Published September 30, 2014
A number of prominent Icelanders cheered on the Scottish independence movement during the run-up to the September 18 referendum deciding whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. Among notable Icelanders who expressed support for the Yes movement were comedian and former Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr, the band Sigur Rós, and a smattering of politicians, including both the President and the Prime Minister. None of them caused deep ripples, unlike when, on the eve of the election, Scottish independence received the endorsement of the most famous Icelander of them all: Eyjafjallajökull.
How can a volcano support anything? Did it ash out a Scottish flag or something?
Sorry, that was a typo. I meant Björk. In the heat of an election campaign, people are quick to jump on famous people’s words. There have been cases of celebrities being misinterpreted, such as when BBC film critic Mark Kermode tweeted: “I know I’m not the target audience, but it’s a Yes from me.” He was talking about the new Doctor Who, but happened to tweet during a televised independence debate.
I know I’m not the target audience, but it’s a Yes from me.
— Mark Kermode (@KermodeMovie) August 23, 2014
So Björk wore a tartan scarf and people took it the wrong way?
Björk’s endorsement was not really open to interpretation. On the eve of the election she went to her Facebook page and posted the lyrics to her song “Declare Independence.” In case there was any shred of doubt that this was not a coincidence, she wrote “Scotland!” three times in a row at the beginning.
Maybe she had copy-pasted the wrong text, and meant to say: “Scotland! Don’t make the Queen sad!”
Björk has a long history of supporting national sovereignty movements. “Declare Independence” was written in support of Faroese and Greenlandic independence. Most famously she shouted “Tibet” while performing the song in China. Chinese authorities were not pleased. In an article on the government’s English-language China Internet Information Center website, it was noted that “many western entertainers make use of politics to create their images” and “what Bjork did was simply another ludicrous political show.”
Doesn’t the budget of the Chinese government stretch so far as buying umlaut keys for their keyboard?
Apparently not. Sadly the government did not stop at calling Björk a poseur, but they tightened regulations for artists who had supported Tibetan sovereignty even the slightest bit. This is not the only time her support for national self-determination has caused controversy. During one live performance she dedicated the song to Kosovo, which caused a festival in Serbia to cancel her scheduled appearance.
Okay, so Björk is really keen on independence.
She is not an outlier among Icelanders. The government is often very quick to recognise new states, notably being the only Western European country to have full diplomatic relations with Palestine. In the case of Scotland, she was firmly in the middle of Icelandic public opinion. The referendum was covered closely in the media. For instance Bogi Ágústsson, the main news anchor of state broadcaster RÚV, analysed every twist and turn on morning radio, as well as reporting on it on TV.
What’s strange about that? Scotland is a neighbour of Iceland.
Scottish news was not common in the Icelandic media before. The referendum campaign caught the imagination of Icelanders, many of whom have lived, studied and visited there. The perception is that Scotland is pretty close to being one of the Nordic countries. Perhaps most importantly, Iceland gained independence within living memory, in 1944, making independence movements sentimental favourites.
Ah, so it was affinity for Scots, and not anti-English views that lay behind the support?
No, there was some anti-English feeling too. Many Icelanders still have not forgiven the British government for freezing Icelandic banking assets following the 2008 financial crash. Banking authorities used anti-terrorism legislation, which in the heat of the moment was interpreted by many Icelanders as amounting to having the nation labeled as terrorists.
It’s not fair equating terrorists and bankers. Terrorists haven’t caused nearly as much misery.
Now, now, no need to be mean. Banks serve an important function, like the colon. Punctuation would be poorer without it. It also helped to shore up Icelandic support for Scottish independence that the leading anti-independence campaigners were Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown, who in 2008 were British Chancellor and Prime Minister respectively. To Icelanders it was like Luke Skywalker and the Rebellion going up against the Evil Empire.
But in the end the Empire won.
Yes, to much bafflement in Icelandic social media. To a nation of 320,000, it seems odd that a nation of millions would hold itself back. The independence of Iceland is guaranteed by being hundreds of kilometres from anyone else, but it is maintained by an ironclad belief that anyone can be independent, even a nation of 320,000.