Enter the foyer of the local sports hall and you’re facing several posters from Louisiana. No, not the US state, but the museum of modern art on the coast not far from here. On another wall is an example of today’s ballot paper. This venue is the local polling centre.
Today is being promoted as ‘demokratiets dag’ in Denmark – which hardly needs a translation. Danes have a strong sense of civic responsibility, and this is never more evident than on polling days. Queues of voters as the polls open is the norm, not the exception.
The early TV coverage is a cavalcade of images from all regions. In these reports, one thing you do notice is the high standard of local town halls, sports halls, and national infrastructure facilities, used during this election. It’s visual evidence of the de-centralisation of national resources, locally and regionally. Impressive build quality and design is clearly noticeable, even in the most remote corners of darkest Jutland. Danes, of course, don’t send all of their national revenues to another country, only to receive a meagre stipend to function on.
The idea that Denmark’s large, energy-hungry southern neighbour could simply help itself to Danish oil and gas, not to mention its renewables, is a fantasy scenario. Proper neighbours pay for goods and services supplied. Only an oppressive colonial power would act differently.
Meanwhile, in our local sports hall, there’s a steady stream of voters. With 14 parties you’re spoiled for choice. All of the online tests suggest I should be voting for one particular party, ‘Enhedslisten’ – ‘The Unity Party’ – who are left of centre. However, party leader, Mai Villadsen, managed to change my mind.
During her televised Q & A session, Mai was asked about key party policies of exiting NATO and decoupling from the EU. Her answer was hugely disappointing. Basically, they have decided to park these central principles due to the ‘current international climate’. It’s a little bit like the governing party in Scotland kicking its keynote policy of independence into the long grass because the UK is going to hell in a handcart, then focusing on other issues. Why vote for a party like that?
In the transformed sports hall, voting is straightforward. You turn up with your individual, barcode voting card that arrived by post. After you hand it over you’re asked for your date of birth, presumably as a security check. Only then are you given the long polling sheet. By the way, postal voting has seen an increase. In the Copenhagen region it hit 11%. This is put down partly to the council elections during Covid, where many chose to vote from home, and so, did again. But fewer polling stations than in previous times is also a factor. Remarkably, 11% is considered a high proportion in Denmark, though it comes nowhere near the exceptional 25% of postal votes cast during Indyref 2014.
I decided to give my vote to another party of the left. New on the scene and rank outsiders, their leader was the only one to speak out against the current belligerent militarism of the EU and NATO. This made him unique among party leaders. He has openly agitated for dialogue and de-escalation of the current crisis. After all, if the rush to a new Cold War isn’t stopped, there may be no Denmark for any government to rule.
On the way out, there are some sweets on offer, a Cocohagen bar – ‘plant-based lactose and gluten free snack’, produced locally. No election without some form of cosy ‘hygge’.
Anyway, I found it inexplicable that the Unity Party had parked its opposition to NATO and the EU. And this at the very moment when Brussels, led by self–appointed Empress of Europe, Ursula von der Leyen, is in full provocation mode over a non-EU state. Few in Denmark appear to see anything wrong with a German EU bureaucrat promising unwavering support ,and a blank cheque, to a regime most Western media outlets, less than one year ago, were condemning as neo-Nazi,
Listening to the Unity Party’s spokeswoman reminded me so much of the dithering on independence from the SNP. Critics tried to convince me that Unity (Enhedslisten) were an almost Marxist party, but their leader may as well have quoted the other Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them, well, I have others”.
Television reports suggest that social media is a big factor for the first time. Targeted political ads have finally arrived across the North Sea. Bots and trolls have also turned up on Twitter. But who is financing them?
Alex Vanopslagh, is leader of the small Liberal Alliance party, who look set to increase their vote share. Young and fresh-faced, Alex has the air of the overgrown schoolboy about him, although he is 31 years old. Born five years after Chernobyl, he’s pro-nuclear power, something Danes have always resisted. Alex has taken the party apparatchik route to leadership. His team’s use of social media has led to him being called the ‘Tik-Tok daddy’.
