Following in Scandinavian Footsteps

The Common Weal and a number of commentators have suggested that an Independent Scotland could follow in the steps of Nordic countries and create a social democratic country which could withstand global economic pressures.  Below is an extract from Scotland’s Road to Socialism Time to Choose published by SLR edited by Gregor Gall.  This is taken from the Chapter by Pauline Bryan a member of the Red Paper Collective.

 

Following in Scandinavian Footsteps

The SNP makes great play of its similarities to Denmark, Sweden and Norway and senior nationalists, including Alex Salmond, have made several trips to Scandinavian countries to pave the way for greater co-operation if Scotland becomes independent.  There is a particular focus on energy and initial plans have already been drawn up for an electricity super-grid between Scotland and Norway. The Scandinavian approach has been supported by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s defence and foreign affairs spokesman in Westminster who is quoted as saying that Scotland’s relationship with its Scandinavian neighbours had suffered because of a southern bias since the Act of Union in 1707.[1]

We could be lulled into thinking that in Scandinavia some countries have achieved social democracy and have established a model that Scotland could follow.  Göran Therborn wrote in 2000 [2] that social democracy had, at one time, been achieved in one country, but went on to add that single country social democracy has failed to become international.  There is not, he argued, a shared Scandinavian approach, but instead four or five separate countries finding their own separate ways forward and where each is feeling the impact of globalisation.  Since Therborn’s article the breakdown in social democracy has continued to the extent that neo liberal policies have gained an even greater hold.

 

Scandinavian countries slashed government budgets after the financial crisis of the early 1990s. In the aftermath of the crisis, Sweden systematically cut public provision through a combination of cuts and monetary policies. Other Scandinavian countries followed suit, and began the process of reducing public services and lowering taxation.

Besides downsizing the state, Scandinavian governments have privatised railways, airports, air-traffic control, motorways, postal services, fire departments, water systems and schools. In Sweden, Carl Bildt’s cabinet in the early ’90s made it possible to privatise health care at the county level and its introduction of school vouchers led Michael Gove, in 2008, to state  ‘We have seen the future in Sweden and it works’.[3]

Meanwhile, Denmark enjoys one of the most flexible labour markets in the world. Hiring and firing can occur at a very low cost and within one day.  It is known as “flexicurity” because it is supposedly based on being able to find an alternative job relatively quickly.  The concept is explained in the Employment in Europe Report 2006 which tells us that the use of stringent methods to protect employment is slowing down the movement of workers between jobs. This EU Commission calls on the Member States to find a common approach to combining flexibility and employment security in the labour market.[4]   They may produce more flexible workforces, but cannot deliver on the security element of alternative jobs.

Dalibor Rohac of the London based neo-liberal Legatum Institute states that “Nordic countries demonstrate that in order to make the welfare state work, we need a large dose of free-market economics. The left is right: the UK should indeed aspire to be more like Scandinavia – in liberalising its markets and bringing public spending under control.”[5]

Can one country social democracies withstand the pressures of neoliberal globalisation?  The power of globalisation is clearly asymmetical, creating vastly more resources and opportunities for capital than for people.  It would suggest therefore than in most cases smaller countries are more at the mercy of global market forces and easier to exploit.  What it would certainly require is a population committed to the project and which is prepared to make sacrifices to achieve it. And remember social democracy is not an attack on capitalism it is an accommodation to it.  Yet even social democracy was deemed to be too egalitarian in its effects since the rise of  the neo-liberal hawks under Thatcher and Reagan.

 


[1] Ibid

[2] Therborn, G.  Social Democracy in One Country? Dissent   47 (4).

[3] Shepherd, J.  Swedish-style ‘free schools won’t improve standards’ The Guardian 9 February 2010

[5] Rohac, D,. City AM available at http://www.cityam.com/forum/scandinavia-showcase-free-market-reforms accessed 20th October 2012

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