A Supermarket Price War – Independence Style


  By G.A.Ponsonby

So they’ve managed it again.  The pro-Union media have promoted a bare faced lie and gotten away with it.

The claim that supermarkets would increase prices in an independent Scotland was a piece of very clumsy and very transparent propaganda and should have been left languishing in the pages of the Financial Times.

Unfortunately Scotland is at the mercy of what surely has to be the most journalistically corrupt media in any developed nation.

Before revealing the truth of the statements issued by the supermarkets, it’s worth noting just how easy it is to plant false information into the minds of the electorate.

The story initially appeared in the Financial Times newspaper.  In order to ensure it caught the attention of the audience it was aimed at (other media) the FT contrived to present an absolute that supermarkets would increase prices in the event of a Yes vote.

“Scottish consumers will pay more for food if they vote for independence in next year’s referendum because Britain’s big supermarket chains plan to raise their prices north of the border,”

There’s no ambiguity here, and no need for the reader to infer from a cleverly worded sentence – Scotland’s consumers we are told “will pay more”.

As expected, the article was duly picked up by a media whose rigid and dogmatic anti-independence mindset has left it unable to apply the merest journalistic rigour to stories clearly designed to harm the Yes campaign.

The newspapers lapped up the latest falsehood.  The Herald, Scotsman, Daily Mail, Guardian, Telegraph … even the Huffington Post ran with the nonsense.

On Monday the Herald headline read – Supermarket boss claims food prices could rise in independent Scotland – and opened with the following:

“First Minister Alex Salmond has been urged to make public any research the Scottish Government has carried out on the impact independence would have on the cost of people’s weekly shopping bills.”

The call, or challenge as the Herald described it, came from Labour’s Shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran.

The Scotsman’s Monday headline read – Scottish independence: Salmond pressed over bills – and the intro was a carbon copy of the Herald article in what appeared to have been a press release.

The Daily Mail headline was in fact wholly false – Cost of food will RISE in Scotland if country goes independent, warn supermarkets

“Food prices in the biggest supermarkets will rise if Scotland backs independence, retail giants have warned.”

The telegraph headlined its own piece – Independent Scotland could pay more for food, supermarkets warn

“Shoppers in an independent Scotland could face higher food bill as large chains plan to increase their prices north of the border, senior executives have warned.”

Broadcasters were equally keen to embrace and promote the anti-independence message with the BBC as ever using all three platforms – TV, Radio and Online.

Independent Scots ‘Will Pay More For Food’ said SKY

“The cost of the weekly shop will be pushed up for Scottish consumers if they choose independence in next year’s referendum, supermarkets have warned.”

The narrative was not challenged, even by the BBC who again paid lip-service to their own charter and joined the media clamour.  The claims turned up on The One Show, thereby ensuring people who have little interest in politics received the anti-independence message nonetheless.

The following evening The One Show offered the tiniest bit of balance by reading out a statement from the Scottish Government challenging the claim that prices will definitely rise.  There was though no apology for the the initial misleading broadcast.

Bare Faced Lie

The opening sentence of this article described the coverage as a ‘bare faced lie’ and that is precisely what it was.

From the coverage in the newspapers and reports broadcast by the BBC, readers would have been left with the impression that supermarket prices in an independent Scotland were only going to go one way – up.  In none of the news reports we have seen was the possibility that things could improve with independence, or even that the possible price variation could occur even without independence.

So Newsnet Scotland asked the supermarkets themselves to respond to the news reports, and two of them duly did.

The first quote was published by Newsnet Scotland yesterday and pretty much blasted the pro-Union media claims apart.  Morrisons described reports that prices would rise if Scots voted Yes as “wrong”.

A spokesman told Newsnet Scotland:

“It would be wrong to say Morrisons is predicting higher food prices at this stage if Scotland voted for independence.”

“Our view is that if an independent Scotland increased or decreased regulation or taxes we’d have to take a second look at our pricing. Clearly that could work for or against Scottish customers depending on the direction of travel.”

