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By Jason Michael
British flags have started appearing on everything from potatoes to whisky in our shops and it’s no accident. This is the next phase in the cultural invasion of Scotland and we have to wake up to it fast.
Even in the midst of the often bitter cut and thrust of the Scottish constitutional debate on social media Twitter can be a bit of craic. There’s always some wise guy with a witty observation of the current state of play. Today, for me, that humourist was @takeourblueback – a username beautifully referencing our desire to get our “blue bits” out of the butcher’s apron. He (or she) tweeted a gag about asking a barman in Glasgow for a “British whisky.” As you might guess this never ended well; the Weegie barkeep responded, giving the patron no less than eight stitches and a mobility problem for a few weeks.
It’s only a joke. No patriotic Glaswegian barman (or barwomen) would be this lenient on anyone – not even Wee Eck himself – for having the audacity to sully the Scottishness of Scotch. There is, as we ken fine well, no such thing as British whisky. The mere combination of these words is an absurdity to the Scottish ear. No doubt even in England this sounds as off as a three pound note. Yet it’s funny, funny enough for me to make an idiot of myself in public laughing, precisely because it’s happening. Scottish whisky is being marketed for export with vulgar looking British flags on its labels.
Not only whisky bottles, supermarkets are stamping the red, white, and blue of the empire on almost every conceivable product produced in Scotland – from plastic wrapped vegetables, shrink wrapped Angus beef, and boxes of traditional Scots shortbread to barrels of North Sea oil, frigates built on the Clyde, and bridges spanning the Forth. Only over the weekend I came across a t-shirt in a tourist shop on Argyll Street in Glasgow printed with the letters “GB.” Who goes on their holidays to “Great Britain?” Never until now have I seen a postcard or a souvenir from “the United Kingdom” or “Great Britain.” Tourists in Scotland are in Scotland to see Scotland. Big red busses and post boxes, bearskin topped redcoats, and the union flag is London’s bag. England has to wave that flag because its own is so infected with racism and bigotry. Mind you, the union rag isn’t much better.
Went to the pub in Glasgow last night, asked the bar-keep for a British Whisky, 8 stitches & they say i'll be able to walk before Christmas!—
Welcome New Yessers! (@takeourblueback) November 01, 2017
We are in the middle of another phase, it would seem, of British unionisation – cultural colonialism – in Scotland right now, and it is impossible not to notice. What’s more, we all know why this is happening. Independence has refused to go away. Almost weekly there are fresh calls from the unionists in Holyrood and Westminster for the Scottish National Party to take another referendum off the table once and for all. They appear to imagine that it is Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP fuelling the drive to self-determination. British nationalist ideology all too frequently forgets that the will of the Scottish people is the active ingredient in the mix.
Of course, hypothetically the National Party could renounce its desire for another referendum and forsake the idea of independence altogether. It could do that, but the moment it does the will for independence will migrate to another party that represents that will. London knows this. The British establishment understands that the security of the union will not be maintained with the coöption or the destruction of the SNP. Britain must – as London sees it – be saved in a new battle for hearts and minds, and this means winning over Scottish people; persuading us that we are all British.
This brings us into the arena of soft nationalism; the use of socio-cultural signs, symbols, and signifiers designed to instil in us as sense of belonging – pride in being “British.” We were brought up on a diet of our water being the cleanest in the world, our mountains being the most beautiful, our coos beings the brawest, and such like. This never needed to be factual. It was true, and that’s what mattered. All of these symbols of nationhood were and are Scottish without a flag having to be stuck in them. This is Scottishness as mother’s milk. We inherit it, we absorb it, and we pass it on.
Standing in Morrisons & noticing that every packet of meat has a British flag. Necessary? Whisky doesn't have a Scottish flag.—
AreYouYesYet? (@AreYouYesYet) June 14, 2014
Such symbols are important. The objects themselves – the whisky, the veggies, the meat, and the mountains – are quite irrelevant. What matters, as far as the power of the symbol is concerned, is the meaning we ascribe to these things – and we ascribed them with Scottishness. Think of the saltire. Its thing-ness is nothing more than white fabric and sky blue dye – or blue and white linen or cotton if you’ve got the cash. That’s all it is, but what happens when we think of it burning? It becomes more than its material because we ascribe it with meaning.
London understands that these things – the visible and tangible artefacts of soft nationalism – have power in Scotland, and that that power is eroding the imagination of the union in our country. So once again, following our failed bid in 2014 for independence and in the face of the refusal of pro-independence sentiment to wither and die, Britain has declared war on our symbolic consciousness. Covering our bags of tatties in the supermarket with the excrement of a British flag may seem petty and hardly worth bothering ourselves over, but there is power in this. Given enough time it will create a false association between what is Scottish and the colours of England’s empire. This is what we must resist.
Fighting the culture war is every bit as important as gaining support for independence ahead of the next referendum. We can make the argument for independence, we can win the debates, and be as smart and intellectual about this as we please, but ideas of nation and belonging are by far more intuitive and emotional than they are rational. Taking down the flags of the empire wherever we see them is the construction of our own fortresses. Given that these flags aren’t appearing by accident, we should know that buying it is funding it. When we spend our money on these products we are tacitly empowering the forces of this cultural invasion. We may not have the final say over what flags appear on the goods sold in our shops, but we do get to decide what we buy.
Cultural Imperialism – A Lecture by Chiara Ferrari