Scottish independence: Look to Norway - McLeish

Henry McLeish says Scotland should look at Norway's model of funding for public services. Picture: Cate Gillon
Henry McLeish says Scotland should look at Norway's model of funding for public services. Picture: Cate Gillon
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FORMER First Minister Henry McLeish has said independence would be a “much more attractive” prospect if the Yes campaign promoted a vision of society with Scandinavian-style equality.

He accused the SNP of “just talking about Scandinavia in terms of oil funds in Norway”, saying it did not promote the “model of funding for public services” in those nations.

The former Scottish Labour leader insisted he was still planning to vote No next September but gave his strongest hint yet that he may later be convinced to back independence, adding that he was “losing patience with the Union”.

The Westminster government and the main unionist parties have promised to back greater devolution for Holyrood if Scots vote No.

But Mr McLeish said he feared Scots would be “marooned on an island of neglect” in the event of a No vote, with no real devolution of more powers.

His intervention came after he said he would answer a call from the SNP to set up a “council of state” of the party’s political rivals to help negotiate Scotland’s split from the rest of the UK, if the country voted for independence.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Mr McLeish said there was “a lot of interest in voting Yes” among Scots. But he said the SNP had so far failed to set out a plan for key issues such as the economy and pensions in an independent Scotland.

He said an independent Scotland could be run along the lines of Scandinavian societies such as Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which have traditionally had well-funded public services and generous welfare states.

“Some of the most remarkably successful economies and civilised societies are in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe,” he said. “Of course, you can’t just transfer one country to another, but the Scandinavian model of a successful economy, excellent public services and a more equal society is a powerful one.

“I’m not sure why the SNP doesn’t use this model, as it would be much more attractive to me and many other Scots.

“My position remains the same: I’m voting for the Union. But I’m losing patience with the Union. For this vote, I’m voting No. Also, I’m concerned that when we reach the day after the referendum, we’ll be exactly where we are now, with the Scottish public marooned on an island of neglect.”

However, he warned a narrow defeat for the Yes campaign could still mean a drift towards independence.

Mr McLeish, who backs full economic powers for Holyrood, said: “If the debate continues, there may come a point where there’s another reason to think [about independence].

“If the Yes campaign doesn’t win on 18 September, the SNP will regroup for the 2016 election. There could be a drift inevitably for some people towards independence.”

However, Labour MSP Neil Findlay highlighted the work of the Red Paper Collective – a socialist campaign – in pushing for radical policies for Scotland within the UK. He said: “We want to see a Scotland that uses current and new powers to create a fairer and more equal society based on progressive taxation and the redistribution of power and resources, whilst maintaining social and economic solidarity with working people across the rest of the UK.”

SNP MSP John Wilson said: “Henry McLeish’s vision of Scotland being a more socially caring society can only be achieved if there is a Yes vote in the referendum.”


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The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit