It’s an early morning departure on the ForSea ferry, ‘Hamlet’. Up on deck, there’s a fine view of the entire Helsingoer harbour which, unlike most key Scottish ports, is fully owned by the local council.
The sea air is lovely, all the more enjoyable due to the distinct lack of diesel fumes on board. It’s also unusually quiet for a ship built in 1997. Forsea inform us it now meets the strictest emission standards, so there’s the explanation.
The ferry next to us has a large battery symbol just above its name. Being the curious type, I discover that this ferry, the ‘Tycho Brahe’, is even older than the Hamlet. The Tycho Brahe is from 1991, and yet has been converted to fully electric crossings. Locally owned ports, decades-old ferries running efficiently on electricity – is there something we’re not doing right in Scotland?
It takes just 25 minutes to cross to Helsingborg and arrive in another independent country. It’s only a short distance, but everyone here speaks another language, has a different cultural heritage, uses another currency, and the nation is still, unlike Denmark, a non-NATO member – though only just. And it has a border, heaven forbid we should forget that.
Only in Scotland is a border considered an obstacle to nationhood. Remarkably, I survive this national frontier, in spite of being Scottish, and the big sign says, ‘Välkomna till Sverige’.
I’m en route to interview a US solo sailor and adventurer – the popular Youtuber, Sam Holmes. Sam is getting ship-shape for the coming season in a small Swedish harbour in the scenic archipelago just north of Gothenburg.
The last time I met up with a blue water sailor was in the late 1990s. Back then, Denmark’s Svend Billesboelle had just published ‘Stormy II’, an account of his latest circumnavigation. A pensioner, who spent much of his autumn years at sea, Svend’s boats became progressively smaller as his funds ran low. His latest, and as it turned out, final round-the-world voyage, was in an 18-foot Lynaes, a small sailing boat that resembles an old-time lifeboat with a mast and enclosed cabin. If he’d been from and English-speaking nation Svend may have received international media recognition. But being Danish, and with his books never translated into English, he remained a local hero, and a slightly eccentric maritime vagabond. But I digress.
The main road to Gothenburg cuts through a more rocky landscape the further north you get. I’ve always liked this part of Sweden. It’s easy to see why the exile Scot community of previous centuries also did. Gothenburg Scots are referenced by Billy Kay in his book ‘The Scottish World’. And Professor Steve Murdoch has done fascinating research on this part of the Scottish diaspora.
Just north of the city the turn-off is in the direction of Stenungsund. Sam’s 28-foot Dory has been laid up for the winter here. After crossing the Atlantic, he navigated the Irish coast and traversed Scotland via the Caledonian Canal.
After acquiring a taste for haggis and indulging his fondness for single malt whisky, he dodged the oil rigs on a stormy crossing to Norway. As the autumn nights drew in, he made his way south into the Kattegat and to Rassö Harbour here on Sweden’s west coast. Sam’s YouTube channel is worth a follow for his venture into the Celtic and Nordic worlds alone.
Heading home that evening, Danes were voting YES to closer military integration with Europe. The decision (66.9% to 33.1%) will further militarise the EU and strengthen the hand of self-styled president of Europe, Ursula von der Leyen. The result aside, we Scots can admire the fact that a national referendum was announced, arranged, and carried out within three months.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, the Stockholm political elite are planning to abandon the neutrality that has served the country so well for centuries. This decision means the nation is now full-in with a US-run NATO, which is looking to expand into a global organisation – presumably to search for new enemies to justify its continued existence.
Ditching neutrality, at a time when there is a proxy war going on between NATO (aka, USA) and the Russian Federation, seems inexplicable. Basically, Sweden has now painted a target on itself.
The last time there was a generation defining event like this in the Nordic region was 36 years ago. On a freezing February night in 1986 the news crackled through the radio of my old VW Beetle – Olof Palme was dead, gunned down in the middle of Stockholm.
There was something deeply unreal about the reports. Palme was the embodiment of Sweden as a humanitarian superpower. A non-aligned voice for peace and detente between East and West.
The ‘known knowns’ were that Palme had been walking home from the cinema together with his wife. He had no bodyguards that evening. After all, Sweden was not a country with a reputation for political murders. If anything, it was an oasis of peace. Politicians felt no fear of walking unguarded in public.
Palme was the last Swedish leader, and perhaps among the last politicians anywhere, to merit the title of world statesman.
