BY JAMES ROBINSON
There are a few eventualities we can be sure of if Scotland wins independence – according to the BBC. The UK will lose: 32% of its land (but only 8% of it’s population); £106bn of Scottish goods and services (accounting for 7.7% of the UK’s ‘Gross Value Added’) and 59 seats in Westminster.
These are statistical changes that we can predict with some degree of certainty if the ‘Yes’ vote wins, some of which may hold potentially damaging consequences for Scotland’s future and some which may be less significant. But one thing that is much harder to predict is how the move away from the UK will affect Scottish brands.
Some believe that Scotland’s independence will have a positive effect on its overall brand image. An article in Marketing Week reads: ‘While Scotland has always been seen as a separate part of the UK, its independence will bolster that country of origin effect and potentially build its appeal. Combine this stronger brand image with more brand awareness and you begin to see why brands such as Glenmorangie or Highland Spring would prosper more in an independent Scotland.’
You needn’t look much further than the Visit Scotland website to see that the Scottish brand focuses heavily on heritage and tradition and of course one of the classic sources for brand associations is provenance. Independence could potentially strengthen our pre-existing ideas of Scottish-ness and brands that already trade off that association but many businesses and economists are employing a “wait and see” approach before making hard and fast judgements.
For instance, The House of Britannia was created to ‘invest in the future success of British luxury brands’ and I spoke to the company MD, Simon Petherick, about the future of home-grown brands in an independent Scotland. When asked if they had invested in any Scottish brands he replied: ‘Although we had been looking at buying a couple of Scottish brands, we have had to seriously re-think with all that has been going on… When we started the company last year we never could have foreseen what is currently happening… it’s come as a shock to us all’.
But whilst The House of Britannia may not be investing in Scottish businesses (at least until after Sept 18th) as part of their portfolio of luxury British brands, Mr Petherick was very adamant that a move away from Britain could be positive for companies north of the border, ‘They could really use it to their advantage, romantic associations with the country are so strong that they could play on the Scottish branding, for example the Japanese love Scotch whiskey and breaking away from the UK will only serve to reinforce the Scottish brand image that the Japanese love’.
On the flip side however, there are brands that will undoubtedly face a rockier ride in an independent Scotland, for example RBS. Having been bailed out multiple times by the Brits (now the majority stakeholders) not only will its patriotic allegiance be seriously tested but it will also face a significant period of instability during the debate on Scotland being allowed to keep the pound or not, or joining the European Union.
It is hard to believe that other financial service brands based in Scotland will not suffer a similar conundrum should the ‘Yes’ voters emerge victorious. As pointed out by Marketing Week, they ‘face the existential choice of being true to their provenance and experiencing significant volatility in their share price and customer retention as a post-independence fog descends, or head south and face the equally intimidating threat of becoming an émigré brand that appeals to neither the rejected masses of the rest of the UK populace or a Scottish market now steadfastly loyal to the brands that stayed with them’.
When I asked Simon Petherick of The House of Britannia how he thought Scotland would fare as a brand if it stepped away from ‘Brand Britain’, he said, ‘I think Scotland is a more standalone brand than Wales, I think large swathes that make up Brand Britain are English. There is enough royal history in Scotland to create a new story out of Scottish royalty…..I see it as a positive thing, perhaps the breaking up of Britain will focus more on the regional identities’.
Certainly it is hard to see how a break from Britain will damage Scotland’s brand identity, if anything, independence will reinforce Scotland’s international image. What is harder to understand is to what extent businesses in Scotland will prosper as a result. According to research on https://www.scotland.gov.uk/, one conclusion is that international perception of Scotland was that it had ‘a very positive and distinctive image’ but unfortunately ‘awareness and knowledge of Scotland internationally were usually related to images and icons rooted in the past rather than contemporary Scotland’. As a result it was not rated as a ‘place to do business’ in global terms.
There is no doubt that Scottish independence will generate thousands of media stories all around the world and this coverage will draw attention to all things Scottish, thus raising awareness of Brand Scotland. However, how this awareness will impact economically on Scottish brands as a result is impossible to predict. The question is, how many brands will stay loyal and how many will ‘sell their souls’ if the ‘Yes’ vote wins?
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