Monday, October 12, 2009

Which council?

An intriguingly-titled opinion piece by Lesley Riddoch in today's Scotsman - "Nordic Council membership offers us a real alternative". Unfortunately it's a premium article so I haven't a clue what argument Ms Riddoch is putting forward, but presumably it involves the suggestion that an independent (or perhaps even devolved) Scotland could apply for Nordic Council membership. An idea that seems absurd at first glance, but I do recall that some years ago both the Orkney and Shetland Islands Councils were courted by the Nordic Council. Presumably if those two island groups were thought to qualify on linguistic, cultural and historical grounds, a case could be made that the country they are a part of ought to automatically qualify as well. Shetland, indeed, has a particularly strong additional case on the grounds of geography - it's directly between mainland Denmark and the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. And other parts of Scotland have strong historical Nordic connections as well - most notably the Western Isles, where Norse place-names abound, and in part of which it's sometimes said that people "speak Gaelic with a Norwegian accent".

It's perhaps more realistic, though, to instead look on the British-Irish Council - for now a talking shop with photo-calls - as being the embryonic form of what could one day blossom into our very own Nordic Council.

Landlords, don't be a stranger

It's of course not surprising that a website such as ConservativeHome (at one time affectionately known as 'Continuity IDS') should occasionally seek to mischievously distort the policy positions of political opponents. What is rather comical, however, is that one of its headlines - "Scottish Tories attack the protectionist SNP over plan to ban foreigners from buying Scottish land" - should then immediately be directly contradicted by the content of the post that follows! The quote from the Sunday Times contains no hint of banning anyone on the basis of nationality, merely a suggestion that there could be a residency requirement.

What was even more startling, though, is that having followed the link to the Sunday Times, I realised ConHome had merely been following the lead of the headline there - "SNP to ban foreigners from buying land". That summary of the story is problematical on a couple of counts only - a) it's merely a proposal for discussion at the moment, so it's premature to say the SNP are going "to do" anything, and b) the proposal in question doesn't actually say anything about banning foreigners from buying land. But apart from that, it's an accurate headline.

A brief exchange I had on earlier confirmed that ConHome and the Sunday Times are by no means alone in this curious belief that there is no difference 'in essentials' between two wholly different things - an insistence on the one hand that anyone (including a Scot) who owns land here must also live here for a certain percentage of the year, and a "ban on foreigners" on the other. I did kind of assume (and I'm not being entirely sarcastic) that the "new, modern, compassionate Conservative party" might want to be seen as being at least partly on the side of those who suffer from the very real downsides of absentee landlordism. It's particularly telling that their reaction to suggestions that foreign land-owners might actually want to live on their Scottish estates is not criticism, or even mockery - it's simply "does-not-compute".