How small independent countries create a better, more equal society

In some of our previous articles and on our recent Believe in Scotland campaign billboards we have highlighted some of the inadequacies that exist within the UK’s social support system. In particular, one of our billboards drew attention to the fact that the UK offers the worst state pension in the developed world.

In this article, we will consider the social welfare and support systems across some of the small, independent countries in Europe. In particular, we will look at Norway, Denmark and Ireland. This will allow us to analyse and compare the performance and policies of these smaller countries to those of the UK.

This will allow us to present a hypothetical picture of the type of social support that an independent Scotland would be able and likely to offer.

State pension

As we have already shown, the state pension is a gloomy aspect of the UK’s welfare system. So, how much exactly does the UK offer to old age pensioners?

The UK former state pension consisted of two tiers – the basic state pension (£137.60 a week) and an earnings-related additional state pension. The new state pension provides a flat-rate pension worth up to £179.60 a week.

Let’s see how this compares to other countries.

Flat-rate state pensions in countries across Northern Europe: a comparison of full entitlement

Country Basic Pension As a % of UK new state pension
UK (former state pension) £137.60 77%
UK (new state pension) Up to £179.60 100%
Ireland £212.08  




Norway (basic rate)


£162.66 91%
Norway (minimum pension level) £330.38 184%
Denmark (basic rate)  



Denmark (with additional supplement) £366.14  



Small, independent countries offer a much greater state pension than the much larger UK

These figures highlight that small, independent countries offer a much greater state pension (including full entitlement) than the much larger UK. Therefore, it’s more likely that an independent Scotland would follow a similar path as its European neighbours. Indeed, the SNP has said that an independent Scotland would work to increase the Scottish state pension to match the EU average, effectively doubling it.

 Net pension replacement rate

The net pension replacement rate is another interesting way of analysing and comparing the state pension schemes across various countries.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines net pension replacement rate as “the individual net pension entitlement divided by net pre-retirement earnings, taking into account personal income taxes and social security contributions paid by workers and pensioners.”

The net pension replacement rate measures how effectively a pension system provides a retirement income to replace earnings as the main source of income before retirement.

Country Net pension replacement rate (% of pre-retirement earnings)












This table demonstrates that the UK’s net pension replacement rate is significantly worse than several of the small independent countries across Europe. In fact, the only country that offers a state pension that constitutes a lower percentage of pre-retirement earnings is South Africa.

Public social spending

 Public social spending is another important factor that should be considered when analysing the effectiveness of a country’s social support system. Public social spending includes health, old age, incapacity-related benefits, family, unemployment and housing, among other things.


Country Public social spending (% of GDP)












These figures highlight that, with the exception of Ireland in this case, Scotland’s Northern European neighbours with a similar population size outperform the UK in terms of public social spending. Indeed, both Norway and Denmark spend a significantly great share of the country’s GDP on public social services than the UK.

 Income distribution

Lastly, this article will consider the distribution of income – another important aspect of ensuring an equal and well-supported society.

The OECD provides an Income Distribution database that monitors the performances of countries in the field of income inequality and poverty. This is measured using the Gini coefficient, which is based on the comparison of cumulative proportions of the population against cumulative proportions of income they receive (ranging from 0, in the case of perfect equality, and 1, in the case of perfect inequality). Therefore, with reference to the OECD’s database, we have compared the case study countries of this article.




Income distribution












This data, again, shows several small independent countries across Europe outperforming the UK. Indeed, Ireland, Norway and Denmark all provide greater income equality than the UK.

By analysing these various social support factors, it has become clear that small, independent countries largely outperform the UK and offer greater security to their citizens


 This article has drawn upon data from various countries across Europe, including the UK, Ireland, Norway and Denmark. By analysing these various social support factors, it has become clear that small, independent countries largely outperform the UK and offer greater security to their citizens. This includes pensions, income distribution and public social spending. Overall, it can be suggested that an independent Scotland would behave similarly to these small European countries and the Scottish Government has already set out various goals for an independent Scotland to prioritise social wellbeing factors and match European targets.

By Richard Walker