Greater Social Equality : A Price Worth Paying

20 May 2014

Using the Scandinavian countries as the embodiment of a much-admired way of life has been at the forefront of the Scottish Referendum campaign

Perhaps one of the unique events in the early Referendum period was the much-publicised visit to Scotland last year by the Prime Minister of Denmark.

She was feted at media events by Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who lost no opportunity even with the Referendum some 19 months away to praise the country of the Danish Prime Minister Nyberg saying :

“for us in Scotland, it shows modern politics in a northern European nation where they make all their own decisions “

Except that this was not the real Prime Minister of Denmark.

This was the actor Sidse Babette Knudsen  from the TV series Borgen playing the Danish PM.

So why not meet the real life Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is the first woman Prime Minister of Denmark, and was so elected in 2011?

Ms Thorning-Schmidt’s achievement in attaining the highest national office had already been the subject of a motion in the Scottish Parliament , signed by Jenny Marra.

However Ms Thorning-Schmidt is a member of the Danish Social Democrats, Labour’s sister party in Denmark, and therefore much less likely to have suited the purpose of Scotland’s Deputy First Minister than a fictional Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, there was an opportunity last month in the Scottish Parliament to move Scotland in the direction of the greater levels of social equality that there are in  Denmark

Labour MSPs attempted to ensure that those who are employed on Scottish Government contract work are paid the Living Wage rate of £7.65p an hour.

However, this was voted down, with Scotland’s Deputy First Minister leading the argument to defeat the proposed extension of  the Living Wage.

The Scottish Parliament has also held evidence-gathering sessions in committee comparing Scotland with its Nordic neighbours.

Professor Michael Keating of Aberdeen University, one of its witnesses, urged caution about equating Scandinavia with utopia, and noted that there were “all kinds of problems in the Nordic countries”

He did explain however “why the Nordic countries have greater social equality” than here.

These included, in his own words ,

“…they have more collective bargaining. They have stronger trade unions and much broader membership of trade unions, and they bargain on the social wage as well as on the wages of individuals…”

“ …public expenditure is seen to contribute not only to economic growth, but to social equality…” “ ….there is a big focus on childcare and the early years..”

 “It is clearly the case that the overall burden of taxation and public expenditure is higher in the Nordic countries than it is in the United Kingdom. There are higher standards of living, generally, in the Nordic countries.”

“  The (Nordic )model is costly, but people in the Nordic countries are generally willing to pay those taxes because they appreciate what they get back from them and because, if there are universal services, everybody feels that they get something back from them."

Support for Professor Keating’s observations came last week in a European Commission “Eurobarometer” survey.

The survey of the 28 member states of the European Union found that :

90 per cent of Danes and 91 per cent of Swedes questioned said that the quality of life in their country  was “good” or “rather good”, around 20 per cent ahead of the UK.

86 per cent of both Danes and Swedes thought that democracy functioned well or fairly well in their country, again around 20 per cent ahead of the UK,

In short, they believe that there is price worth paying for having their kind of society.


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