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Estonia – A Model for an Independent Scotland?

Written by on 12th June 2020

This week we interviewed Iain Lawson who was Estonian Honorary Consul to Scotland for 15 years. His connection with Estonia all started when he went over to Tallin with the Tartan Army in early 1990s but that’s another story.

Iain is also a veteran campaigner for Scottish independence and he talked at length about what the Estonians did to prepare for independence, how they decided what they wanted their country to be and to operate, and also what they didn’t want it to be. They looked to what skills and business opportunities Western democracies were pursuing and chose those which aligned with their own cultural and economic values. All this whilst still in Soviet Union and soon after when Soviet troops were still stationed in Estonia. It’s very impressive.

Iain recommends Estonia for a holiday. He’s convinced me. As soon as the Covid lockdown is over I’ll be booking a flight to Tallinn.

You can listen to Iain here and there’s a summary of what we talked about below:

Here’s a summary of what we talked about:

Scotland can take many lessons from Estonia

  • The speed with which they set up their currency – 9months
  • They had worked out the beginnings of a plan for their independence. They asked where the West wanted to go and aimed to go there themselves. That lead to them becoming the one of the most highly digitised country in world.
  • Key thing which enables all their digitised big data setup is their personal ID card. He gives examples schoolwork, buying a house, electronic voting, parking your car…. and some of that has been in place since mid 90s
  • We asked if there are issues of trust in that? In their government having all that information? Iain reckons there are things to be careful about when so much personal data is digitise. But Estonians largely trust their politicians.

What does a Consul do and not do?

  • Introducing businesses to scotland and vie versa 
  • Accompany senior Estonia politicians when they visit Scotland. (How Estonian Cabinet  works. Finding a consensus)
  • We can have Consuls here but we can’t appoint Consuls because Foreign Affairs is not devolved. But since 2007 ScotGov have set up Scotland Houses in various countries, including Estonia.
  • There is a lot of cooperation between Scottish and Estonia and we look at each others systems for ways to find improvements. 

Estonia’s path to successful independence

  • They started off with very particular problems when they left Soviet Union. Eg all property was owned by the State. They had to set up a process for giving people back their family property.
  • They did that thought Estonia but they made special arrangements to preserve and reinstate the historical centre of Tallinn which took a lot of resources. 
  • agility of small countries. 
  • They’d been working for several years on a program for government: in EU & NATO.
  • They didn’t want to borrow money to do it, even thought IMF and European Banks were lined up offering them loans.
  • they set up an entrepreneurial and business friendly tax system. They have very simple, clear tax rules. Companies all pay their taxes in Estonia
  • They elected very young people when they had their first elections. They had voted for change and they meant it.

How did they work out their plan for government before they restored their independence?

  • Whilst still in Soviet Union, they set up Heritage Organisation which was described as a study centre on the history of Estonia but actually it was a board of  people who were working on policy to be put in place in their first post-independence Parliament.
  • They integrated their culture and arts into their plans too. Estonian was described as a Singing Revolution.
  • Iain worries that we don’t do enough of that in Scotland, It builds confidence be people believe you have a plan and you know where you’re going.
  • We need our politicians to be doing this now and talking about it.

The advantages of Estonia’s highly digitised system

  • It has helped them enormously in dealing with the pandemic. There have been very few Covid deaths in Estonia
  • It is easy for people to call up their education and work record when they apply for jobs.
  • Internet is free which helps equality in their society 
  • ScotGov could get free internet access without it costing too much money because you put it out to tender and the big internet access companies would all be bidding for it.
  • That would be benefit school children, students and families ….
  • And with that in place it would let the government go down the digital road much more easily. 
  • We need to take on board that it’s not that hard to get some of these things done. If ScotGov are prepared to take a risk, a sensible risk.
  • It’s clever policy and clever politics.

Everyone needs to be bothered with politics, especially now. 

  • We need to prepare for independence.
  • We should have a minister for independence in the cabinet.to be thinking things like throgh and talking about it, and publicising it.
  • They could then delegate it out to people with expertise in certain areas, coordinate, pull it together.
  • We have so many more members in SNP now but has it advanced in how it organises itself…. ?
  • We have a superb government and they are doing a great job. But who is coming up with the new ideas? Where there are new ideas, as in Commonweal, who is coordinating all of that
  • Maybe we could do with our own Scottish equivalent of the Estonian Heritage Group. It was quite a tight, small group. 

Estonians love the Scots.

  • There are very old links between Estonia and Scotland.
  • After Bannockburn, Scotland was starving because they’d burnt the crops and they were rescued by boats from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who came over with food to keep us going till the next harvest. 
  • It’s great place to go. The old city in Tallin is wonderful. There is also the Museum of Soviet Occupation. Estonians are now a very confident people and they are mostly English speakers.

If you’ve listened to this interview with Iain and want to hear more about Estonia, then try this:


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