The Tartan Messiah

I get asked a lot about Scottish independence and think I will be asked a whole lot more as September approaches.

I don’t mean to be political on the blog– I am not involved in any campaign at all and am sure plenty of friends will disagree with me, but here we go – no personal offence intended.

It is evident when I talk that my accent has more than a twinge having lived the first 18 years of my life in Glasgow. Although I have now been away longer than I actually lived in Scotland, in many ways I still consider it to be home. As such, I really can’t help being Scottish, but in recent years I haven’t really felt all that “Scottish”.


Before Scotland Became Scottish

Before I left in 1994, I was schooled on a diet of the Herald midweek and a Sunday Mail picked up on the way home on a Saturday night. Reading the Glaswegian press one would think that Glasgow really was the centre of the universe as one by one the stars of the world would be linked with a forthcoming concert at the SECC, how Sheena Easton was a global superstar rocking America or how Deacon Blue were dominating the indie rock scene.

Central Station, Irn Bru, Wellington’s Cone, George Square, the chap shouting “EEEVNIN-DYMEZ” outside Marks and Spencer on Argyll Street were part of the culture. I would go to Celtic, take the clockwork orange to the West End, go to Byres Road and Ashton Lane, watching out for the alkies and nutters on the way home, always remembering that there was a “boundary charge” for those of us going back to the more affluent suburbs by taxi. Bank holidays were days spent at Largs, Troon or rolling balls up/down the Electric Brae near Culzean.

This was my Scottish identity. You may note that every reference is to Glasgow and the west coast. Even in football. Those of us who followed the national football team were from the west coast; those from Edinburgh were rugby fans. We had Hampden- they had Murrayfield.

Building Brand Scottish Part I

Bastos and Levy write about traditional branding.

“At the root of all branding activity is the human desire to be someone of consequence, to create a personal and social identity, to present oneself as both like other people (e.g. to belong) and unlike other people (e.g. to stand out), and to have a good reputation. Sign and symbol are essential ingredients of this branding phenomenon. As a form of marking, branding is richly ramified by application to oneself, to other people, and to property; it takes both material and metaphorical forms; and is perceived either positively or negatively.”


Back in the late 1980s, as far as my own personal recollections go, the only thing that united Scotland as a nation was the near universal agreement that it was entirely wrong to have the Poll Tax imposed in Scotland, whilst the rest of the UK paid rates – how can we have two different tax regimes in one country?

Either we are one country, or we aren’t – and for me we were part of the UK, but for others this was the moment to set the narrative. This moment of Thatcherite stupidity, caused the first spike in SNP support and created the first case of us and them, where in political terms, “them” were the Westminster Tories with little political mandate, but there was no real Scottish brand movement at this point- a vote for the SNP was a protest vote against Westminster in general and the Tories in particular.

In 1990, Alex Salmond became leader of the SNP and he moved away from the pragmatism of Gordon Wilson, bringing a high impact leadership to the party opposed to Thatcher. The initial SNP branding of Scottishness was very much an “us and them” developed as a contrast to the arrogance of the Westminster Government, which really didn’t have a mandate to govern Scotland (with a handful of MPs) and had lost legitimacy over the previous decade.

Nobody was rushing out to create a “distinct Scottish social identity” at this stage as all the signs and symbols that formed individual brands were local, or at best regional. Flower of Scotland was sung at a sporting event for the first time in 1990 as a pre-game warm up against the English at Rugby.

The mere suggestion that The Corries’ late 60s, slightly naff, folk-nostalgic balled would be the national anthem two decades later was as preposterous as claiming that Wales would adopt Tom Jones’ Green, Green Grass of Home as their national signature – after all Sir Tom’s balled was written in the same year and Sir Tom had significantly more credibility than The Corries!

(you don’t need to watch the video- it’s all a little Wicker Man!)

So when I waved goodbye and headed on the M74 south in 1994 it was in the final year before it all changed.

Building Brand Scottish Part II

I never had this hatred of the English. Partly with an Irish grandmother and English grandfather, the concept of defining my own identity as being not something else was all a bit shallow to me- you are who you are, not what you are not!

I always understood the importance of devolving political decisions to local government (it has been one of the most enduring legacies of the 1997 Government- see how the Scottish cities, the northern cities and London have benefitted from devolved decision making) but pragmatic decision-making is not the cause of identity building or winning ticket to hearts and minds.


And then, on a May night in 1995, Scotland became an enslaved nation.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”

Thanks to the work of a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, wife-beating, ultra-conservative, homophobe, Scotland’s history was rewritten.

