigt får gjort noget ved dette store problem for danskere i udlandet!

Nordic Horizons



noctilucent clouds
Originally uploaded by kanelstrand

The newspapers have recently been full of stories about how an independent Scotland will try to move closer to Scandinavia.

I think it started with this article in The Independent, which was their mostly commented article for days.

Then a journalist called Lesley Riddoch wrote this article in The Guardian, saying many of the same things but also drawing attention to her think tank and Facebook group, Nordic Horizons.

A few days later, the story appeared in Danish and Norwegian newspapers.

As a consequence of this, the Facebook group I mentioned above has grown considerably, so now a meeting has been arranged for the 19th of January in the Counting House. Will I see you there?