Morrisons is not planning to raise prices in an independent Scotland and, as with all businesses, the company will adjust prices accordingly if the regulatory regime or taxes are changed.  In short, prices have as much chance of going down as they have of going up.

That isn’t news – it is normal business practice and is as true of the current constitutional situation as it is with independence.

The statement from ASDA was even more interesting.

“At Asda we believe in fairness so the price customers pay for a pint of milk or loaf of bread is the same regardless of where they live in the UK.

“However, the cost of doing business in different parts of the UK does vary and the powers given to the Scottish Parliament in the 2012 Scotland Act and any Yes vote in 2014 could result in Scotland being a less attractive investment proposition for businesses and put further pressure on our costs.”

Interestingly, warnings about price increases were not, as was being reported by the media, restricted to a Yes vote, but also very clearly included devolution.  In short, this wasn’t about independence at all, but how powers are used regardless of Yes or No, independent or not, prices could go up or down.

But what of the ambiguous claim in the ASDA statement that investment could be less attractive and put further pressure on costs?

Well we called the ASDA press office and had a chat with a polite gentleman who is the head of their press team.

Our researcher explained that their statement was not restricted to independence but also covered devolution.  However we pressed Andrew Devoy on the apparent restriction of the statement to investment being less attractive.

Would it be accurate, we asked, to say that a Yes vote could result in a MORE attractive investment proposition for businesses?

The reply was immediate “Yes”, he said.

Why hadn’t the statement included this possibility we asked?

“The key is the word ‘could'”, he replied.

So, as far as ASDA was concerned, their business will take a decision on supermarket prices, not based on whether Scotland is independent but on how a future Scottish Government, even a devolved government, exercises the powers at its disposal.

Newsnet Scotland is a citizen journalism site.  We are, for the most part, unpaid volunteers.  But we have, with two simple requests to two of the UK’s biggest retailers, managed to destroy a story created and promoted by professional journalists.

We also know that at least one of the big four retailers has criticised the way the Financial Times presented their company’s comments.

If we were able to clarify the stance of two of the UK’s biggest retailers to the extent that the FT’s claims were left in ruins within a day, then one must assume other news organisations with far greater resources than us were able to do the same.  That they still ran with the propaganda regardless is evidence of the corruption that lies at the heart of the pro-Union establishment and its puppet media.

What appears to be happening in the independence debate is that pro-Union news vendors are repeating planted stories from other pro-Union news vendors without proper scrutiny.  They are effectively circulating politically motivated falsehoods and by doing so, lending credence to claims that have no basis in fact.

Newspapers are private businesses and can take a partisan stance on the constitution, but they also have a responsibility to ensure their partisan leanings don’t cause them to publish what are, in effect, falsehoods.

The BBC has no such excuse with respect to taking a side in the debate but has still regurgitated what is clearly a politically motivated article from a pro-Union publisher.  It is the latest in an ever increasing list of journalistically questionable reports.

Why must the presenters on Good Morning Scotland provide taxpayer funded advertising to known pro-Union publications by reading out their anti-independence headlines?

They could of course seek to redress the balance by now reporting the truth, which is that independence was not the issue the retailers were highlighting, but rather changes to regulation and/or tax, even under devolution.  We’ve done their job for them and a phone call to ASDA or Morrisons will confirm their views.

But the BBC won’t.  Its job was to push the narrative and help the pro-Union agenda, which it has now done.  Unionist politicians finish it off with their predictable statements.

Labour MP Margaret Curran is quoted in one newspaper saying: “The message from supermarket bosses is clear: The cost of doing the weekly shop in Scotland is cheaper as part of the UK.”

And in that comment lies the problem with the independence debate as it is currently being presented.  Curran’s statement is a one hundred per cent demonstrable lie – but she makes it, safe in the knowledge that not one media outlet will pursue her over it.

The professional media in Scotland, instead of holding all politicians to account and insisting on at least a basic level of honesty, is now actively cultivating falsehoods themselves.

An honest independence debate has been reduced to the price of a can of beans.