By Jason Michael

A Scottish shortbread manufacturer promotes its produce in a tin decorated with the British flag. The Scottish public reacts. Senior Tories come to the company’s aid. Does anyone else get the feeling something fishy is going on?

Walkers Shortbread has landed itself in a spot of bother over a marketing decision. The family run business thought it would be a good idea to launch a union flag shortbread tin, thinking the Scottish public would see in it nothing more than a Scottish company doing what it takes to make a buck. One would be forgiven for wondering where the heck Jim Walker, the firm’s managing director, has been for the last few years. There is no one in Scotland in 2018 who thinks the flag of the United Kingdom – the “butcher’s apron” – is a politically neutral emblem of national identity and patriotism. Anyone in a marketing department anywhere in Scotland who actually thought this ought to be dismissed on the spot. Scotland – as we all know – is a nation of competing identities; with about half of the country identifying strongly as ‘Scottish and not British’ and the other as ‘British then Scottish.’

In and of themselves, flags don’t bother me. There are places in Dublin where the British flag is flown regularly and no one bats an eyelid. Ireland has a long history of contesting British territorial, military, and ideological claims to it. The British embassy in Dublin was burnt down in 1972 in retaliation for the massacre of Irish civil rights demonstrators in Derry on Bloody Sunday. Even today on the anniversaries of Bobby Sands’ death and Bloody Sunday it’s not uncommon to see republican memorials at which the British flag is set alight. Yet, even in the midst of this, there are places where the same flag flies and no one cares.

On the front of hotels or at sports events the flag is just a token of the country it represents. It is an innocuous sign of welcome to the citizens of that country. This is the difference between a flag and a “fleg.” The fleg is like the flag in every way except for how it is used. Flegs are territorial markers put in place to remind those who see it who or what is in charge. Flegs are deployed in situations of contested identity by the defenders of the dominant ideology much in the same way a dog urinates on a tree. In Scotland in 2018 the union flag placed on the packaging of anything produced in and culturally associated with Scotland is a fleg.

During the independence campaign of 2014 the managing director of Walkers Shortbread announced the company’s neutrality on the question of self-determination in an article in the unionist newspaper The Scotsman, an article by Craig Brown in which Mr Walker lent weight to another bogus scare story of the Better Together campaign’s “project fear.” There was nothing neutral about this article. It was written and published as part of a partisan political drive in the Scottish media at the time to undermine the campaign for a Yes vote. Jim Walker verified the spurious claim in the piece that independence would damage Scottish business and then hid being his decision to “remain neutral.” Walkers Shortbread was neutral… on the British side.

Walkers could not have missed the nationwide effort being made both by producers and consumers to save and strengthen “Scotland the brand,” an initiative designed to promote the uniqueness of our Scottish heritage and identity as a global brand. The last independence campaign forced Scottish people to think more clearly about our economy; something the No campaign worked tirelessly to misrepresent as “too poor.” Scotland the Brand is all about answering this back, and showing everyone in Scotland that we do have a strong and viable small national economy in Europe. By emblazoning this shortbread tin – produced in Scotland by Scottish workers – with the British fleg Walkers has only gone and shown that it is actively against Scotland the Brand or that it never got the memo.

What really puts the stinker on Walkers’ claimed political neutrality is the fact that when the public’s reaction to the fleg shortbread tin worried the owners enough for them to release a statement defending the use of a British symbol on a Scottish product on their website it was David Mundell and Ruth Davidson who rushed to their aid. Why would the two senior most Tories in Scotland get involved in a marketing dispute between a private company and its customers unless there was something about this that was of great importance to the Scottish Unionist Party?

Of course the branding of Scotland and all things Scottish as British, even against the will of the majority of Scots, is what the Tories in Scotland are all about. But this is a family business making shortbread. It’s hardly a large multinational the loss of which would capsize the Scottish economy. Was Jim Walker doing a favour for Tory friends when he supported those claims in The Scotsman in 2014, and is this his pals returning the favour? This would certainly explain why Ruth and David would get involved. But it’s probably simpler than this. It is more likely to have something to do with political donations. It would be horrible to think that unsuspecting independence supporters are funding the Tories by supporting a “Scottish” company.

Who cares? It’s bleeding obvious what is going on, and considering how the Scottish Conservatives and unionist groups like Scotland in Union have been obfuscating their revenue source we’ll probably never know the exact details of this very visible cosy relationship. But whatever you do, don’t boycott Walkers Shortbread. Unionists get really angry when we discuss organising resistance to their schemes. Let’s not upset them. What to do instead is to think it through as individuals. Ask yourself if you want your money being used to fund the Tories or help set back the work that has been done on protecting and promoting Scotland the Brand. Ask yourself if you want to be funding the promotion of Britishness over Scottishness. Once you have thought about this spend your money where you want.


Do we see ourselves as Scottish or British?

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4 thoughts on “Not Buying British Shortbread

  1. As a fervent supporter of an independent Scotland I find this ongoing creep of supposed Scottish business owners attempting to replace ” MADE AND PRODUCED IN SCOTLAND ” a world renowned brand for quality and value disingenuous to say the least . Do they not realise the possible damage they are doing to their business and their staff , all in the name of currying favour with wastemonster or alternatively highlighting the contempt and disregard they have for their customers . I as an individual have the right to spend my money as I see fit , I also have a right to voice my opinion , and my opinion is I will never spend my money with a company eg WALKERS who are so embarrassed and disrespectful of their roots that they endeavour to disguise their cringe by betraying brand Scotland
    I also sent this comment to Walkers


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