Sunday, 20 January 2008

Scotland vs Sweden

Apparently John McTernan, senior aide to Des Browne, who some of you may be aware fulfils a role apparently designated Secretary of State for Scotland (whilst he can find the time between running the Ministry of Defence at the same time), considers our country to be "narrow, Presbyterian and racist". Seemingly he made this comment in an e-mail to Labour MSP Karen Gillon five years ago. He wrote the whilst an employee of the Scottish Arts Council, who have released the documents. This is written about in an article in the Scotland on Sunday:

He made the comment in light of Karen Gillon apparently preparing to visit Sweden on holiday, when he said, "If you've not been to Sweden before I think you'll really like it. It's the country Scotland would be if it was not narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc, etc. Social democracy in action."

First, it is fair to say that of course Presbyterianism and racism exist in Scotland, and there are people with narrow viewpoints as well.

I am not quite sure why Presbyterianism should bear the brunt of such hostility from Mr McTernan, any more than any other branch of Christianity and I imagine there will be many members of the Church of Scotland pretty insulted by the suggestion that it falls neatly alongside racism and a narrow viewpoint. Indeed, wouldn't it be interesting to know what Prime Minister Gordon Brown - who makes great play of the fact that his moral compass is derived from his Presbyterian upbringing - thinks of John McTernan's outburst?

Equally racism and other forms of bigotry do exist in Scotland, but I think to characterise it as a national characteristic for Scotland is somewhat ludicrous to say the least.

I have been to Sweden, and Mr McTernan is right to praise it. I agree that it is a viable demonstration of "social democracy in action". I want our country to emulate the experience of Sweden and the other Nordic countries. These countries have amongst the highest standards of living in the world.

However, I am sure that racism exists in Sweden and the Nordic countries. Indeed, Sweden and Denmark have had more problems of the far right than we have in Scotland. Furthermore, I am sure that there are those who are "narrow" in Sweden too. And even though Sweden is Lutheran and not Calvinist like the Church of Scotland, I am sure you might find the odd Presbyterian located here or there in Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmo.

It is a nonsense then to characterise Scotland as any more narrow or racist (maybe Presbyterian in fairness to Mr McTernan, but I still don't get the insult) than any other country on the planet.

It is true that we have greater levels of deprivation, a poorer quality of life, lower life expectancy and lower wages than Sweden, but Mr McTernan's own party - in government for coming on eleven years in Scotland - might want to look in to themselves for some of the blame there.

As I said, I have been to Sweden, just as John McTernan seems to have been. If I were to tell anyone of it I would say this, "If you've not been to Sweden before I think you'll really like it. It's the country Scotland could be if it was independent. Social democracy in action."

Wonder why John McTernan didn't say that?


Laban said...

I don't get it. I gathered from Alex Salmond's speeches that an independent Scotland would be a low-tax, high-enterprise Celtic Tiger - which would certainly make a change.

You're implying that the trouble with Scotland is its niggardly welfare state and low levels of taxation. An independent Scotland on the Swedish model would presumably be a high tax, high entitlement nation.

Swedish benefits are among the most generous in the world - yet Swedes still overwhelmingly choose to work rather than take time out. I'm not sure the same would apply if Scots were faced with the Swedish benefit system.

Jamie Hepburn said...

So Laban, you are adding the insult of Scots being inherintly lazy to the list prepared by John McTernan then?

Seems you believe a little bit too much of what the propoganda machine at Fleet Street spews forth about Scotland with tedious regularity these days. Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers!