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Issue 2 - Branding irony

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002

 

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Branding irony

Roddy Talks...

One of Scotland’s paradoxical problems, post-political devolution in the UK, has been to reconcile its future with its past. While conscious of being an ‘old country’ with a strong sense of identity, our Scottish parliament is understandably anxious to be seen as ‘young’ and progressive, embracing the same multi-culture as everyone else in the Western World. In terms of imagery, and especially how Scotland is perceived outside Scotland, this inevitably causes real difficulties.

As I write this, I am preparing to embark upon a trip to New York and Washington for Tartan Week, which because of its success has all but grown into Tartan Fortnight. Tartan Day, of course, was the inspiration of my good friends Alan L. Bain, President of the American Scottish Foundation in Manhattan, Duncan Macdonald, and Jo-Ann Phipps of the ASF in Washington, who realised the North American climate in late November was not so favourable for outside events and parades to celebrate St Andrews Day.

So while dinners and ceilidhs held on 30th November continue to honour Scotland’s patron saint St Andrew, Tartan Day – on the 6th April, anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 when the nobles of Scotland asserted their independence in a letter to the Pope in Rome – was chosen as an additional opportunity for those of Scottish descent around the world to celebrate their origins. What makes it even more poignant is that many of the sentiments expressed in the Arbroath declaration are the same as those in America’s own Declaration of Independence in 1776. Not really surprising since almost half of the signatories had Scots ancestors.

The blood remains strong, and with up to 10,000 pipers and drummers from both sides of the Atlantic marching down 5th Avenue and into Central Park on New York’s Tartan Day, the bonds between Scotland and North America have never been closer. And what has also emerged from this event, and from the three previous years in which Tartan Day has been celebrated, is a much closer bonding between our political leaders.

A decade ago there would have most likely been only a handful of Highland clan chiefs in attendance at a Scottish festival abroad, and it is unlikely that Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have taken the salute. This year, however, Scotland’s First Minister Jack McConnell has made a point of being present, as have Helen Liddell, Scotland’s Secretary of State at Westminster, Lord Watson, Scotland’s Minister of Tourism, and Eric Milligan, Edinburgh’s Lord Provost (Mayor).

And obviously this bodes well for our future understanding of one another, the very same understanding Scotland Magazine is in business to promote. However, we in Scotland need to accept that while there are those among us who might wish to turn their backs on our clan, tartan and heather culture forever, it is exactly these aspects of our historic tradition that others have learned to cherish. They are the rocks of Scottishness to which successive disenfranchised generations have clung with pride and affection.

Which brings me to how we Scots need to address the situation. In commercial terms, we live in a world of product branding, and where Scotland is concerned there is no stronger brand recognition than that of tartan – or Robert Burns, or the bagpipes. One of the most reassuring, if melancholy, consequences of the aftermath of September 11th was the sound of Scottish pipes being played at so many funerals following the tragedy.

It is often difficult for us Scots to fully appreciate or understand the influence our tiny country and its inventions have inspired internationally. Tartan is one of the most unique and stylish design concepts in existence, and we originated it. It was Scotsmen who created the bicycle, the telephone, tarmacadam and paraffin, pioneered television, and discovered penicillin and chloroform.

In his generation, the songs of Sir Harry Lauder were as widely sung in the Yukon as they were in Pollokshields. In this day and age, the pop group Runrig is just as much of a success in Canada and Germany as it is at home on the Isle of Skye. Scotch whisky is drunk and enthused about across the globe. And when it comes to blending the best of the old with the reality of the new, you only have to look at the viewing figures for the BBC Scotland series Monarch of the Glen, now with a fast-growing following in the USA, Canada and Australia.

Let’s have no more nonsense about re-branding. We already have the best brands that there are.