Frisian National Party watching for devolution developments

Frisian regional government nothing more than ‘window-dressing’

A skater in Friesland. The Frisian National Party sent 18 delegates to monitor the Scottish independence campaign

A skater in Friesland. The Frisian National Party sent 18 delegates to monitor the Scottish independence campaign

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Frisian nationalists in the Netherlands have always been uneasy about the idea of outright independence, so the promise of greater devolution of powers from London to Edinburgh after the referendum is a model they will be watching with interest.

So seriously was the Scottish vote taken by the Frisian National Party (FNP) – Fryske Nasjonale Partij – that it sent a team of 18 to Scotland to monitor the campaign, determined to use the most effective of the SNP’s tactics in its dealings with central government in The Hague.

The province of Friesland, which borders the North Sea and includes the West Frisian Islands, has a population of 646,000 in 24 municipal areas.

Its 43-seat provincial council, based in the capital Leeuwarden, is run by a coalition of Labour, Christian Democratic Appeal and the FNP.

Friesland has its own language, West Frisian, which is spoken by 74 per cent of inhabitants and understood by 94 per cent – though it is regularly subtitled for the rest of the country on Dutch national television.

A relatively young left-wing party, the FNP was formed in 1962 to protect the language, to lobby for a federalist system of government in the Netherlands which would give Friesland more autonomy and, as in Scotland, to exert more local control over its offshore oil and natural gas reserves.

Gas wealth

The nationalists argue that although that oil and gas wealth is generated locally, most of it is spent in the conurbation of the Randstad – the main cities of Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht – to which young people from the regions then move to in search of work.

 

That structural inequality, says provincial councillor Sybren Posthumus – one of the FNP team visiting Scotland – is summed up in the story of the regional maternity unit in Dokkum, a small city granted its charter in 1298.

“Central government decided to close the unit to save money, a decision the provincial council immediately rejected, voting unanimously to keep it open,” says Mr Posthumus.

“Even so, a few days later parliament in The Hague voted to close it – and it shut in December 2012.”

He said that made it crystal clear that the regional government was nothing more than window-dressing. “In reality, there’s a huge gulf between The Hague and Friesland. Scotland has voted No – but for us they’re still the ones to watch in determining our own future.”

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