Monday 3 July 2023

Passport to Kirkwall


The story of Orkney seeking to become part of Norway is so preposterous that I suspect it is some sort of publicity stunt or attempt to extort more funding from either the Scottish or the UK government. Unfortunately, the Orcadians have learned from the SNP. Despite voting 67% not to create an independent Scotland and by implication by the same margin to remain in the UK, they have caught a touch of the disease of nationalism even if Orkney only has a population of around 22,000.

The truth is that Orkney has no legitimate reason for complaint. It was assessed in 2019 as the best place to live in the UK. It receives greater public spending per head as does the whole of Scotland than many poorer parts of England and Wales. Orkney is prosperous and has a high standard of living with next to no crime. Even the weather there is generally milder than much of the UK including much of midwinter England. The nights may be longer in December, but it barely gets dark at all in June.

Orkney claims to have a Nordic connection due it only becoming a part of Scotland in 1472. The story of a marriage dowry not being repaid is an amusing anecdote in Scottish history, but it is simply ridiculous to suppose that you can base your present national status on who you belonged to in 1472.

If you look at the map of Europe in the 15th century you will find that Spain is divided between Castille and Aragon and the Moors still rule Granada. France is a patchwork of states with independent kingdoms of Normandy and Brittany. The Ottoman Empire rules most of the Balkans and neither Germany, Russia, nor Italy exist at all.

More preposterously still if Orkney can justify being part of Norway based on who owned it in 1472, then unfortunately the independence of Norway would be under threat too because from 1397 until 1905 Norway itself lost its full independence. So, Orkney in 1472 did not belong to Norway but rather was part of the Kalmar Union of Scandinavian crowns.

The truth is however that despite the colourful history, the Scandinavian type flags, and the playing at being Vikings, neither Orkney, nor Shetland have any more connection with Scandinavia than the rest of the UK.

The original Orcadians, the people who made Skara Brae were probably Beaker people who spoke a pre-Indo-European language of the Basque family. They were supplanted by the Ancient Britons who in Scotland were called Picts who spoke a language of the Welsh family. They in turn were briefly supplanted by the Scoti who spoke Middle Irish and from around the late 8th century they were supplanted by the Vikings.

But it wasn’t only in Orkney that the Vikings settled. They settled much of the rest of the UK too. There are Viking place names and Scandinavian influence on the language all over the UK. The Angles and Jutes from Denmark together with people who spoke similar languages in present day Norway and Sweden as well as Vikings who called themselves Normans helped found not only the English language, but the essence of the people living in Great Britain.

Orcadians may have Scandinavian ancestors, but so too do the rest of us to varying degrees. But this no more makes Orcadians Scandinavians than it makes the people of York Vikings because their city was once called Jorvik.

Orcadians don’t speak Norwegian. They are no more likely to speak any Scandinavian language than the rest of us. They speak English and a form of Scots. This is why it is called Skara Brae. There are no doubt Scandinavian loan words, but these exist in all forms of Scots. But this makes neither Orcadian nor Scots Scandinavian languages any more than Brummie or Geordie or indeed English.

The history of both Orkney and Shetland is of Scandinavian people being almost wholly supplanted by people from Scotland. To suppose that they are still Scandinavian is to suppose that they are still Pictish. But that is absurd, because not a single person speaks a word of Pictish even if that was once the language of everyone.

Compare and contrast Orkney with the Faroe Islands. Here the original Viking population was not supplanted. For this reason, the Faeroese speak a Scandinavian language and have a culture that is as unlike Orkney as it is unlike London. Orcadians don’t slaughter dolphins and whales and then eat the blubber. Orcadians don’t have a similar culture or traditions to the Faeroese nor indeed any other Scandinavian. The culture and traditions of Orkney are instead similar to the other parts of Scotland and the UK in general.

One of the traditions in the UK that is almost unique to the UK is the idea that a local councillor or a devolved parliament can agitate for some form of secession or some special status on the basis of a peculiar understanding of ancient history. Scotland no more has the right to secession because it was once an independent state than does Castille or Aragon. No one in Scandinavia thinks that Sjælland [Zealand] or Fyn [Funen] have the right to leave Denmark by means of a referendum. No one thinks Gotland can leave Sweden. No one thinks Northern Norway can leave Southern Norway. It matters not one little bit if any of these places were one independent states or kingdoms.

I hope that the new Earl of Orkney who wants to repay the dowry of Margaret of Denmark in order that Orkney joins Norway is joking. If not, he would be wise to read up on his history because he wouldn’t be joining Norway, but rather Denmark. If you are so Scandinavian perhaps it would be well to first learn a Scandinavian language and then read some Scandinavian history. The clue is where Margaret was from.

We need to move beyond such nonsense. The UK is a single unitary nation state, just like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. If we are really Scandinavians, then why don’t we follow them in laughing at secessionists whether they claim to represent Scotland, Orkney or indeed the Old Man of Hoy when he wants to leave Orkney.

Nationalism has reached the peak of absurdity. We should treat Humza, Sturgeon and the Orcadian rebels as figures of fun. Passport to Kirkwall should have been an Ealing comedy.