This was the moment that Brand Scottish was invented as a national liberation movement, using flags, songs, imagery, presenting a Scottish generation uniting along the lines of a nation seeking to right historic wrongs; It is the mission of this generation to fulfill our national destiny to take that “one chance” and return our country to independence and our FREEDOM, apparently!

SNP Vote

SNP Vote in Westminster Elections

The evidence shows that the SNP vote (other than the 1974 spike) has actually diminished since the “Braveheart” peak, but what has changed is the narrative.

It has been nearly 25 years since Salmond took the reins of the SNP and in that time I have watched from the sidelines as the Scottish brand has evolved to the point that within six months Scotland could be an independent country.

Hail! The Tartan Messiah! 

I feel like an outsider in this debate. I have never felt enslaved by the English, or held back by being Scottish. I hold none of this burning desire to prove Scotland is better than England- I actually quite like England and the English. So much so, I married one! London is a great city, as is Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Berlin, Hamburg, Barcelona, Liverpool etc.


I am sure Scotland could probably do fine on its own, eventually. There are probably enough smart people there to make it work in some way. Those talking about cancelling the pound and that nonsense are being idiotic- who knows what settlement they will come to; it may end up like Gibraltar or most Latin countries where there are two currencies accepted (one being the dollar). English (and global) companies will divest, jobs will go and Salmond will fight back by cutting corporate taxation to encourage jobs, with mixed results. It will be tough for a decade, but it won’t be meltdown. There will be greater separation from the rest of the UK and I imagine the Scots will be relatively poorer in a financial sense to those in England and there will be less opportunities. Anyone that wants to achieve in capital markets will have to migrate, but that was always the case.

However, if my fellow countrymen were to vote yes to independence, quite frankly, they are stupid and deserve all that could come their way. I ask each of you:

Scots are great travellers and have always looked at the global picture, why would you as a generation choose to be so insular? You are 5.2 million people. As a country, you would be the 16th largest city in China. You would be the 118th largest country in the world (of 243). When the world is looking to build unions, why are you separating?

In this age of  enlightenment, of communication and the spread of ideas, why would you possibly want inspiration from a Hollywood reimagining of a 13th century landowner with a grievance?

The only explanation to this madness is that the current generation of Scots identify with the post-Flower of Scotland era.

Ignoring (or not even being aware of) The Corries, they are seeking “the human desire of doing something of consequence”. This generation from 1995 onwards have bought into the brand, signed up for the narrative, bought the t-shirt and are about to drink the Kool-Aid.

For the proponents of this message such as Mr Salmond, those who identify with the brand now have to see it to the conclusion.


Haggis, tatties and neeps

You see, Salmond’s Brand Scottish, isn’t just about power – that was the net effect of being ostracised by the Conservatives in the late 1980s, rather Brand Scottish Part II has emotion at the core. It is about righting historic wrongs and Mel Gibson’s message of freedom for an oppressed people is the most powerful cause on earth. It is moral and it is righteous and by supporting it you are doing the only decent thing.

Except it isn’t the truth – it’s Hollywood, not Holyrood!

I am reminded of Dick Gaughan’s song “No Gods & Precious Few Heroes” which has couple of lines that have some resonance.

“So don’t talk to me of Scotland the Brave…

… While you wait for the Tartan Messiah?

He’ll lead us to the Promised Land with laughter in his eye

We’ll all live on the oil and the whisky by and by Free heavy beer! Pie suppers in the sky!

– Will we never have the sense to learn?”

Being Scottish

My “Scottishness” is based on my experiences; the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian aspects of Glasgow run deep. I will always cheer on Gordon Strachan’s boys in the navy blue jerseys and whoever the rugby team are playing- I don’t really care who they are playing or how they are playing, (being a west coaster) but I will keep an eye out for the score and don’t want to see them lose. I will enjoy taking my kids home to see their grandparents, taking a tour of the People’s Palace and after on to the Queen’s Café for a double nugget in the rain.


A double nugget

I will always be Scottish and care about Scotland. Being Scottish is about being fair, being open-minded, being innovative with technology and industry, being brave about business, working hard and being aware that there is a big world out there that Scots have influenced in disproportionate ways for centuries.

I hope the good people of Scotland see the bigger picture and send the insular looking Tartan Messiah back to Hollywood without buying into this narrow incarnation of what it is to be Scottish.

This brand is cynical and it is false. Let’s hope it is not also destructive.


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