Farming Matters: Highland Sting

Alec RossA farming friend from Gloucestershire ‘phoned me last week. After years on meaning to do it, he said, and having heard such good reports about it as a showcase of Scotland’s hugely successful food and drink industry, this week he was flying up to the Royal Highland Show. He was delighted when I told him that he could simply fly to Edinburgh and walk round the corner into the showground.

Maybe it’s the happy legacy of running big events like the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but Scotland is good at this. A few years ago I was working on a trade stand at Agriscot (which, like the Highland, meets at Ingliston) and a pig farmer from Iceland came to see me – he’d flown in from Reykjavik that morning. On the tram, on the way out to the show, I was struck by the many different accents from people heading to Ingliston. The Scottish capital, it seems, was where the world was meeting for a celebration of Scottish food, drink and culture.

Royal Highland ShowIt must therefore have come as a bit of a shock to our many international visitors when they got off the plane only to find that they’d landed outside the Albert Hall on the Last Night of the Proms or, at the very least, a mass rally of the “Rangers” FC supporters club. The UK Govt had a stand and were handing out union flags and branded freebies to the public, while the food hall was bedecked with posters, all of which depicted Scottish scenes. All of them were – and it’s a much overused word – iconic Scottish symbols (the Kelpies, the river Clyde), but they all had a Union Flag and the words “Great Britain” on them.

Shetland cheese is now British cheese. Black pudding is now British first and Stornoway a distant second. And, as they might say in polite nearby Morningside, you’ll have had your Ayrshire tatties. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Royal Highland Show 2

In a sense, there’s nothing particularly new here. We’ve been bombarded with symbols of our Britishness for at least four years now, from folk baking cakes on the telly to royal weddings to blue British passports (made in France). Even Marks and Spencer whisky, shortbread teacakes and, most alarmingly, Robert Burns himself have been given the Great British Makeover.

But what we’re witnessing goes way beyond branding of produce, which isn’t entirely clear cut. The word I’m getting from the soft-fruit sector and some in beef production is that while the Scottish Brand works extremely well throughout the UK, discussions with supermarkets have led to calls for a more nuanced approach. For example, the saltire works brilliantly with the top-end beef cuts because people associate Scotland with quality, whilst the UK label may help sales for more commercial products the further south they go. Supermarkets are ultimately only interested in profit margin but they are keenly aware of the public mood. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they missed a sales opportunity and not tapping into the jingoistic, rule Britannia, empire 2.0 rhetoric.

Tesco Strawberries

That said, it doesn’t explain why the strawberries I bought in a nearby Tesco have “Fife” and their origin (fine), “UK” as their country (not fine – the UK isn’t a country) and are neatly wrapped in a British flag. And the rebranding of Scotland’s largest and most important shop window leads me to ask if the organisers ever stopped to think that such a decision might be seen as politically controversial.

It should also make all of us ask how comfortable we are with our taxes being spent by the Scottish Office to promote something that undermines the trusted brands that we’ve spent years trying to build. Gin is booming in Scotland, yet when the Scotland Office released a video promoting craft gin, is didn’t showcase Orkney or Wigtownshire – but Cheshire. We must only conclude that Scotland is being undermined from within.

So what is going on?

There are, I believe, a couple of things at play here, the first of which is a state-sponsored reinforcement of the message that we are too wee, poor and stupid to decide things for ourselves. The message on the posters was clear: you might be good at food and drink and engineering and innovation, but you couldn’t possibly do any this without the broad shoulders of your big neighbour to carry you. Know your place. Eat your cereal. We are in charge. Back in your box, Jock. We are all British, now.

As a tactic it’s hardly subtle, but I’m afraid it kind of works. A farmer at the show told me he was worried about the calibre of Scottish politician in an independent Scotland, and I thought: what? Have you ever listened to Boris Johnson? Gove? May? And you seriously think these clowns and spivs and charlatans would make a better fist of it than us, even if they gave a damn about us – which they don’t? The Scottish Cringe is in our DNA and it runs very, very, deep.

The second thing is that the rebranding of Scottish into British is part of the narrative that we must have this mythical UK internal single market where Scotland must not have any economic advantage over its neighbour, whilst conning the Scottish public into perceiving that we are already in the post-Brexit, post-devolution, fully re-colonised era.

And, thirdly, post-Brexit trade. Essentially, the US won’t do a post-Brexit trade deal unless the UK ditches the protections of its renowned food and drink brands and “diverges” from the exemplary welfare and hygiene standards and sees hormone treated beef and chlorinated chicken on our shelves. The result? You’ll have had your Scotch whisky.

This is actually what this power-grab is about – it’s impossible to make deals with America (or anywhere else for that matter) on food when farming is devolved to Scotland. It’s also impossible to sell healthcare to private US companies when Scotland has its own NHS. Therefore, devolution needs to be destroyed. And if that means the tearing up of the devolution settlement, the end of the Sewel Convention, an entire country’s wishes being ignored, powers being grabbed and the ending of the Scottish Brand, then that is what must happen. Because it is the will of the people.

