What Scotland needs to Flourish

What Scotland needs to Flourish
By Lesley Riddoch
August 2014


We envy the achievements of the Nordic nations, but still hesitate to commit our income to pay for high quality public services. Why is that? Could it be that suspicion, doubt, an urge to compete and a “devil take the hindmost” attitude are all embedded in British society?


A Dutch psychologist called Geert Hofstede wrote a seminal book called Cultures and Organisations in 1980 which is still used to compare societies today. From 1967 to 1973, while working at IBM Hofstede collected and analysed data from over 100,000 employees in forty countries. From those results, and later work, he developed a model for comparing cultures. The entire book makes fascinating reading. But let’s cut to the chase.


By Hofstede’s calculations our small northern neighWours are feminine – with Sweden the most feminine of the lot. But if Scotland was to become an independent country it probably would sit on the masculine end of the graph. How come?


Britain sits in 62nd place on Hofstede’s index and typifies a masculine society driven by competition, achievement and success, where success is defined as having individual winners in a field (with less importance attached to average performance). Thus Brits pride themselves on being a sporting country because elite athletes won a clutch of Olympic gold medals last year – even though the average citizen can’t run for the bus.


By contrast, Sweden typifies a society in which the dominant values are feminine – caring for others, achieving a high quality of life for all and not necessarily wanting to stand out from the crowd. The masculine society prefers achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material reward for success and tends to be competitive. A feminine society prefers cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life and tends to be consensual.


In Sweden it’s important to maintain a life/work balance and make sure all are included. An effective Swedish manager is supportive to his/her people and ensures decision making is achieved through involvement. Managers strive for consensus and people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation and Swedes are known for their long discussions until consensus has been reached. Incentives such as free time and flexibility over working hours and place are favoured as rewards over more money. Swedish culture is based around the concept of ‘lagom’, which is hard to translate but means not too much – not too little and not too noticeable. Everything in moderation. Lagom ensures everyone has enough and nobody goes without. Some feel this discourages individual effort and creativity – and they could be right (though try arguing that with the founder of IKEA).


Of course, there are swings and roundabouts. Sweden tends towards conformity – Britain to creativity. Feminine societies tend to rate friendliness over brilliance, focus on the average not the best student, praise the weak not the excellent and regard failure in school as a minor incident. The point is that every system has downsides – and the downside of being British is that inequality is in with the bricks. It’s very hard for Britain to change – it should be much easier for an independent Scotland. It’s perfectly true that tax raising powers devolved to Scotland haven’t been used. Nor will they until Scotland cuts loose from the market-driven values of Old England and consciously creates the type of social democracy Scots have been voting for (by and large) since 1921.


Such a transformation won’t happen under devolution because Scots simply can’t escape the force of hierarchies, outlooks and top down “British” ways of thinking which have always worked to reproduce a society based on haves and have nots.


It takes fresh thinking, dynamism and determination to create something new – I doubt any part of Britain can achieve the necessary independent mindedness within the economic, political and cultural constructs of the faltering UK.


And Scotland urgently needs change.


Income dictates life opportunities.


I have no illusions about the pace of structural change in an independent Scotland. It’ll be slow. But I have no doubts about the speed of change in the UK. It’ll be glacial. Substantial, social change within the UK simply will not happen in my lifetime.


The buds of a different society are visible all over Scotland. We can give them shelter, support and encouragement to blossom with a yes vote on September 18th.