Cultural and trade links between Scotland and Norway go back centuries and still flourish today.
With many Scottish place names having Norse origins and a shared Viking heritage, it's pretty well known that the two countries have long historical associations, and the relations between the people of the two countries remain dynamic today.
Evidence of Scotland's ancient ties with Norway is strongest in Shetland and the Orkneys. From Shetland's Up Helly Aa, a Viking new year fire festival, to Orkney's St Margaret's Hope, named after the ill fated 'Maid of Norway' who died in 1286 on her way to take the Scottish Crown the northern isles are strewn with Norse heritage. And when they light the great Christmas trees at Kirkwall and Stromness the firs come from Hordaland which is Orkney's twinned region of Norway. In fact, many of the islanders see themselves as much Viking as Scot even today and one of Orkney and Scotland's greatest twentieth century writers, George Mackay Brown, often wove Norse themes into his poems and stories. The people exchanges went both ways, of course, and some famous Norwegians traced their roots to Scotland. Colin Archer and Edvard Grieg being just two. A lecture called "Grieg or Greig? The Composer's Scottish Connections" has already explored Grieg's Scottish identity.
Throughout World War II, the Norwegian naval detachment known as 'the Shetland Bus' provided a transport route between the Shetland Islands and occupied Norway. Hundreds of Norwegian refugees fled their occupied homes thanks to the help of Norwegian sailors who organised daring, high-risk trips across the North Sea during the dark winter months to the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Bus touched numerous individuals on both sides and the whole episode became a symbol of friendship across the seas. A service of commemoration was held in Norway in 2005.
Many other communities in Scotland have strong ties with Norway too. "Friendship Societies" are based throughout the country from Dunfermline to Glasgow to Aberdeen. On 17 May, Norwegian Constitution Day, celebrations are regularly held in Orkney and Edinburgh.
In terms of the arts, there have been particularly strong links between Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre and the National and Open Theatres in Oslo; a number of Traverse Theatre productions have been shown in Norway. The Norwegian Seamen's Church in Scotland which was established in 1864 now houses the prestigious Leith School of Art.
Trade links have always been strong between the two countries. Today, Norway and the UK have strong common interests in the development of offshore oil and gas resources. Many of these links, for geographical reasons, are between Norway and Scotland. Aberdeen and Stavanger are twin towns and take it in turns to host Europe's top Offshore Oil and Gas Exhibition. As the UK and Norway are each other's most important export market for oil and gas equipment, much of this trade passes through the North Sea twins.
Shetland too plays a major role in North Sea oil and gas and is set to lead the way in the multi-million pound business of decommissioning redundant oil structures in the North Sea. Decommissioning is seen as a natural extension of Shetland's 40 year involvement with the offshore industry and a base has been located near Lerwick, which has a track record of providing services and facilities to the industry. The Norwegian engineering and oil giant, Aker Kvaerner is working alongside Scottish companies such as and SBS Logistics to win orders to dismantle the platforms which straddle the boundary between the UK and Norwegian sectors. The consortium recently announced it had won the 250 million contract to break up the enormous Norwegian sector installations. As a result around 20,000 tonnes of steel and other materials will be shipped into Lerwick over the next three years.
The Lerwick facility will supplement a specially constructed demolition plant on the west coast of Norway. It is expected that much of the material will be recycled and Shetland already has an established, environmentally-friendly facility that converts general, non-hydrocarbon waste into energy, which provides hot water to much of Lerwick.
Supporting these trade links are more and more direct transport links between the countries. Travelling to Scotland from Norway has never been easier (well at least since Viking times!).There are several direct routes between major airports in Scotland and Norway including Ryanair's daily route between Glasgow Prestwick and Sandefjord Torp, Widere's daily flights from Aberdeen to Bergen and Stavanger and its summer route Oslo Gardermoen-Shetland. City Star Airlines operates a direct route from Aberdeen to Oslo too. The more traditional maritime links are not forgotten with Smyril Line offering a seasonal cruise between Lerwick and Bergen, and Sea-Cargo operating vessels between Aberdeen and various destinations up and down the western coast of Norway. In addition a 'Superfast' ferry connection from Rosyth to Kristiansund or Trondheim is under consideration.
Shetland reminds us that as well as geological and energy similarities, the two countries have geographical similarities with offshore inhabited islands and rural communities posing challenges for the provision of services. To address the challenges of finding long-term solutions for sustaining health services in remote and rural areas a was held in St Andrews, Scotland in 2003. The conference was a joint venture between NHS Scotland and Helse Nord, the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority. Over 300 delegates from Norway and Scotland, as well as the USA, Russia, Australia and Canada attended. The second conference will be held in September 2005 in Troms, Norway.
There are currently hundreds of Norwegian students in Scotland. (Norwegian Students Association) represents Norwegian students and their interests at all higher education institutions in Edinburgh. The University of Strathclyde has approximately 1700 alumni in Norway. has around 1300 and now has a campus much closer to Norway with its Orkney-based International Centre for Island Technology. This may prove attractive to even more Norwegian students with its emphasis on renewable and alternative energy research, sustainable development, coastal zone management, environmental risk assessment and economics, biodiversity, and fisheries and marine bioresources all areas where both Scotland and Norway have similar interests.
Many Scottish schools and youth groups have links and exchanges with Norwegian equivalents and Edinburgh heads for Oslo this year in the form of boys and girls under-15 football development squads competing in the Norway Cup 2005 Sporting Interchange. The competition, now in its 33rd year, is the largest of its kind in the world. The City of Edinburgh's Culture and Leisure Department has issued an open invitation to Norwegian athletes to compete in Edinburgh during 2005, under the 'Futuresport' banner.
A number of events have been organised throughout Scotland to mark Norway's centenary. As well as the appearance of the Royal Guard at the Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Book Festival is marking the centenary with a major series of events looking at the role of nations in the 21st Century. Issues explored will include national sovereignty, globalisation and regionalisation, how identity is informed by nationhood, and the changing face of nations and their behaviour in the coming century. In November, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing a Gala concert at Edinburgh's Usher Hall under conductor Andre Previn.
Finally, the penguin. He has a name: Nils Olav. And a rank. It goes back to 1961. When the King's Guard appeared at the 1961 Tattoo they visited the penguins at Edinburgh Zoo and, like so many other visitors before and after them, were rather taken with these Antarctic creatures that, out of the water, look rather like soldiers on parade. In 1972, when the Guard were over in Edinburgh again they decided to adopt a penguin Nils and bestowed on him the honorary rank of Lance Corporal. On each subsequent visit to Edinburgh the Guard have promoted the now much decorated penguin. The rank that will be bestowed on Nils this August is being kept a closely guarded secret. Seeing as it's centenary year, it might even be top brass.