A mythical creature

Andrew Tickell assures us that “there are reflective Unionists”. To whatever extent this may be so. one has to wonder what it is that they are reflecting on. Evidently, not the inability of self-proclaimed Unionist politicians to explain precisely – or even vaguely – what it is that makes the Union so ‘precious’. Nor does the content of the constitutional discourse suggest that any Unionist has spent so much as a moment reflecting on the matter of why upwards of half the people of Scotland find the Union markedly less than ‘precious’.

When the best explanation for Scottish antipathy to the Union offered by those who might reasonably be expected to provide a distillation of Unionist ideology is a failure to adequately smother Scotland in the symbols of British Nationalism, then “reflective” is surely not the first word anyone would reach for in attempting to characterise Unionist thinking.

An argument could be made that it is unfair to judge all Unionists by Matt Hancock’s vacuous nonsense about the need to ramp up the ubiquity of Union flags that are already exceedingly hard to avoid. It could be argued that it is unjustly selective to highlight Jeremy Hunt’s “vapid non sequitur” about Adam Smith and grotesquely contrived reference to Culloden. Such arguments could be made – but for the fact that these are very far from untypical of Unionist rhetoric. Indeed, I doubt there’s anyone experienced in debating the constitutional issue who couldn’t provide more and better evidence casting serious doubt on the existence of such a creature as a reflective Unionist.

Of course, experience of debating the constitutional issue with Unionists must, itself, be something of a rarity as said Unionists are famously reluctant to engage. Which might be taken to imply that they have nothing to bring to such debate. The rehashed lies and reheated scare stories left over from Project Fear can hardly be presented as the product of rational reflection.

It is said that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And this may be true, in a general sense. But when a claim is made for the existence of something which, if it exists as claimed, must leave some trace of its existence, and no such trace can be discovered, then it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the claims of its existence have been greatly exaggerated.

The ‘positive case for the Union’ is very much a case in point. If such a thing existed, or ever had existed, there would surely be some lingering trace of it in the utterances of those who seek to portray themselves as champions of the Union. If there was such a thing as a reflective Unionist, surely we would have heard from them by now.

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Scotland the brand! Scotland the nation!

saltireI have particular reason to be aware of the importance of branding. In what is now very much a previous life, I gloried in the self-conferred job title of ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’. I’m not sure how often or how much the jargon impressed. But I made a sort of living out of the work, which involved all aspects of a business’s ‘public facing’ communication, from logo, stationery and mission statement to website, print advertising and promotional materials. It was work that I enjoyed – mostly! The job required a combination of creative design, cognitive psychology and a certain degree of IT skill. It could be very satisfying.

There are two ways a business can be successful. It can succeed at selling products or services. Or it can succeed by creating a brand. If you’re selling products or services in a dynamic market, you have to be constantly innovating and adapting to the changing environment. The product or service you’re selling may change from year to year, or possibly even more frequently. And the ‘story’ you’re telling about that product or service will also have to change. It will need to be constantly revised and updated to reflect changes in the product or service and/or changes in the market.

If you create a successful brand, it never changes. Or very, very rarely. The ‘story’ associated with the brand is constant and consistent. Maintain the brand identity and reputation and you can use it to sell pretty much any product or service – so long as it doesn’t damage the brand’s public image. This affords great flexibility. While the feet of the business are paddling furiously under the surface in an effort to keep abreast of the market and, hopefully, ahead of competitors, the brand glides gracefully and serenely in the public gaze.

Branding is important. Branding is crucial. You don’t mess with the brand!

An effective brand doesn’t sell a product or service. It conveys a set of values and associations; as well as various abstract qualities, such as speed or comfort or reliability. It doesn’t make you want something. It makes you feel something. Perhaps more than anything, the brand offers reassurance. A brand which represents the appropriate values and associations allows the prospective purchaser to feel confident that they are making a wise choice.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you can probably see where this is going.

There is no doubt that ‘Scotland’ is a brand. There is no question that, as a brand, it is hugely successful and immensely valuable. In fact, ‘Scotland’ is a ‘meta-brand’. It is a brand which, when overlaid on it, supplements and augments a corporate brand. Spring water is good. Scottish spring water is better. Scottish spring water is automatically and always better. It is better, not on account of the product – although this must be of a suitable quality – but on account of the ‘Scottish’ branding.

Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician, you’ll be able to see the value in this. You’ll be able to see how ‘Scotland’, the brand, gives producers and providers an edge. You’ll understand how it adds a premium.

There is no escaping the fact that ‘Scotland’ the brand is in jeopardy. It is under threat of being diminished and diluted and discredited. So-called ‘Union Jackery’ is a very real phenomenon. Particularly in the case of food and drink, the Scottish brand, is being actively eroded by an onslaught of Union Jack (mis)labelling which is totally inexplicable and unjustifiable in business terms. You don’t mess with the brand!

So, how are we to explain this phenomenon? What might trump the value of the ‘Scottish’ brand? We can surely discount a commercial motive. It is simply not credible that anyone could suppose this ‘Union Jackery’ might improve the market appeal of the products involved. You just don’t mess with the brand! There is almost always a cost to doing so. Spring water that is selling well because of its ‘Scottish’ branding isn’t going to sell better by having the values and associations of that brand undermined.

If anybody calling themselves a ‘Corporate Imaging Consultant’ recommended switching the branding from ‘Scottish’ to ‘British’ then they shouldn’t just be sacked, they should be forced to change their own name and live out the rest of their deservedly miserable lives as ‘Garry Glitter’.

The only other thing that might override the economic imperative is some pressing political consideration. There is no commercial logic to the destruction of ‘Scotland’, the brand. But there may be political logic. If you are a ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist politician who believes as an unshakeable tenet of that vile ideology that Scotland was ‘extinguished’ by the Union; and whose driving ambition is to make that obliteration a reality.

Ruth Watson is being perfectly honest when she says that #KeepScotlandTheBrand is “not party political”. Nor is the campaign to save ‘Scottish’ branding directly linked to the campaign to the Yes movement. But ‘Scotland’ is more than a commercial brand. It is not possible to entirely separate the effort to preserve Scotland’s name and commercial value as a brand from the fight to defend Scotland’s identity and political distinctiveness as a nation.

Everybody in Scotland should be part of both campaigns. Unless you’re a British Nationalist politician.

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