by Rab Bruce’s Spider

During our recent trip to Munich, our group met with a bunch of young lads from Denmark. Between the beer drinking and singing, we had an interesting chat with them on a variety of subjects as we compared various aspects of our lives.

As you would expect, they all spoke good English, with one lad in particular being so fluent he even knew a lot of swear words and was keen to learn even more.

It came as a surprise for my son when this chap told him that he pays 45% tax. At first, my son thought this was terrible, until he learned that the social security available meant that, if the Danish lad had to give up work due to accident or ill health, he would continue to be paid an amount equivalent to his salary until his retirement age. I don’t know whether this is universal in Denmark or merely applies to this chap’s employer or industry, but it is a striking difference to the situation in the UK.

The Scandinavian model of high wage, high tax and high social benefits has long been admired by many people in the UK. This is just one example of the difference between how the UK operates and how other nations approach things. For anyone in the UK who faces having to give up work early due to, say, an accident or a degenerative disability, the option of receiving full pay until retirement age simply isn’t there. Instead, they face a life of scraping by on meagre social security payments or, in far too many cases, relying on food banks because the state offers them nothing.

I know it would not be possible for a newly independent Scotland to suddenly adopt the Scandinavian economic model, but it surely must be something to aim towards. Denmark, after all, has a population comparable to Scotland yet has few of the natural resources available to us. If they can do it, surely we can at least try.

The chat then moved, very briefly, onto politics. Brexit was mentioned.

Our Danish friend merely shook his head and said, “It’s f***ing mental."

There wasn’t much to add to that.

For me, the most revealing part of the chat was when some of our group admitted to not knowing exactly where Copenhagen is when our new friend told us that was where he was from. His response was to laughingly say that we ought to know where it was since the British had attacked the city in 1807 and destroyed large portions of it.

Now, I knew about this because I had read a fictionalised account of the tragic war in a novel by Bernard Cornwell. Had it not been for that, however, I would have been just as ignorant as the rest of my group, none of whom knew anything about this event. For me, this was a classic example of the British education system glossing over unsavoury events in an effort to maintain the mirage of a benevolent Empire. The Danes know all about this attack and its dreadful consequences, yet I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in the UK who has learned about it from within the education system. It is simply ignored because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

Travel broadens the mind. Everyone in our group thoroughly enjoyed our short visit to Munich, and meeting people from other countries is always informative. Our brief encounter with these lovely lads from Denmark will, I hope, live in the memories of the younger members of our group and make them aware that there are different ways of doing things than the British way.