Subarctic Backyards? Britain, Scotland, and the Paradoxical Politics of the European High North


  • Richard C. Powell University of Oxford


This article discusses the ways in which the relationship between Britons
and the Arctic has been positioned in recent political discussions. It is argued that
both UK and Scottish politicians have used changes in the Arctic environment to
argue for shifts in policy direction involving a reconfigured northern imagination.
Within the Atlanticist wing of the British Conservative Party, the perceived need
for the relationship between Britain and northern Europe to be reinforced, through
the use of bilateral and multilateral partnerships, has been used as part of a wider
strategy to revisit the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European
Union. For many subscribed to this section of British political thinking, the ultimate
aim is withdrawal from the European Union. It is current UK Government policy that a referendum on British withdrawal from the European Union will be held before
2017. At the same time, a perceived lack of engagement by the UK with Arctic
issues has been mobilized by Scottish nationalists in the debates that are preceding
their independence referendum scheduled for September 2014. Moreover, this is
complicated by the apparent desire of the Northern Isles, formerly dependencies
of the Danish-Norwegian crown, to remain within the UK, regardless of the political
future of the rest of Scotland. As such, northern visions about the Subarctic are being
folded in complex ways into the domestic politics of the UK. This has implications
for the constitution of arguments about the politics of the High North.

Author Biography

Richard C. Powell, University of Oxford

Richard C. Powell is associate professor of human geography in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford.






Special Collection: The Arctic Council, the EU and Polar Politics