According to one story, he broke parliamentary rules when securing his ‘second home’ in Copenhagen. A 30,000 kroner fine followed. Then there was also the issue of a late night ‘Sieg Heil’ in a Copenhagen pub. But he was apparently repeating a 1970s routine by a German comedian. Others didn’t view it as benign, though. I only mention him because, outwardly, he is the embodiment of personality politics.
Another pro-nuclear leader tipped for election success is Pernille Vermund of ‘Nye Borgerlig’ – ‘New Right’. A youthful and photogenic 43-year-old, Pernille, unlike Alex, has some experience of the real world in that she’s an architect. She leads the party, which was formed in 2015. It actually achieved 2.4% of the national vote in 2019 which gave 4 seats in the Folketing. That vote share looks set to increase, which means more MPs.
‘Nye Borgerlig’ is probably the most right-wing party in Denmark, a position once held by the Danish People’s Party until Danes tired of its xenophobia. The DPP’s current leader is the surreally-named, Morton Messerschmidt, who, incidentally, is watching his party’s vote nose-dive once again.
After a quick 30-minute ‘constitutional’ bike ride to the town on the coast, I’m outside the bakery, Brødsnedkeren (literally, ‘The Bread Carpenter’), sipping some black tea. Across the road I spot the ‘Cocohagen’ logo. Turns out they’re producing their healthy snack bars in the old filling station here in Humlebæk.
It’s a bit damp and cold. I hear locals discussing the intricacies of their bread and pastry purchases. Wonderfully reassuring in an odd kind of way. In my other ear, news reports suggest voter uncertainty. It seems that the burning issues are inflation, energy prices, and the future of the social welfare system.
Back home, the evening results coverage begins with a touching celebration of Denmark and its democratic process. It comes across as entirely authentic, and free of the toxic negativity we are witness to on the colonial broadcasters in Scotland. Danes talk-up their country. It may seem self-congratulatory, but who doesn’t prefer that to, ‘Why is our country so shite’? A nation in charge of its own democratic structures, and with a broadcast media staffed by people who, although critical journalists, are at heart proud of, and loyal to their country, has a very different feel to Scotland with the London-centric guff that BBC Scotland transmits.
The most striking aspect of the results is that two new parties have grabbed a large share of the vote. Former PM, Lars Lykke Rasmussen, has taken the middle-ground vote he was looking for. A politician of real substance, he launched Moderaterne just four months ago. The other party of the two is more to the right. It was started by Inger Støjberg. She’s the one who was expelled from parliament just one year ago. Inger ended up in jail for 60 days after a ‘Rigsret’ found her guilty of acting against the law while immigration minister. Oddly enough, acting against the law and ignoring legal advice may have earned her a promotion or a contract extension under Scotland’s current First Minister. (See: https://yoursforscotlandcom.wordpress.com/2022/07/03/the-rule-of-law/ )
Between them, these two new parties have grabbed 30 of the 179 seats at Christiansborg with 9.3% and 8.1% of the vote, respectively. Just shows what can happen when you have a native-run domestic media, and no state censorship of new political parties seeking to bring fresh ideas and new impetus.
These election results are due to a dynamic form of politics. It’s facilitated by a voting system that works against one-party power, and the type of selfie-obsessed control freakery we see from the SNP leader and her party CEO husband. As we’ve witnessed, their nepotism is made all the worse by a politicised civil service and Crown Office. In Scotland, Sturgeon imagines herself to be a modern European politician, but from a Nordic perspective she is a regressive autocrat of the worst kind. Her vindictive attacks on Alex Salmond, and refusal to work with him, had more to do with school playground bitching than grown-up leadership. Nicola would probably run screaming from Danish politics, where she could never achieve a sufficient level of power for herself, and which, at times, resembles herding cats.
You may not be aware, I certainly wasn’t, but no Danish party has won an absolute majority since 1901. Coalitions are a necessity thanks to the 2% threshold.
By 00.50am, votes are counted and the results are known. Turns out the 10pm exit poll data was pretty accurate. The Social Democrats are the largest party with 27.5% and about 50 seats (of 179). In all, 12 of 14 parties are above the 2% threshold and will be represented in the Folketing at Christiansborg.