The UK establishment has always hated devolution, so it always had a motive to roll it back. Brexit provides the opportunity, one that it will exploit fully by backing it up by spending your taxes on a propaganda campaign and rebrands everything you thought was Scottish (including the Kelpies) as British.

That it chose to launch it in the Scottish capital, during Scottish farming’s biggest week, is anything but coincidental. On the week when the Scottish Government launched its proposals for rural funding post-Brexit, here is my own suggestion.

For the sake of the industry – for the sake of Scotland – we must remove ourselves from the United Kingdom at the earliest possible opportunity.

You know what to do.

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17 replies »

  1. Excellent article, this should be read by everybody in Scotland. I live in the West Highlands and even after 60 years, I’m still astounded by how deep the Scottish Cringe is. It’s so deep that people fail to recognise it in themselves, generations of subservience has ingrained in them that the Laird (read the establishment) is always correct and you must not go against their will. Keep your head bellow the parapet, don’t disagree and your job, house and future is safe.

    • Just wait till poor Joan hears about CETA, which incidentally was endorsed by the Westminster MPs with a whopping majority of 315- 36. As you know, NONE of Scotland’s brand names has been protected in CETA. What poor Joan is seeing just now is merely the tip of the iceberg!!

  2. Entirely agree. This has to be fought, because it is quite deliberate and clearly tended to subsume the Scottish commercial identity into the more general British. If produce is no longer “ours” then how can we lay claim to it or protect it. It may sound a little nebulous, but part of a people’s identity is borne out by the fact that they can put their mark on and lay claim to what they produce.What we send out into the world is, to a great extent, proof that we exist and function. Time for us all to realise the danger in what is happening.

  3. Hello Alec – you do write well. It’s all there, and I feel a bit superfluous even commenting – but I am a bit of a gob-shite, so I will!
    1) I used to attend agricultural shows, in various jobs I did, but haven’t for a long time, and that stand with all those ‘Great Britain’s and Union Jacks, made me wince. Hard to believe – yet horribly believable. If a product is from a place, then it should be labelled as being from that place. And Britain, isn’t ‘Great’, these days – everyone knows it isn’t – what a load for baloney.
    2) The last night of the Proms, always gets me reaching for my imaginary machine gun. I know – I’m supposed to be against that kind of violent reaction, but …it’s just the truth, and my guilty secret. It’s not just the mindless waving of Union Jacks and all that malarkey, it’s the faces of the people singing at the end. It’s just…so much of what….makes me…so ANGRY! Jingoism, smugness, class supremacy……… Not a thought in evidence, just standing there, all pumped up on their smugness, bellowing ‘Rule Britannia’ Eh? Which century are they living in? I’ll stop now – just admitting a guilty secret about my reaction to the last night of the Proms. So why do I watch it? I don’t. I just catch bits of it – enough to set me off puttering and…reaching for the imaginary machine gun! Seriously, I have been known to sit there, going “rat tat tat” like a kid who knows no better.
    3) There’s no such thing as the UK. It’s the D.K. – Divided Kingdom, and has been for a long time. Not disagreeing with you – just puttering.
    4) It isn’t in your article – you wouldn’t do that – but…..along these lines – why do people in the media keep referring to places in The Republic of Ireland, as being part of Britain, or the UK? They’re not – they in Ireland. It took a lot of trouble and hardship, to make that so, yet, constantly, on the telly – ‘Britain’ appears to include The Republic. GRRRRRR.
    5) I’m now going to go outside and stomp about for a bit.

  4. PS While stomping about, and calming down a bit – I realised that I went to the Royal Welsh Show….in Wales. That could be why I don’t remember seeing any of that kind of ‘material’ at agri. shows, before. The Welsh Nationalists would have taken immediate action!

    • One last putter ( for now) re. the last night of the Proms – what really gets me about it is…the “I’m all-right Jack” attitude. Standing there with their Union Jack bowler hats and shiny faces,
      “I’m all-right Jack
      For you I care no-thing
      So I’ll wave my Union Jack
      And sing and sing and sing…..
      (drum roll)
      I’M ALL-RIGHT JACK etc”
      The ‘I’m all-right Jack’ attitude, just won’t do. A civilisation can be judged by how it treats it’s most vulnerable. Those in power, can be judged by how they treat those that they have power over.
      Give me Bob Marley, singing ‘One Love’ – I’ll join in with that one.

  5. I’m perhaps going to take a massive hit here, for what I’m about to say. But like Bernie.. I’m a gobby besom sometimes… So my thoughts on this.