His still unsolved murder is a very murky affair. Swedish police followed one dead end after another from the start. The 34-year investigation was shut down in 2020 with the authorities pointing the finger of blame at an original witness to the event – Stig Engström, also known as ‘Skandia Man’. Conveniently, Stig had been dead for two decades. So that was that. He’s now been granted the posthumous ignominy of ‘prime suspect’ in the murder of Sweden’s greatest statesman.
Recommended reading (or listening) on this topic is Jan Stocklassa’s ‘The Man Who Played with Fire’. Much of Stocklassa’s book is based on the private research of the late author and investigative journalist, Stieg Larsson.
In the decades since the assassination, Sweden has taken a slow swing to the right. Sadly, more political violence followed. In 2003, the Social Democrat rising star, Anna Lindh, was assassinated in a Stockholm department store by a ‘crazed attacker’. At the time, Lindh, who was foreign minister, was tipped to become Sweden’s next leader. She was a critic of the Iraq War, a supporter of Palestinian rights, and for a pro-European power block. She was an ardent supporter of international cooperation through the United Nations. In fact, early in 2003 Lindh had helped broker a peace deal that avoided civil war in North Macedonia. She seemed ready to continue the foreign policy legacy of Palme. Alas.
By 2010, a now hawkish Sweden helped facilitate the arrest and ultimate detention of Julian Assange. Inverse Finlandization had finally occurred – Sweden was now publicly in the US sphere of influence.
If Sweden’s move to the right has been gradual, Scotland’s has been anything but. Less than a decade on from indyref, the ruling party is now in the grip of an unashamed neocon leadership. The First Minister extols people such as Alistair ‘sexed up dossier’ Campbell, Hillary ‘we came, we saw, he died’ Clinton, and Henry ‘what ethical concerns’ Kissinger. Stewart Hosie, Stewart McDonald and Alyn Smith big-up security service reports based on ‘research’ by the highly dubious character, Christopher Steele. Long before the current Ukraine conflict, they were full-in with the rampant Russophobia of the Integrity Initiative. And Sturgeon herself has been running around like a Clinton clone, calling for an NFZ in Ukraine, triggering a possible WWIII.
Of course, during the past decade we Scots have witnessed a political assassination of our own. It happened in plain sight.
No one died, though. It was the murder of a reputation – that of the former First Minister, and champion of Scottish independence, Alex Salmond.
It was an ambush by a gang of civil servants, political advisors, former staffers, and the CEO of the SNP. An unsuspecting Salmond was caught in a ‘triangulation of smears’ by character assassins, all hidden from public view by the powers that be.
Getting the media on-side is key to any successful plot, and the London-centric mainstream media has, so far, played its supporting role. “Truth is treason in the empire of lies”.
The late ferry from Helsingborg, the Tycho Brahe, leaves quietly and without a hint of diesel fumes. As mentioned earlier, this 31-year-old ferry now operates on electricity.
En route, we glide past a Kronborg Castle finally free of scaffolding. The care and upkeep of Danish heritage sites never stops. If there is something rotten in the state of Denmark it’s certainly not its historic castles and architecture.
However, in a generation lacking politicians of real substance, there may be dry rot undermining the foundation of the nation’s national soverignty in foreign policy matters. An ancient maritime nation, Denmark has just sent 130 Harpoon anti-ship missiles to the Zelensky regime so that it can sink Russian Federation ships in the Black Sea. Now, whatever our views on the conflict, pumping yet more weapons into the region will not solve the underlying issues or bring peace anytime soon. When did international diplomacy become so unfashionable?
I learned later that during my journey back, Scotland was busy failing to qualify for yet another World Cup. A shame for the Tartan Army. Still, the recently self-appointed Aberdeen presidium of the Yes movement probably consider the Scotland team an expression of blood and soil nationalism anyway. Either that, or phobic in some respect.
It was fabulous meeting Sam. His innocent abroad persona encapsulates everything good about Americans. And the west coast archipelago north of Gothenburg looks much as it did two decades ago when I holidayed there wi ma bairns. With its old-style Swedish charm, it’s the kind of place where you can easily forget there is an outside world. And I expect the people there did in August 1914 and again in September 1939.
But of course, non-involvement in two European catastrophes was one of the benefits of being a neutral state. There may be a lesson there for a future independent Scotland.