08/05/2017 (CSPP) – A recent event hosted by the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and the Young European Movement in Edinburgh explored perspectives on policy and politics in Scotland, the UK and Finland.
Held at the University of Edinburgh on Thursday 4 May, the event brought together a visiting delegation of Swedish-speaking Finnish students with representatives of the CSPP, YEM, and European Movement in Scotland. A key topic of discussion was the differing views on European integration in Scotland, the UK and Finland, and the future of both the UK state and the European Union following the UK vote to leave the EU in June 2016.
Public Policy in Scotland
The event was opened by CSPP Co-Chair, Professor Richard Kerley. Setting the scene for the discussion, Professor Kerley stated that in Scotland there was openness to learn from other countries, as exemplified by the Scottish Government’s adoption of Finland’s ‘Baby Box’ policy. At the same time, the direct transfer of policies from one setting to another is often difficult – and it is oft remarked that there is a desire in Scotland for Scandinavian-style public services while paying U.S.-levels of taxation.
Impact of Brexit
Next to speak was Vanessa Glynn, Chair of the European Movement in Scotland. The former civil servant gave her perspective of the likely impact of Brexit on policy and politics in Scotland and the UK.
The EMiS Chair explained the organisation’s view that the UK’s departure from the European Union will damage Scotland’s economy due to the potential for increased barriers to trade, restrictions on freedom of movement, and a resulting shrinkage of the tax base. She also stated that Scotland had benefitted from foreign direct investment through the framework of the Single Market, and from EU Structural Funds.
Due to the political coalition which supports Brexit, it was also argued that the exit process could lead to the implementation of a “small-state, low-tax” Britain, which would not auger well for employment, environmental and social policies.
Finally, it was stated that while EMiS takes no view on the debate over Scottish independence, it remained to be seen whether the type of Brexit described would increase support in Scotland for separation from the rest of the UK.
Scotland, UK and Finland Compared
Following this talk, the audience heard from Juuso Järviniemi, Vice-Chair of External Affairs of the Young European Movement in Scotland. Juuso gave a comparative perspective on public debate over European integration in the UK and Finland, as well as explaining key aspects of Scottish and UK politics to the visiting Finnish students.
Juuso described the public sphere in Finland as more structured and "fact-based" than in the UK, with a stronger role for public broadcasting, something which he felt made for a more balanced consideration of the role of the European Union in Finnish affairs. He also noted that in Scotland, public debate was almost wholly centred on independence rather than on Brexit, which it was felt may be due to the fact that the key decisions over the Brexit process are not taken in Scotland.
Meanwhile, although there is some debate over the Euro and EU regulations in certain areas of Finnish public policy, it was stated that overall there is a strong consensus in favour of European Union membership in Finland. Indeed, it was suggested that the country would be likely to be a ‘core’ EU member if a ‘two-speed Europe’ were ever to be proposed. This is partly due to security concerns related to Finland’s geo-political position, which encourage even Eurosceptics to support Finland’s role in the EU.
Finnish Perspective on the European Union
Last to speak were Constantin Saramo and Robert Eklund of the Politicus student organisation, University of Helsinki.
Constantin explained that those present were ‘Swedish-speaking Finns’, part of a linguistic group in Finland which is fully integrated into Finnish society. Finland is a legally bilingual country, and when Finland and Sweden play ice hockey, it was stated that Swedish-speaking Finns cheer for Finland – but in Swedish! The student delegation had chosen to come to Scotland this year out of interest in policy and political developments in the country, particularly in the context of the independence and Brexit debates.
Robert then gave the audience a brief historical overview of Finland’s political development: with the country belonging to Sweden for around 500 years until 1809, then Russia until 1917. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a strong civil society push for Finland to join the European Union, which took place in 1995.
Regarding views on the EU, Robert added to Juuso’s analysis by stating that for young people in Finland, the idea of free movement of people, goods, and data was taken as a-given, and a “return to borders” would not make sense to many young people. Nonetheless, he felt that there was more room for dedicated media coverage of EU affairs and their impact on Finland, as well as for more teaching about the EU in schools.
The second part of the event saw an open and wide-ranging discussion on the issues explored by the invited speakers. Audience members asked a range of questions, including on: the impact of the Brexit vote on the rest of the EU; the dynamics of cohesion and diversity among Nordic countries; the future role of the EMiS in campaigning for close European links; and perspectives on Scottish independence in Finland and the rest of Europe following Scotland’s vote to remain in the European Union.
Professor Richard Kerley then thanked everyone for coming and for an interesting and varied discussion. The Finnish student delegation also gave presents to the other panel members in thanks for organising the event.
Header image credit: Alex Person.
In-text image: Ewan Robertson / CSPP.