Borgen and Scottish Politics

Marlyn Glen

4 February 2013

Two events took place this past weekend in Scotland at the end of the present series of Borgen, the Danish political drama where the Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg battles 24/7 with the conflicting pressures of political and family lives.

 One event dealt with fictional politics.

 The other dealt with real politics.

Nicola Sturgeon is a big fan of Borgen , because, amongst other reasons, “for us in Scotland, it shows modern politics in a northern European nation where they make all their own decisions “

She was photographed  with Sidse Babette Knudsen who plays the fictional Danish Prime Minister in Borgen and introduced her at a special showing of the finale of this series in Edinburgh’s Filmhouse last Saturday.

There was media talk of “A Scottish Borgen ?”

There was speculation that Borgen may provide fresh inspiration for advances in women’s rights and needs in Scotland.   

"Life imitating art” is the hope of many a writer.

 Charles Dickens hoped that his novel A Christmas Carol  would win support for the belief that people are poor not because of personal inadequacies but because of the failures of political policies.

Yet today there remains a disquieting number in society who still think that the poor have only themselves to blame.

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing ‘s chief character was a liberal American President graced with eloquence and a deep reservoir of optimism undiminished by political setbacks.

That was before the birth of the Tea Party.

So one of the questions that the reaction to Borgen poses is, Why should it take a Danish TV programme about fictional Danish politics to enliven the cause of women’s rights in Scotland?

MSPs have been legislating to advance women’s rights in the Scottish Parliament since 1999 outwith the glare from the media-celebrity bubble.

And Borgen’s fans will no doubt include some of those MSPs who voted down Jenny Marra’s attempts in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that 40 per cent of those on the boards of public sector organisations would be women.

(Jenny’s motion in Holyrood last June referred to the success of Denmark’s  measures to promote equality of representation on public bodies. Borgen fan Nicola Sturgeon voted against Jenny’s motion.  )

Will they now call on Alex Salmond to help young mothers in Scotland by bringing forward the Scottish Government’s plans to increase the number of nursery school hours to 600 hours a year that is promised for the autumn of 2014, during the run-up to the Referendum?

In Scotland at the moment that number stands at 400 hours of free nursery education for three and four year-olds. In England it stands at 570 hours.

(Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has already stated that there was no need to wait that length of time and to do it now "without any further unnecessary delay")

One issue that arises from a wider study of Danish politics beyond Borgen is the gender voting gap between the number of women who vote in Denmark and  the comparable number of women in Scotland.

At the last General Election in Denmark two years ago, the turn out was 87 per cent.

In the Scottish Parliament election in the same year the turnout struggled to reach just over 50 per cent.

This means that, unlike women in Denmark, very many thousands of women in Scotland believed that it was not worth the candle to vote.

 Why was this? 

The other weekend event that dealt with real politics may provide one answer.

The Jimmy Reid Foundation issued a report entitled “Not By the People”  ( download ) which holds that : 

“Scotland is run by people who pay higher rate tax and they seek advice on how to run Scotland primarily from other people who pay higher rate tax. The outcome is that policies that affect the lives of all Scots are made predominantly by a group that represents (at best) the richest ten per cent of the population. … this is an invitation to the sort of ‘group think’ which sees small but powerful groups in society absorb their own preferences and prejudices as fact rather than opinion, and then allows them to make policy on the basis of those ‘facts’.

 “ Your chances of being appointed to a public body or governmental review or of being invited to give evidence to a parliamentary committee if you are part of the 70 per cent of the population which earns on or below average salary but are not an elected politician is small-to-negligible.”

This does not dismiss people’s views on the grounds of salary, nor is it any criticism of the work of organisations such as charities and voluntary organisations.

The Foundation has set up a Commission inviting individuals interested in influencing public policy but feel excluded from such decision making to participate.

 Its work will let us hear voices outside the political–media class, and it may help us to address the serious concerns about low voter turn out, apathy and indifference to politics and the view that voting changes little.

While Borgen is very good television, the Jimmy Reid Foundation report is real politics.

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