Best of British – Is it being shoved down our throats?


  By Jo Edwards

Did you know that Lucozade recently ran a Yes campaign?  It’s true, they had bottles of the fizzy energy drink emblazoned with the word ‘Yes’ and promotional Yes videos on youtube.
There’s also a chocolate coffee-bean type confectionary from a company called Britt, if you have a sweet tooth.

By Jo Edwards

Did you know that Lucozade recently ran a Yes campaign?  It’s true, they had bottles of the fizzy energy drink emblazoned with the word ‘Yes’ and promotional Yes videos on youtube.
There’s also a chocolate coffee-bean type confectionary from a company called Britt, if you have a sweet tooth.

There’s nothing sinister going on of course, the makers of Lucozade aren’t really endorsing independence, nor is the maker of chocolate coffee beans a closet lover of all things British and an ardent supporter of the Union.

Food and drink is a subject that you’d be forgiven for believing has by-passed the constitutional debate, the debate does seems to intrude into all sorts of areas.  Can a spud persuade you to say No?  Will the sell-by date result in doubts over the viability of independence?

A stroll down the aisle of your local supermarket suggests that someone somewhere may believe so.

Britain, Great Britain, the United Kingdom.  All resonant of power, which was of course fitting at the time of the British Empire – at its height, the largest empire in history.

And the Union Flag, a symbol of that power, flew over many a colony across the globe from North America to India.

By 1922 the British Empire held sway over around 458 million people and covered almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area.  This is a far cry from its current position on the global map, but the powerful propaganda of a ‘Great’ Britain still endures.

Harmless you may argue, but it is a version of this propaganda that seems to be popping up all over our supermarkets. ‘Best of British’ is now a phrase coined by the big four.  And this ‘Best of British’ means having its own special wrapping.

As Sainsbury’s puts it “labelling country of origin is a requirement we have to adhere to.  However where a product is British made or grown we use the Union flag”.  When asked the reasons for this, they said it was to reach “a target to double our sales of British food by 2020 as part of our 20×20 Sustainability Plan”.

They chose not to answer my question as to whether there was a concerted effort between all the large supermarket chains to visibly adorn ‘British’ food with the Union flag.

Because it isn’t just Sainsbury’s who have decided to ‘Britify’ their aisles.  Marks and Spencer have a ‘Make it British’ clothes campaign, the Co-op recently ran an in-store campaign of Union flag branded British produce.  Tesco have a British meat campaign, and Asda are apparently leading the way in sourcing food from British producers.

None of them got back to me, but after reading their respective websites, the justification for this widespread break out of ‘Brand Britain’ would appear to be a show of support for farmers.

Farmers are certainly in need of support.  Over 40% of UK dairy farmers have been put out business as of 2012.  One of the reasons is the hoarding of profits by the big supermarkets and the ridiculously poor returns for farmers.

And worse still, Farmers for Action (FFA) fear competitive discounting and the way supermarkets trade with food producers will eventually put British agriculture out of business completely. 

Local food labelling such as ‘Lochmuir Salmon’ has been found to be erroneous – with no Lochmuir farm even in existence, the fish instead comes from all across the country.  And according to a BBC Panorama programme in 2010, ‘made in Britain’ doesn’t always mean what it says.

There’s no doubt supermarkets are bombarding our visual space with the reminder of a ‘Great’ Britain.  Tesco adorns Ayrshire Ham and Aberdeen Angus steak with the Union flag and the word ‘British’ instead of the well renowned stamp of quality ‘Scottish’.

I confess I haven’t seen many Saltires on food grown or produced in Scotland but then I’ve probably had my fill of propaganda after picking up the red white and blue emblazoned carrots, spuds, apples and pretty much every other vegetable.

Is this a concerted effort by some of the biggest businesses in the country to remind us of how great Britain is and how weak we would be as an independent nation, with no saltire dressed greens to shake a salad at. 

If it is indeed an attempt at using what was thought to be a positive brand image in order to re-enforce a ‘strong’ Britain versus a ‘weak’ Scotland theme, then it’s fraught with dangers.

Historically, the Union flag can be double edged sword.  The recent London Olympic Games presented the positive aspects of Britishness and it wasn’t so long ago that Brit-Pop rode the crest of the iconic Union Flag wave, reminiscent of the nostalgic days of the swinging sixties.

However the history of the Union flag isn’t just Carnaby Street, the Beatles and the London Olympics – which all serve to evoke a sense of pride, reminiscence and loyalty as we peruse the food shelves.  There’s a less romantic and darker side to this red, white and blue emblem.

The atrocities committed by the British Empire have been meticulously documented by historians – and it certainly goes far from evoking a sense of pride.  Britain’s occupation of Kenya presented that nation’s citizens, not with Union flag branded vegetables, meat and bread, but instead a less appetising list that included rape, torture and mass murder.

But as journalist George Monbiot comments, the myths of this civilising ‘British’ crusade go largely unquestioned.

The Union Flag, merging Scotland’s Saltire and England’s St George’s Cross, once swept like a tide across most of the world.  That tide has slowly receded as, one by one, overseas nations declared themselves independent of the stronghold of colonial rule.

Which image of ‘Great’ Britain will be conjured up when next you visit your local supermarket?  The powerful, influential global player or the insecure former colonial bully whose last remnant of empire in the shape of its partner, Scotland, may end the union – leaving England alone to reminisce of days gone by.

Maybe none of the two, maybe your only thought is to buy carrots … British or otherwise.

[Newsnet comment – As is the case with the overwhelming contributions to Newsnet Scotland, this author took no payment.  However this is not always the case and we now regularly pay professional writers and contributors for news articles and commissioned pieces – one such piece on Scottish shipbuilding, written by a former Army officer, will appear tomorrow.

Our last appeal, for an editor, raised £12,000 within two weeks.  Unfortunately our editor was unable to continue in the role which included writing articles and we recruited two freelance writers.  Angela Haggerty and Lynn Malone have proven to be exceptionally talented and a valuable addition to the team.

Our Duggy Dug project continues and the second animation has just been released – the first ‘Scotland’s Oil’ has been viewed by over 12,000 people on Youtube and a further 8000 on this and the website.  The third animation is currently in production.

In September we achieved a record 120,000 unique visitors.  This week we broke the record for daily readers, coming up just short of 20,000.

In order to maintain what we believe is a very high quality output into 2014 and increase our penetration into the wider electorate, we need to raise more funds.  This is the key period of the campaign and we expect interest in the referendum to slowly pick up.

There are other sites of course and other appeals, all making a plea for a finite resource, and we are no different.  The decision readers must make is who is now best placed to move into another gear and impact directly on this referendum by gaining not just the attention of the undecided voter … but their trust.]