Why do na­tion­al­ists de­light in peer­ing through the wrong end of the te­le­scope?

Jonathan Brock­le­bank

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - J.brock­le­bank@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

THERE are some re­gret­table Scottish char­ac­ter traits which, if the na­tional psy­che were in ther­apy, our an­a­lyst would surely urge us to work on.

Try to lighten up a lit­tle, I hear the shrink coax­ing. Take five min­utes a day to stand in front of a mir­ror, arch an eye­brow and laugh at your­self. You’ll feel bet­ter. Selfdep­re­ca­tion is good for per­sonal growth and – here’s a tip – oth­ers find it charm­ing.

Grow an­other layer of skin, Scot­land. You’re too sen­si­tive, too ready to erupt in in­dig­na­tion when no of­fence was in­tended. Some­times – and try not to fly off the han­dle here, champ – all this ag­gres­sion makes you rather hard work. Te­dious, ac­tu­ally.

One last thing to con­sider. It’s the thin end of the te­le­scope that we are sup­posed to look through, not the thick end. The world does not re­volve around you or your pol­i­tics or your flag or your par­lia­ment or your ex­is­ten­tial angst as a small coun­try next to a large one. The world has big­ger fish to fry.

I do not mean to sug­gest it is all bad news for the na­tional psy­che. We are hon­est and hard-work­ing and lyri­cal and wist­ful and wise.

But why is it that, in de­ter­min­ing its own char­ac­ter, the Scottish Gov­ern­ment im­merses it­self so read­ily in so many of our less ap­peal­ing traits? Why the ap­par­ent rush to bear out English­man PG Wode­house’s con­clu­sion that a Scotsman with a griev­ance and a ray of sun­shine are rarely hard to tell apart?

The griev­ance tear­ing faces lately in our land’s Ru­ral Econ­omy and Con­nec­tiv­ity depart­ment was prod­ucts made in Scot­land turn­ing up on su­per­mar­ket shelves with the wrong flag on them. They bore the Union Flag, which in­flames some of our more sen­si­tive and te­dious com­pa­tri­ots, not the Saltire, which calms them down again.

Marks & Spencer was guilty of still more egre­gious hor­rors. Some English prod­ucts on its web­site had la­bels stat­ing their coun­try of ori­gin as ‘Eng­land’. But other Scottish prod­ucts, in­clud­ing whisky and gin, were de­scribed as com­ing from ‘Great Bri­tain’.


It was, if we en­gage for a mo­ment those un­ap­peal­ing char­ac­ter traits we are sup­posed to be work­ing on, a na­tional scan­dal and an in­ter­na­tional one too and, in all like­li­hood, a con­spir­acy cooked up by the English to op­press us.

In­deed, there were those who con­tacted Nicola Stur­geon us­ing words to this very ef­fect. ‘Eng­land tak­ing over our pro­duce’ was the sub­ject line of one email to the First Min­is­ter. ‘I hope that you will try to stop this trav­esty from con­tin­u­ing,’ it thun­dered.

Trav­esty? There is a na­tional obe­sity cri­sis. Ed­u­ca­tion is floun­der­ing. Scottish NHS wait­ing times are the worst on record. Our roads are like Swiss cheese. But this was the trav­esty which had Saltire wa­vers on Twit­ter in up­roar – and soon had the Scottish Gov­ern­ment leap­ing into ac­tion on their be­half.

One can just imag­ine the eyes rolling at M&S as se­nior man­age­ment were in­formed that a sim­ple la­belling over­sight had trig­gered an upris­ing among ex­citable up-north­ern­ers and now the Holy­rood beast was com­ing to mon­ster them.

‘Who is re­spon­si­ble?’ one can hear them de­mand­ing. ‘They’re Scots! We know what they’re like! They’re so up­tight they make Yosemite Sam look like a Zen monk!’

Sen­si­bly, M&S rec­ti­fied the sit­u­a­tion im­me­di­ately, apol­o­gised on Twit­ter, sat down with Ru­ral Econ­omy Sec­re­tary Fer­gus Ewing, took their medicine from him and civil war was averted.

And, of course, it’s true that Scottish la­belling on such prod­ucts as Scotch whisky is de­sir­able for any­one still in doubt about where it is made. But is gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in such pif­fle re­ally re­quired? Is this not why re­tail­ers have sug­ges­tion boxes and cus­tomer ser­vice desks and shop­pers have free­dom to choose where to buy their gro­ceries?

It was not even so much a mis­take on M&S’s part (whisky is in­deed made in Great Bri­tain) as an in­con­sis­tency. Must the Scottish Gov­ern­ment rage on our be­half? It couldn’t do what our bet­ter selves would try to and laugh it off?

Of course not. Our gov­ern­men­tal masters are as chippy as the most sorely in need of chip­pi­ness coun­selling in a land where adorn­ing our shoul­ders thus is a na­tional pas­time. They were never go­ing to let it go.

More cheer­ingly, they have re­ceived a forth­right re­sponse from soft fruit grow­ers in their own land who re­port that they are fine with Tesco’s de­ci­sion to carry a Union Flag on all straw­berry and rasp­berry pack­ag­ing, wher­ever in the UK it hap­pened to orig­i­nate.


Look­ing through the thin end of the te­le­scope, the grow­ers in An­gus, Perthshire, Aberdeen­shire and Fife reckon that most Bri­tish shop­pers will have an inkling these places are in Scot­land and that the Bri­tish flag is a sell­ing point for their prod­uct too.

Us­ing the te­le­scope in this way, they see that it isn’t all about Saltire-good/Union Flag-bad, that there are ben­e­fits in some mar­kets to the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of their prod­ucts as Bri­tish and that they should make the most of them.

From all this food pack­ag­ing minu­tiae come im­por­tant ques­tions for the Scottish Gov­ern­ment. In its craven griev­ance-mon­ger­ing, can it still tell the difference be­tween it­self and an an­gry on­line ac­tivist?

Do its ball­points write in green ink? Is its gar­den the kind of place where chil­dren would feel com­fort­able re­triev­ing their foot­ball?

Think on that for next time.

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