We’re all prone to a bit of pettiness from time to time, aren’t we? Not offering to make a colleague a cup of tea at work just cause you don’t like them. Not texting someone because of a perceived slight that you thought you had incurred. Doing something on purpose just to rile someone. Usually, and in my experience, it can often be caused by a power imbalance or motivated by someone not letting you get your own way. You can either deal with this like a mature adult and acknowledge your childish behaviour or alternatively you can sulk, put your bottom lip out and strike back the only way you can: pettiness.
In general, nationalism and love of one’s own nation is not an unhealthy emotion. No one is totally rootless in life and I’ve never subscribed to the idea that I’m a ‘world citizen’, freely floating in a globalised world who can just blithely move to another culture and settle in it like it’s my native one. I would assume that many of the people reading this article care deeply about Scotland and its place in the United Kingdom.
However, there is a virulent petty streak in Scottish nationalism that is getting increasingly desperate now. With Scottish independence slowly receding into the distance, many nationalists are resorting to desperate and some might say tragic measures with increasingly ridiculous stunts to resuscitate their moribund cause, with many of these efforts only gaining praise from their own zealous peers on social media.
The harbingers of such future pettiness were present during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Discussion of the boycott of companies that supported a ‘No’ vote in 2014 was rife during the run-up to September the 18th 2014. And the nationalists would have had a hard time staying alive if they had carried through their plans to boycott all the companies they said they would. BP, Shell Oil, William Grants & Sons, British Aerospace, RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, B&Q, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer’s, The BBC, Thomas Cook and Standard Life all voiced concerns over a ‘Yes’ vote. ASDA, in particular, had the temerity to voice some unofficial reservations over their operations in Scotland in the event of an independence vote. They were met with cries from the cybernats including: ‘Well ye wid side with the enemy fool hope yeez go out of business altogether and let the local shops rule again’ and ‘Still think NAW was the right idea ASDA? Traitors !!!!!.’ The notion of faceless companies being ‘traitors’ in Scotland is a relatively new phenomenon and one that is a common feature amongst the most zealous now, especially online
You would like to think that after the referendum, a period of calm would have ensued. Perhaps we all got a bit stressed out and let our passions run out in front of our logic. After all, ultimately, we were talking about our sense of identity. However, a week later, the pro-independence campaign group, ‘The 45’ were formed and they released a large list of brands that should be boycotted immediately. Mostly it was just a rehash of the brands already mentioned.
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Facebook pages titled ‘Remember The Companies That Scared Scotland’ were set up with the noble intention of recruiting citizen activists/warriors to man the barricades: ‘This is a call to the 1.6 million of you that voted yes, the 45%. Let’s never allow these companies to scare our people ever again.’ Quite how M&S scared me into making a well informed political decision during a nation-wide referendum is a mystery to me. The only time I was ever frightened in M&S was when I saw a small jar of manuka honey for £37.50p. Another Facebook page called ‘Boycott Biased Banks and Companies-BBBC’ has a selection of memes one of which says ‘Fuck you Tesco for taking the saltire from the fruit you sell. We in Scotland will buy from somewhere else’. The ‘we in Scotland’ being the 540 people who like the page.
The most infamous display of nationalist pettiness was the ‘Tunnockgate’ boycott in January 2016 where Tunnocks had supposedly removed the lion rampant from the packaging on their teacakes. It turned out that they actually hadn’t, but this was irrelevant. Such a flagrant display of a company exercising its right to independently manage its affairs at the behest of its board members was met by the 24th central-belt cybernat regiment, (The blue and white line, tipped with bile) who bravely tweeted ‘join me in boycotting #Tunnocks. Bad product anyway, Calories galore, no nutrients’ (Incidentally, that’s why people like them) another keyboard warrior stated that ‘On principle, I haven’t bought anything by #Tunnocks since 2014.’ Dark days indeed for the future of Scotland when a grown man refuses to eat a chocolate coated, marshmallow filled confection on political ‘principle’.
