Victorian visitors had shooting lodges – Scots had trips doon the watter.
Norwegian families got a hytte for life – Scots got a week in Butlins.
Why have locals in one of Europe's prime tourist destinations been elbowed off the land and exiled from nature for so long?
I’ve been pondering this since I rented a hill-top ex-shepherd’s bothy in the late 1980s and spent every other weekend heading for Aberdeenshire to find my ‘place beyond’ the world of work, noise and money, without running water, electricity or plumbing. Of course, I looked pretty weird in the eyes of most ‘modern’ Scots - but perfectly normal in Norway. After visiting hytte from the islands of Inner Oslo Fjord to the snowfields of the Arctic, I realised huts have shaped Norway into an outdoors, active, nature-oriented and healthy society. While the near total absence of huts in Scotland - uniquely for a country at our wooded latitude - has kept kids distant from nature, Scots cooped up in cities and modest wee holiday homes beyond the means of the average family. This book, traces my journey as an eccentric eighties lone hutter in Scotland, a hytte hopper in Norway and finally a researcher and huts activist on both sides of the North Sea. What I discovered surprised me. Scotland’s inter-war generations were actually hutting-daft and cycling, camping and socialism-crazy. Huts didn’t fail to be built in Scotland. They just failed to survive. That’s not just a shame. With modest wee country hideaways becoming highly sought-after refuges in our Covid-dominated future, the huts-free state of Scotland is a total scandal.
The late Paddy Bort was absolutely right. A few months after the European referendum in 2016, the Edinburgh University academic and Nordic Horizons stalwart predicted that Brexit would spark a renewed interest in Scotland’s small, successful wee neighbours.
Westminster has insisted that all British nations must leave together. But the Nordic countries and their devolved territories enjoy a veritable smorgasbord of relationships with the EU - doubtless there’s an arrangement in there that might suit Scotland too.
Would an independent Scotland need the support and shelter of full EU membership - or could the nation better stand at a distance or outside the EU altogether?
These questions have been faced and resolved by five Nordic nations and their autonomous territories within the last 40 years. Clearly, there's something for Scotland to learn.
So, our Nordic Horizons policy group organised a conference two months after the referendum with speakers from almost every Nordic nation - some like the Faroes are outside the EU, others like Norway are in the EEA ‘halfway house’ and others like Finland, are enthusiastic members of both the EU and its single currency. But would the wider Scottish public really be interested in what they had to say?
Paddy - ever the optimist - was certain that a book written by ‘our Nordic friends,’ and lightly edited by ourselves, would be popular. So, it proved, though Paddy died before publication.
We hope the combination of personal experience and expert insights give this book a hands-on feel that’s pragmatic and thought-provoking, challenging and instructive, full of amazing stories and useful comparisons - to enrich the debate about Scotland's post-Brexit future as a Nordic neighbour.
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