A factor for those in Scotland hesitant about voting for independence might be how well, or otherwise, smaller independent nation-states manage to protect their citizens at times of crisis. In this second part of an examination of the capacity, competences and resilience of the Nordic countries during a global pandemic, the focus is on public health measures and outcomes.
A complementary objective is to provide international perspective to counter a prevailing narrative of the corporate media and the BBC in Scotland of UK/England ‘exceptionalism’. This is linked, explicitly or by implication, to the notion that wee Scotland as an independent nation-state couldn’t hope to cope as well as it can in the ‘best of both worlds’, ‘broad shouldered’ UK.
Time series compilations of Covid-19 deaths and vaccinations provide substantial ‘reassurance’ for those that might need it. They provide evidence of the performance of Nordic countries compared to the UK in public health to accompany evidence on the resilience of their economies (see Part 1 of this blog post in TuS).
(The first set of graphs is taken from the Financial Times coverage of the global pandemic – the FT’s decision to make its data compilations on Covid-19 freely available is gratefully acknowledged. See https://ig.ft.com/coronavirus-chart/ )
The first graph plots cumulative deaths per 100k of population attributed to Covid-19 in the four larger Nordic countries plus England and Scotland. The comparisons are stark!
I’ve noticed that Unionist commentators tend to complain about cherry-picking countries when such international comparisons are made. So let’s expand the selection beyond the Nordics. The graph below plots England against France, Germany, The Netherlands and Ireland.
The graph below compares and contrasts the number of first Covid-19 vaccination doses per 100 residents in the larger Nordic countries and the UK: this is a measure of early stage responses to the pandemic once vaccines became available. Israel is also included to show that the UK, although ‘quick off the mark’ with first vaccinations, was not exceptional. Whilst slower off the mark, the Nordics – especially Denmark, Finland and Norway – quickly caught up by July 2021. Of course, as the earlier plot of mortality shows, the impact of the pandemic in terms of loss of life at the population level between the initial roll-out of the vaccine in the UK in December 2020 and the Nordics ‘catching-up’ by July 2021 had been much less severe in these three Nordic countries than in the UK.
The second graph shows that the cumulative first dose statistic in the UK by August 2021 had become comparable to other large European countries and to Ireland. The FT data provides the opportunity to examine a number of vaccine-related metrics e.g. total doses delivered; number fully vaccinated; booster doses, for those that wish to delve further in country comparisons.
The chart below is assembled from information on the EuroMOMO website. Originating in 2008 as the European Mortality Monitoring Project, EuroMOMO has the objective of enhancing international preparedness to respond to potential risk of all hazards by compiling, analysing and sharing weekly mortality data from all participating countries on a weekly basis, all the year around. Public Health England and Public Health Scotland are among the partner organisations, as is the World Health Organization. (See https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps/)
The plots below are of so-called ‘Z-scores’ over time. Z-scores are calculated in order to standardise mortality statistics in a manner which enables the comparison of patterns between different populations or between different time periods. The EuroMOMO website explains the statistical methodology at length – for those more mathematically inclined. High Z-scores are ‘bad’ in terms of scale of ‘excess deaths’.
Denmark, Finland and Norway suffered only limited periods of ‘substantial increase’ in excess deaths. Sweden had a higher level over longer periods than its near neighbours but its two marked peaks were notably lower than those seen in the data for England. Indeed the peak Z-score shown for England in 2020 was the second highest experienced by any EuroMOMO partner country during the pandemic: only Spain had a higher peak value.
This has not been about ‘talking up Scotland’: it’s not even been about ‘talking down’ the UK/England or its Westminster government. But it has been about NOT talking Scotland down! It’s been about perspective, about how smaller (and some bigger) countries – ones that don’t seem to have the same need to proclaim ‘global leadership’ in everything – get on with dealing with inevitable challenges that come along to face their citizens and their governments.
In the two parts of this blog post, evidence has been presented which illustrate the capacity, the competences and the resilience of the Nordic countries at times of crisis. Evidence has been presented that countries similar to Scotland – except they have the AGENCY of independent nation-states – seem to cope perfectly well at times of crisis without the ‘broad shoulders’ of the UK or England to rely on.