Look east and ‘WISE’ up


By Alex Robertson
I am spending this week in the Low Countries on a mixed pleasure and business visit. 
Yesterday I travelled down through Holland from Amsterdam by train and looked out the window at a vibrant country full of innovation and progress and I wondered why Scots find it difficult to envisage their own country as prosperous and successful as the Netherlands.

I know Holland well having lived and worked there for a while.  Nobody could accuse the Dutch as being frivolous or fanciful.  Yet every Dutch person I know would stiffen if you suggested they were no-hopers or lacked ambition.

This is a country and a people who have been occupied, absorbed in great empires, been fought over, and in the last great war, had their country utterly devastated by bombing and shelling, their Jewish community hauled off to extermination camps and their whole nation subjected to appalling famine and death as the Allied invasion of mainland Europe swept past them on its drive to Germany.  To remember what the old Europe meant is always a salutary experience and Holland one of the grisliest.

Yet after all that, they got on with rebuilding their country from the ground up, literally.  They never lost sight of their ambition and aspiration and it sustained them.  They turned their backs on the violence and disaster which had been their lot for centuries; they faced unimaginable problems and challenges, got stuck in and built a trading country second to none.

As the train rattled on, I began to ask why the Scots, or 53% of them if you believe the recent dodgy poll, can’t aspire to do the same.

And after Lesley Riddoch’s excellent article this week in Newsnet, I realised that the Nordic nations are not the only model for Scots.

There is much in common between the Dutch and the Scots, quite apart from the red pantiles of Fife and everywhere in Holland.  Both peoples value straight talking and honesty and hard trading.  Both peoples are maritime minded, and both countries have first class Universities and education.

Their values are similar too.  Unpretentious and profoundly democratic, Scots and the Dutch have a very great deal in common.

One more thing is noteworthy.  Just after the war, this country, still on its knees after the devastation, formed a trading union with neighbours Belgium and Luxembourg, Benelux as it became known.  They collaborated on commerce, economic and defence matters and they all prospered and got on well.

So what is stopping the four nations of the British Isles doing the same thing?  Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England in a latter day Benelux, each member autonomous and independent, yet united together in a mutual interest group to everyone’s advantage, the WISE Group.

Nothing stops us but fear of change, and the dead hand of Whitehall/Westminster.  Well we can do something about the first obstacle, and we are gearing up to deal with the second two in a couple of years time.

But we need the ambition and aspiration to dare to hope.  We need to ignore the nay-sayers and the doom-merchants and work to build a new and better homeland.  And then seize the opportunity in 2014 and vote “YES”.

Come on Scotland, carpe diem!