More recently Tesco has come under attack for a statement saying that it would be putting British flags on its produce to ensure brand continuity. Again, not unreasonable. Also, these are just products like strawberries. Scotland has a certain ‘brand’ and has foods that are associated with it. Whisky is the most prominent, but other ones include salmon, haggis, shortbread etc. So do all regions of the UK (The English do marvellous cheese pies). But soft fruits? Nothing particularly Scottish about them. However, Tesco withdrew this statement after more nationalist pettiness on social media in what A Force for Good called the ‘THE SUPERMARKET CLEARANCES’. Indeed one Scottish ‘patriot’ was so enraged at the sight of the ‘Butchers Apron’ upon his strawberries that he put a sticker over the offending flag with ‘End London Rule’ on it. I bet that showed the London ‘establishment’. This was a grown man. Follow the entire thought process that he went through and it’s really quite worrying. The faceless company makes a change to its packaging. Seething rage. Go to computer. Design leaflet. Acquire pack of stickers. Print. Go to local Tesco. Place sticker on strawberries. Ignore strange looks from staff and shoppers. Write a post on social media, probably in incoherent ‘Scoddish’ that no one has spoken since 1741. Social media ‘friends’ reply to endeavours. Increase in confirmation bias. Watch as reasonable Scottish nationalists distance themselves even further. At no point was there a period of self-reflection on such a monumental level of petty behaviour?
Again, this is not the whole of Scotland, but we should be concerned when there are people who think that a major supermarket chain selling ‘British Butter’ in their stores, North of the Border are ‘disrespecting Scotland’.
Such petty antics and boycotts also extend to Scottish cultural and historical organisations now. The National Trust for Scotland has recently appointed historian Neil Oliver as their President in what is largely a ceremonial role. However, this was also been met with howls of petty indignation from many nationalists berating the organisation with threats to cancel their subscriptions to the Trust because they appointed a man who was a unionist and a very measured and polite one at that.
Indeed my own small, sleepy, town along the west coast of Scotland is not free from the nationalist pettiness either. A local shopkeeper has been known to throw people out of his establishment if they have a British flag on their clothing and even made the national press for his antics involving an armed forces day flag, that of course, contains the Union flag.
There is probably an underlying reason for such boycotts and one that is not immediately obvious. It’s another attack on ‘Britishness’ in Scotland. Either intentionally or by design, many of these companies are ‘British’. Think John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, B&Q. The first two quintessentially British. The obsession with ridding British flags on produce is another indicator. If you cant get a politically independent nation through democratic means, then the next best thing is to do the same thing in the cultural and economic sphere as much as possible.
The nationalists are losing the political and economic argument. The SNP were given a bloody nose in the 2017 general election and in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections as well. Companies and organisations should not be beholden to a bunch of petty nationalists. (What is the plural for a gathering of petty nationalists? A swarm? A hive? A plethora? A clutter?) If you are putting political slogans over British flags, you know you have lost the argument (and the plot). Like spoiled children who have been denied a sweet, the zealous nationalists in Scotland are lashing out anything they deign to be British, particularly the low hanging fruit like flags on produce etc.
The best that any person or organisation can do is it to ignore them and let them have their tantrum. In a way, it’s a positive development; if this is all they can attack now, then good. Just because you are the loudest and the pettiest does not mean you are correct. We made the same mistake of believing it in 2014, where the silent majority didn’t make themselves present until the 11th hour. We shouldn’t do it again.
More importantly is this really the nation that Scotland is turning into? Is this what we want, not even as nationalist or unionist, but as free-thinking Scots and/or Brits? A place where butter and teacakes are viewed as treacherous to a political ideology and a historical organisation takes flack for appointing someone because of their benign political views? Taken to extremes, these are dangerous trends that must be nipped in the bud. I still don’t believe that sensible, stoic, and socially conservative Scotland wants the world that the petty nationalists are trying to create.
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