Borgen – the title refers to the Danish equivalent of Holyrood or Westminster – has been terrifically popular amongst those people interested in sub-titled political dramas from Denmark. I fancy that viewers in England have simply enjoyed the programme for what it is: a well-made but impossibly smug piece of “progressive” political propaganda. In Scotland, however, it has been seen as something different: a glimpse of the future. Or, at any rate, one future.
In one sense this is reasonable. Even if it is only a TV show, one can see why Scots – and nationalists especially – should be thrilled by a drama showing how the ineffably right-on leader of a small northern European nation can make a mark upon the world. No wonder Nicola Sturgeon is on record expressing her admiration for Borgen.
I considered the recent Borgenfest for this week’s Think Scotland column:
It is not a surprise that Borgen should be such a hit with parts of the Scottish intelligentsia. Borgen, after all, spends most of its time congratulating its audience on the soundness of its opinions (and they are opinions, not, of course, anything so vulgar as prejudices).
Borgen never seriously challenges its audience, never really doubts the ineffable wisdom of its own holy progressivism. It makes the West Wing look intellectually honest. At least the West Wing occasionally admitted that some political differences might be the result of honest disagreement and not, generally speaking, proof of some appalling character flaw on the part of whichever character fails to hold the proper view.
So Borgen cheats, I think, and, by doing so, is right at home in Scotland. The deck is stacked. No wonder Birgitte Nyborg – the fictional Prime Minister played by Sidse Babett Knudsen – is so popular at Holyrood. Borgen specialises in the politics of smugness.
Viewed more generally, there is a move afoot to “brand” Scotland as some kind of member of the Nordic “family of nations”. In one sense this is understandable. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are each attractive, relatively well-governed countries. Who would not want to be like them?
But, as David Torrance pointed out here yesterday, Scotland is not actually a Nordic country. Our political culture is not Scandinavian. It is, to put it broadly, Anglo-Saxon. Nor is there any evidence suggesting Scots would actually vote for political parties that promised to raise taxes to Nordic levels. You may recall the success of the SNP’s “Penny for Scotland” campaign. Alex Salmond, for one, has learned that lesson.
Moreover, as cannot be stressed too often, an independent Scotland would hardly exist in isolation. Choices made in the rest of what used to be called the United Kingdom would impact life in Scotland too. You may argue that this would be regrettable (perhaps it would!) but I doubt you can credibly wish that truth away or pretend it would be of no account.
Culture matters and Scotland’s political culture is an English-speaking political culture with all that entails. That is to say, Scotland is much more like the Republic of Ireland or New Zealand than it is like Sweden or Finland. You might feel like going further still and observing that the problems of Greater Glasgow are more like those found in Cleveland than those experienced in Copenhagen.
Whole thing here. I would add this, too: Borgen cheats by allowing its protagonist to act in ways that run contrary to her own oft-professed principles only to always forgive her for failing to live up to her own standards. If she strays from the path of righteousness it is for the best – and understandable – reasons. Needless to say, such an accommodating principle is not extended to Prime Minister Nyborg’s opponents. They are never let off the hook; she always is. This kind of double-standard is basically the definition of political hackery. But, hey, at least Borgen is high-class hackery.