Small Nations in a Big World - Review

20th August 2015
The second edition of Small Nations in a Big World examines what other small European nations can teach Scots as they consider their nation's place in the light of #indyref and subsequent events.
 
The second edition of Small Nations in a Big World by CCC fellows Prof Michael Keating and Dr Malcolm Harvey was published earlier in August by Luath Press. The book has been revised to take account of last year’s referendum, which the first edition preceded. The book considers what Scotland can learn from the experience of other small Northern European nations such as the Baltic and Nordic States and from Ireland. 
 
Such countries were a major point of reference in the Scottish independence debate. For nationalists, they have been an ‘arc of prosperity’ while in the aftermath of the financial crash, unionists lampooned the ‘arc of insolvency’. 
 
Keating and Harvey suggest that success is possible for such nations but that hard choices would need to be taken. They conclude that neither side in the independence debate faced these choices squarely.
 
In his review of the first edition in the Scotsman, Matt Qvortrup described the work as “erudite and well-researched and is one of the best [books] I have read this year. The main recommendation of Small Nations in a Big World is that it provides solid facts about different ways in which small states like Scotland, Ireland, the Baltic and the Scandinavian countries actually work.”
 
The book offers analysis of the 2008 financial crisis and identifies the difficulties this caused for Europe’s smaller northern nations. It particularly highlights that it “placed a significant strain upon the Nordic model”. However, this assessment is placed in the context of a broader analysis: “Since the turn of the millennium, the Nordic economies have been on an upward trajectory, leaving their citizens wealthier year on year.” 
 
The suggestion that Scotland could pursue a route similar to that mapped out by other small European nations is one that is often flourished in political debate. Keating and Harvey identify that such a path is possible and might well be successful but that it will not happen by accident or by magic. 
 
Although the referendum is now approaching its first anniversary, discussion over what kind of a nation Scotland wants to be remains in vogue. This book provides both some calm analysis of how other, similar nations work and a reminder that joining their ranks requires an act of national will that reaches beyond vague assertions by the political class. 
 
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