    When I go shopping, I don’t buy produce, meat, fish or whatever, if it has a Union flag on it. I live in a Scottish coastal village that produces amazing food in the countryside outwith and fish caught locally is fresh & second to NONE. I believe in Scotland and I believe Scottish is defined as ‘top quality’. So… I see no reason to go for ‘British’, when ‘local’ is what I support. Having said that… :

    a) There is no place called ‘British’. Why is ‘British’ written on produce & on posters, as per your article & photos? Every single product has a place of origin, be it Scotland, Ireland, Wales or England. Why on earth should we be ashamed to label it as such?! It is WHERE IT ORIGINATED. ‘British’ tells us NOTHING about the origin. I want to know EXACTLY where my steak comes from! Or my berries! If its written, then I have enough education to be able to be able to work out how it is grown, where the beef grazes, what the weather/ground etc. is like hence how that may affect the quality. ‘British’ tells me exactly NOTHING.

    b) What are the producers, growers, farmers, meat producers etc. doing about the branding? I keep reading that Jack & Jill are not buying their meat, onions, carrots, or yoghurt if it has a Union flag on it. So Jack & Jill are doing their best to keep the Scottish branding alive & kicking. So what I want to know is – what is the PRODUCERS OR MANUFACTURERS or the DISTILLERIES doing to stop the rebranding?? Are they getting together and refusing to sell to Morrisons etc. unless they have a written agreement that their produce will not be rebranded? IF NOT-WHY NOT?? Yes – they have to sell to make a living. But then – so do the stores! And if Morrisons cannot buy from the producers, a) it’ll be costly to get it elsewhere & import it which will reduce their profits, or b) they will stop selling it and lose profits. So THEY TOO have as much to lose as the manufacturers or Distillers, if the producers tell them ‘We’ll sell to you but on written agreement you WILL NOT tamper with the branding’…

    The fact is – I want to help Scotland, Scottish producers, distillers (even though I don’t even drink/like whisky) etc. But I want to hear that THEY are making some kind of effort to stop the rebranding of their stuff. If they are selling it regardless of what Morrisons or whoever will do to the packaging, then… they’re going to lose my (and I suspect a lot of others’) support. It really has to be a collective effort to save Scottish brands. And at present, I’m not hearing that it is. It seems to be just the customers of these products that is doing the necessary… Is it? Perhaps we can be let in on what the distillers, manufacturers and food producers are doing to help THEIR cause? That would be hlepful…

    • I was talking with some American visitors, in Stromness last week, and they said they had eaten fish, shellfish, and more fish, since coming to Orkney – couldn’t get enough of it, and couldn’t get over the quality – and it was local fish.

  6. Excellent article. Ghastly subject. I am horrified to see this actually happening

    I recall a ‘to be kept quiet’ type document being leaked which was the detailed plans of a select committee to reduce the feelings of Scottishness and smother it with Britishness.

    This was shortly after the 2014 Referendum .

    Destroying the Scottish brand and a flooding of Union Jacks everywhere and anywhere was high on the list of how to change peoples’ perceptions. There was even going to be Union Jack livery on the cross border trains. That could happen now.

    Together with the Power Grab and gross contempt for our MPs,I think we are witnessing a very frantic and vicious attempt to hold on to Scotland in the most despicable ways possible.

    But I do see and hear more and more folk waking up to this.

    And this article lays it out well. Thank you =)

  7. Rarely have I felt more enraged after reading a pro-Indy article – and I’ve been enraged by a lot of articles. I don’t know what’s worse – the attitude and behaviour of the Britnat establishment towards Scotland, or the fact that still so many Scots willingly swallow it. I have two highly intelligent professional friends who are “still to be convinced” about Independence. It’s hard not to just scream in their faces, actually. I don’t suppose that would help much, but sometimes I think about how good it would feel…

    Keep up the writing, your articles are right up there with the very best.

    • To me, it doesn’t just read as pro-Indy – it’s pro good food, good quality of life, good levels of respect, just ………..a better approach to the well-being of the Scottish nation, which is entirely possible. A nation being in control of its own produce, imports, exports etc., does help!
      ‘Appen England should think about this, too – I mean – what they are potentially going to end up having to put up with after Brexit-Which-I-Still-Hope-Will-Never-Happen.
      “Never shall be slaves”? Hmmm tell that to Mr. Trump.

  8. What we are seeing is much more than a re-branding of Scotland – it is an upgrade of the colonisation of Scotland as part of the building of the new British Empire.
    But at least the English ruling class is consistent – they’re again using someone else’s money to do it. Yes, Scotland’s.

  9. This is a conversation we had at home a few days ago. The Brit-Nat parties hate that Scotland has done what Wales has failed to do, that is, take devolution and run with it. Scotland mistook the aim of devolution, which was to act as a talking shop to foil the Independence movement. Unfortunately for the Brit-Nat parties, Donald Dewar and the other architects of devolution gave Scotland large areas of policy in which Scotland could diverge from the Westminster stance. The trade deals needed post Brexit mean that Scotland can no longer be given any scope for divergence, which means that devolution and Holyrood must either be extinguished or reduced to a powerless debating chamber. Just as some Brexiteers have claimed that the Good Friday Agreement is past its use by date, the same will soon be said about Scottish devolution. That will be the point at which the people of Scotland will have to choose between being a powerless region or an Independent nation. There will no longer be any middle ground to choose.

    Yes then, Yes now, Yes always.

  10. I think we are finally seeing the end of the British empire, what they’re doing is being laughed at by the rest of the world, it didn’t work in India, lots of Africa and certainly not in America itself, for greater Britain the end is nigh!

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