by Andrew Barr
The Union Flag flies over Edinburgh Castle at the heart of Scotland’s capital. To the north, the city’s bustling New Town hosts a variety of stores and brands as to be found on most British high streets. To the east, Edinburgh’s Old Town is draped in the tartan and Saltires of the Scottish tourist industry; stores designed to express our culture and nation, but stores that are explicitly ‘not for us’.
At first glance it may seem identity shopping is popular only in those select tourist hotspots of our towns and cities. There are however, many ‘national identity’ brands in our conventional stores; it’s just that they usually market themselves for a British identity, rarely a Scottish one.
The Union Flag is trending on the high streets: it is stitched into jeans; printed onto designer bags and t-shirts and upholstered onto furniture. Our stores boast ‘British heritage’ ranges that are becoming fashionable amongst students and young people.
Even in our small, independent arts and crafts stores, the Union brand is printed onto anything and everything. ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is everywhere and the Saltire is seldom seen. The Scottish brand remains distinctly for tourists whilst the Union Flag, and even the American Stars and Stripes, enjoy a vast commercial popularity.
It can leave the impression that Scottish culture is something simply made up to entertain the visitors. We know this isn’t true, but where is our authentic Scottish industry?
We have the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, and small chains like Ness are good examples of contemporary Scottish design, but on the broader scale, Scottishness has not been made trendy and mainstream in the same way that stores such as Jack Wills have promoted a ‘Fabulously British’ brand.
Of course, in the modern world we can always expect the presence of international businesses and non-Scottish stores. It is not so much the abundance of British branding that is an issue but the distinct lack of any Scottish equivalent.
We are, after all, the only country in the world where Coca Cola is outsold by a native soft drink, Irn Bru. Perhaps if other, non-touristic initiatives lost the fear and the cringe of the Scottish brand, similar successes could provide a welcome boost to our economy, not to mention a fascinating, even revolutionary change to our perception of Scottish popular culture.