Lesley and filmmaker Charlie Stuart travelled to Estonia in late February 2020 to make a film about one of the most recent small north European states to become independent. Tiny Estonia (pop similar to Wales) sees itself as a forgotten Nordic nation, sharing its language, forest and bog-covered topography and Baltic location with Finland. And its widely regarded as Europe’s Digital Tiger economy, performing an incredible transformation from terrible poverty in the wake of reestablishing independence just 30 years ago.
Obviously there are big lessons for Scotland and the filmmaking duo were chuffed to get funding from lottery millionaire Chris Weir and the Scottish Independence Foundation that let them make a trip to capture Estonia’s Independence Day celebrations. Lockdown prevented the planned return trip in April and new plans are underway. Meantime here’s a snapshot of that very cold, February trip.
the letter of liberty
April 6th 2020 marked the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, widely regarded as Scotland’s most iconic document and probably the first declaration in medieval Europe to promote the idea that people are above Kings, that a nation is its people and that any nation has the right to self-determination.
Written in 1320, its evocative sentiments about freedom and independence have given it special distinction, not just in Scotland, but around the world.
But the coronavirus cancelled all live celebrations of the event and no UK broadcasters scheduled any significant TV coverage.
Filmmaker Charlie Stuart and myself were halfway through making a film about Estonia and once it became obvious our return trip would be cancelled, we put our energies instead into making a 30-minute video for web release, so the anniversary did not go completely unmarked. We filmed in and around Arbroath Abbey, in Edinburgh and in Bannockburn House with glimpses of the surviving medieval document in the National Library and a convincing replica, produced in haste, for this film.
The public contributed lines from the Declaration recorded on phones - the most famous contributor was award-winning actor Brian Cox, whose lines were sent from his phone in deepest New York State.
Scots-born, Oscar nominated film composer Patrick Doyle produced an original score, after hearing about the project in the Lesley Riddoch podcast, and lottery millionaire, Chris Weir supported the whole thing with some funding.
the Nation series
In 2018, Lesley made three crowd-funded films about Scotland’s successful small, Nordic neighbours with Phantom Power Films.
the connected nation
Despite being a remote cluster of islands halfway between Iceland and the Shetlands,
with a population of just 55,000, the Faroe Islands don’t think small. The islanders took
on global giant Google to protect their language and identity and have created the
world’s fastest mobile broadband network. They have the world’s most powerfully
devolved parliament, with the right to sign international treaties, and that’s the reason
this fishing-dependent nation is outside the EU whilst mothership Denmark remains in.
the extreme nation
Icelanders live on a restless, barren island with eight volcanoes overdue an eruption and 12 small earthquakes a day. With a population less than Aberdeen and Dundee combined, in an area far bigger than Scotland, Iceland is the world’s most literate nation with the best opportunities for women and the world’s oldest Parliament. After the financial crash in 2008, Iceland jailed its bankers and let failed banks go to the wall. But though its growth rate is now higher than the UK, Icelanders know they will never return to the crazy ‘glory’ days of pre-crash wealth and consumption. Now the debate is whether to embrace a different, green economy or remain reliant on tourism and ‘dirty’ aluminium production. The precarious, unpredictable nature of life on a volcanic island, means that whichever path they choose, Icelanders have the bonus of resilience and an incredible willingness to embrace change.
the twin nation
Norway has roughly the same size of population as Scotland, shares the oil, gas and fishing resources of the North Sea and has similar geography. But over the last 200 years Norway has withdrawn from a Union with first Denmark and then Sweden and invested its oil wealth wisely while Margaret Thatcher squandered ours. This much we already know. But Norwegians have also opted to keep paying some of the world’s highest personal taxes to help stabilise their oil-based economy – using their famous sovereign wealth fund only to top up the national budget. Hydro not oil was the first big energy revolution in Norway, made possible because the country had no feudal landowners to block the development of cheap energy. And – perhaps most importantly – the widespread ownership of land in the 19th century meant Norway created one of the world’s widest electorates and most egalitarian parliaments. Norway’s success since independence in 1905 raises hopes and some tough questions about Scotland’s future. Can we hope to use renewables to match the incredible achievements of our twin nation? Can Scotland match the incredible achievements of our twin nation without major democratic renewal?