Unusually, it’s a few seats from the self-governing former colonies of Faroe Islands and Greenland that give the ‘red block’ parties just enough to remain in power. It’s a slim majority, but the ‘blue block’ has fewer seats, according to current scenarios.
In spite of results, good or bad, each party machine is in celebratory mood. TV coverage moves around the various shindigs for apparatchiks. Beer and traditional Danish dishes from another era are on the menu at some. Others serve more ‘green’ offerings.
Although the Social Democrats have their best result in 20 years, and are by far the largest party, PM Mette Frederiksen has decided to relinquish power in favour of a broader, more inclusive government across the middle. Regardless of what has been said about her, she is not clinging to power at all costs.
What follows now is a period of horse-trading. It starts with a trip to Amalienborg, to visit the Queen. It’s all pro forma and quite laid back but Denmark is, still, a constitutional monarchy. Someone will be appointed to lead the negotiations to create a new government — and that someone just happens to be functioning Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen. Each party leader made their suggestion and Mette came out on top. So she is now busy herding cats.
As the front page headline of the broadsheet Berlingske reads: The road to power is long and complex. These negotiations could be over in a couple of days, or they could take three weeks as they did in 2019. Each support party will have its demands on policy decisions and commitments. It’s highly likely that a party from the blue block will have a place in the coalition, possibly the new centre party, Moderaterne, led by former PM Rasmussen.
While this is going on, the overall party results are tallied up, there’s a count of the ‘personal votes’ for individual candidates, and then there’s overall selection of new MPs according to party priorities. In all, 48 of the 179 elected are first-time MPs.
In a Scottish context, it’s worth noting that of the 3,533,385 votes cast, only 55,000 were ‘wasted’. These votes went to the Christian Democrats and the Free Greens, neither of whom reached the 2% threshold. Compare that with the Scottish version of D’Hondt, where more than one million list votes elected a mere two SNP MSPs to Holyrood in 2021. Of course, there was no need for these votes to be wasted. But it did satisfy the First Minister, who deemed one million votes more or less up in smoke as a price worth paying to keep another pro-indy party out of Holyrood.
There may be a few things rotten in the state of Denmark, but it’s certainly not the electoral system. Its one-vote D’Hondt really works.
When I cycled back from the coast earlier today I rode past Louisiana. As usual, museum visitors were spilling onto the broad cycle path. It’s always fun to pick out the languages as you ride next to them. The museum, although 35 km north of Copenhagen, is a tourist magnet. Its huge visitor numbers are only possible because of the three fast trains every hour that arrive and depart Humlebæk Station. The tour up the east coast takes about 45 minutes.
The level of investment in Danish transport infrastructure is impossible in Scotland, not because we aren’t rich enough as a nation, not because we are incapable of building railways, but because our revenues and the natural resources of our internationally recognised territorial area, have been stolen — generation after generation. We are a Nordic nation like Denmark, in fact 30% larger, but without the independence.
As I turn inland, the lovely ‘Humlebæk Kro’ comes into view. Like many older Danish buildings it has a date on its frontage. The quaint old inn, now a restaurant, boasts royal ‘patronage’ back to 1740.
Since 2014, I’ve dived into Scottish history. My knowledge is still entirely superficial, but the parallel histories of my adopted homeland and Scotland often strike me. The kind of ‘Anno 1740’ dates you see on Danish buildings can evoke dual associations. It’s fascinating to view the historical structures of a nation that at no point adjourned its parliament, or allowed itself to be intimidated and bribed into signing a sham international treaty.
Humlebæk Kro looks benign and picturesque framed in autumn colours. But my thoughts have latched onto the year 1740, across the sea. That year was the beginning of a Scottish decade that experienced the hope of liberation – ‘Prosperity to Scotland, and No Union’ – but which ended in the horrors of war, ethnic cleansing, massacres, and ethnocide.
Further on from here, along a leafy cycle path, there’s another charming old house. On that one, the year is 1746.
“The lovely lass o' Inverness, Nae joy nor pleasure can she see; For e'en and morn she cries, “Alas!” And ay the saut tear blins her ee: Drumossie moor – Drumossie day – A waefu' day it was to me! For there I lost my father dear, My father dear, and brethren three.” from Lament for Culloden by Robert Burns