Consumer power

Union Jackery is not merely irritating and objectionable, it has the potential to cause significant economic, political and cultural harm. Whether or not individual instances of Union Jackery are purposeful, all contribute to – and so must be regarded as part of – a generalised erosion of Scotland the brand. This, in turn, can be seen as serving the British Nationalist imperative to eradicate anything that is distinctively Scottish and impose a bland, heterogeneous British identity. A destructive process which is at least as old as the Union.

It is an insidious process, made all the more dangerous by the ease with which particular examples of Union Jackery can be dismissed. It is the aggregate effect that we must be concerned with, regardless of how seemingly trivial any single instance may be. Regardless, too, of any malign intent – suspected or proven. The overall impact is the same no matter what proportion of Union Jackery is merely incidental.

There is no point going into detail about the ways in which Union Jackery is harmful to Scotland. The popularity of Ruth Watson’s save Scotland The Brand suggests that most people recognise these reasons. And those who persist in brushing aside concerns tend to do so, not because they are unable to comprehend the harm being done, but because they don’t care. We know well enough how the British Nationalist creed of ‘The Union At Any Cost’ bids them celebrate, in fact or in prospect, whatever diminishes Scotland.

The question is not whether Union Jackery is deleterious to Scotland, nor even whether it is done intentionally, but how it can be countered, combated, deterred or stopped. And the answer to that question is consumer power.

There is no doubt that consumers have power. Massive power. The problem is demonstrating that power and deploying it to a specified end. Corporate power is, by definition, collective. Consumer power effectively doesn’t exist until it too becomes collective. Ruth Watson’s campaign, supported by The National, has done well in raising awareness of Union Jackery and has undoubtedly prompted a degree of consumer action. But that action is diffuse and sporadic. And corporations are very well able to absorb that kind of impact. Their size tends to mean that they are only vulnerable to very large market ‘events’. Mostly, corporation react to changes in consumer behaviour by adapting in ways that benefit themselves. Consumer ‘attacks’ are neither felt as such nor, more importantly, are they visible as customer action. Unless the action is big and concentrated, it is indistinguishable from normal market fluctuations.

It is easy for corporation to deploy their political power in the service of a political agenda. It is not at all easy for consumers to do so. The reason being that people are apathetic and idle. They are difficult to rouse to action, and that difficulty increases exponentially with the amount of effort that is asked of them.

I can already hear the protests. But this isn’t about individuals. It’s about crowds. Individually, people may be aware and active and tireless in their efforts on behalf of their chosen cause. At population level, people are all but immobilised by disinclination and hesitancy, and ever disposed to do the least that they can get away with. Established power, corporate or governmental, relies on this inertia and indolence.

It is as well to be mindful of this if the intention is to activate consumer power and harness it to a cause. Success in motivating people will count for little or nothing if what they are being asked to do is too difficult or effortful.

It may be time for a show of strength by consumers concerned by the impact of Union Jackery. It may be time to remind corporations that they cannot act with impunity. It may be time for a boycott. But for that boycott to be effective as a demonstration of consumer power in opposition to Union Jackery it will have to be planned and executed according to certain rules. The target must be carefully chosen. The timing must be correct. The means of triggering and coordinating the boycott must be totally reliable. And due account must be taken of human nature.

The first question to be addressed is whether a boycott is appropriate or potentially effective. It would be good to hear a range of opinions on this before we go on to consider the practicalities.


In choosing a target for the boycott, a number of criteria should be applied. For present purposes, the term ‘product’ may be assumed to include services where such service meets other criteria.

  • The target must be easily identifiable so that those participating know exactly what the target is.
  • The target should be a discretionary purchase with a high daily sales volume.
  • If there is an obvious alternative to the targeted product, it may be advisable to included this in the boycott.
  • If there is an alternative the purchase of which augments or supplements the boycott, it may be advisable to identify it.
  • The item to be boycotted must be something that participants can easily do without for the duration of the boycott.
  • If possible, the target should be something that already has negative associations for a significant number of people.
  • The impact on the target must be immediate, evident and measurable.
  • The target must be such as can recover from the boycott. The boycott should not be destructive in intent or effect.

To be continued…

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5 thoughts on “Consumer power

    1. I’ve noticed Tesco now put the Saltire o its Scottish strawberries… after a backlash, the other year.


  1. Ruth, a friend, doesn’t advocate a boycott which you’ll see on her #keepScotlandtheBrand website above, I’m sure. As she said to me, some people can’t afford to pick and choose what they buy and have to buy the cheapest available produce even if it has the Union flag on it.


    1. Firstly, I am not directly involved in what Ruth Watson is doing and do not take instructions from her. Secondly, there will always be some who can’t or won’t participate in direct action. If we are deterred by this then there will never be any direct action.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know that you’re not directly involved with what Ruth is doing, but I thought that would point it out to other readers.


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