Norway’s Fight for Freedom from Sweden
Surprising parallels exist in the relationship of Norway to Sweden; and Scotland to the UK. In 1814, a war led to the establishment of a personal union between Sweden and Norway under a common monarch. But Norway’s constitution remained intact, as did its legal system, army, flag, currency, with the king acting in the interests of both nations, and the people on friendly terms.
But later on the two diverged:
- Norway was more dependent on foreign trade and Sweden more protectionist. Norway’s trade suffered;
- Norway traded with the UK, Sweden was closer to Germany;
- Norway had more interests than Sweden outside Europe;
- the king had only a suspensive veto over Norwegian affairs, but an absolute veto over Sweden;
- Norway was more a parliamentary democracy, Sweden more conservative/autocratic;
- The king was an autocrat in Swedish affairs, but in Norway did not command enough support to appoint a government of his choosing against the will of the Norwegian people.
Things came to a head when free trade between Norway and Sweden was restricted in 1895. The Swedish government was accused of ignoring Norwegian priorities and when it resisted Norway’s calls to establish Norwegian consular offices abroad, the stage was set.
Norway’s 1905 election of a coalition government was on one issue ONLY, that of establishing separate Norwegian consuls abroad. It was vetoed by King Oscar II and the Norwegian government which had passed that law resigned. Oscar refused to accept the resignation of the Norwegian government, and the government refused to countersign the king’s decision and returned to Christiania on 7th June 1905, leading to a constitutional crisis.
Later than day, the Norwegian parliament (Storting) voted unanimously to dissolve the union with Sweden, claiming that Oscar had effectively abandoned his role as King of Norway by refusing to appoint a replacement government, and followed up by empowering the Michelson cabinet to act as a caretaker government indefinitely, vesting it with the executive authority normally vested in the crown, in accordance with the Constitution of Norway.
After initially calling this a rebellion, Sweden later indicated it would negotiate an end to the union but insisted on a Norwegian plebiscite. The Norwegians had anticipated this and already had a plebiscite planned for 13th August, in which 99.95% voted in favour of confirming the dissolution of the union. The Norwegians deftly avoided the possibility that Sweden would say the plebiscite was with their permission by organising their own plebiscite first.
What can Scotland learn from Norway?
There are strange parallels with the Norwegian struggle:
Initially Norway and Sweden were in a personal union of the crowns;
Norway’s laws, constitution, flag, currency remained separate and intact;
The two peoples were mostly friendly (although this is changing, deliberately? By UK government narratives which pit Scotland against England, with England being told it subsidises Scotland and so on);
The UK is more isolationist (Brexit) than Scotland, whose trade has suffered;
The UK looks to America, Scotland to Europe;
Scotland is more democratic with the basis of authority the people (crown) versus the king-in-parliament of the UK;
The UK/English government prioritises England’s trade over Scotland’s. Witness the Internal Markets Act which will foist English produce/ regulations/ standards on Scotland, but will not force England to accept Scottish;
The flashpoint for Norway was the 1905 ‘plebiscite’ election where they demanded their own foreign consuls for Norway; this echoes the recent flashpoint over the existence and expansion of Scottish ‘embassies’ abroad – this actually proved to be the turning point for Norway/Sweden);
Norway acted on King Oscar’s presumed abandonment of his role as King of Norway in not replacing the Norwegian government;
In Scotland the monarch is not a person, but is all the people; it is the people who are sovereign, not a king;
But there are also Significant Differences
Norway’s parliament continued and its laws were mostly respected by Sweden. The UK acts as if English law runs in Scotland and Scots Law was abolished (it was not);
The Joint King acted in the interests of both Sweden and Norway. Not so King William during the Darien Disaster, where he ordered English colonies in America not to assist or supply the Scottish settlement, even with medical supplies; in Scotland it is not a monarch who is Crown, but the people;
Norway had a veto against Sweden, Scotland does not against the UK;
Norway’s parliament was not abolished; the Storting continued intact. Scotland’s parliament was adjourned only, but the UK acts as if it was abolished;
Scotland devolved parliament’s powers are limited by the UK;
The UK acts as if the Crown in Parliament (English Law) runs in Scotland also, but it does not. In Scotland the People are the Crown and they are sovereign;
Sweden mostly wanted peace with Norway and respected it as a separate nation; the UK wants Scotland to be Scotlandshire.
How did Norway succeed?
Norway kept going in the face of Swedish opposition and indifference;
Sweden became more socially democratic, therefore more sympathetic to Norway’s democratic ambitions, with the Swedish Social Democrats (SSDs) opposing a war which was proposed to keep Norway united with Sweden;
The SSDs opposed a call up of reserves and implemented a general strike against a war;
The majority of Swedes were supportive of a fully separate Norway;
Amazingly, the UK actually supported Norway’s independence movement;
The Swedish king felt it was better to lose the union than risk war with Norway;
The overwhelming public support among Norwegians convinced the major European powers that the independence movement was legitimate;
Sweden feared it would be isolated internationally if they suppressed it.
But it was still not over. Military forces gathered on both sides of the border between Sweden and Norway even as negotiations progressed. Norwegian leftists even favoured a war of independence regardless of Sweden’s numerical superiority (Norway 2 million; Sweden just over 5 million).
Eventually, Sweden capitulated with good grace. The Norwegian parliament accepted the terms of dissolution on 9th October, and the Swedish Parliament did the same on 13th October. Sweden formally recognised Norwegian independence on 26th October when King Oscar renounced his and his descendants’ claims to the Norwegian throne.
Would the UK similarly let Scotland go with their blessing?
Norway’s laws and sovereignty were largely respected by Sweden, even as they shared a monarch and diverged on trade. Norway retained a democratic tradition and parliament which Scotland has had to rediscover in the face of a lot of UK opposition. In particular, Scotland’s traditions, languages and history have been largely suppressed until recent times.
Sweden forced Norway’s hand in uniting with them on strict terms, but England went to town on Scotland, passing the Aliens Act 1705 which would make Scots in England foreign nationals, and their estates ‘alien property’, making inheritance problematic; embargoed Scottish imports into England and its colonies; and prevented the export of arms, ammunition and horses to Scotland, thus preventing the Scots raising an army.
England kindly provided a way out for Scotland. Sign up to the Treaty of Union and all would be well. Perfidious Albion started as it meant to go on.
It is hard to undo 318 years of being told you are not a nation. It is harder when for over 300 years your land and people have been used as a resource to enrich the larger country. It is hard to be proud of your country when you are constantly kept short of money by the larger ‘partner’ taking all your wealth and sending crumbs back to you. It doesn’t help build national confidence.
After World War II there was some conscious redistribution of industry and investment in Scotland, but by the 1980s Scotland’s oil wealth was used to pay for large-scale unemployment and pay for the destruction of its industries.
Our representatives are mocked and demeaned at Westminster, our resources plundered. Yet we are told we are broke and are scroungers, when it is in fact Scotland’s wealth which keeps the UK afloat.
They said at the time that they had ‘catch’d Scotland’ and would not let her go. So it is hard to think that the UK/ England will ever countenance Scotland breaking away, much less go forward with their blessing.