You’ll surely recognise the quote in the title of this post, deliberately in standard English, unlike Burns’ original words. That’s because this is mainly about international perceptions of the UK, although you’ll also find some discussion of contemporary Scotland.
I was led into the subject by an article on the BBC website entitled How do you market a country? much of it about how Chile had tried to change its international image. It cited something I’d not heard of before – the Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index. The Index starts with the presumption that people’s perception of countries is based on six factors – their governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration and investment, and exports:
It then carries out annual surveys in twenty countries to test perceptions of these factors for a total of fifty countries. The 50 countries are listed on the Brands Index website linked above, the methodology is explained here.
No doubt this all has its limitations but it does provide a consistent measure of the international perception of different countries. Facts are also important as I tried to demonstrate when I looked at the UK’s standing in the OECD’s Better Life Index of advanced economies, which measures 24 statistical indicators, from dwellings without basic facilities to time devoted to leisure and personal care. But if you doubt the importance of perception consider where you’d rather spend your holidays, Italy or Syria, or take part in a demonstration against the government, Norway or North Korea. Most of us could choose even if we’ve never been to those countries.
Bearing all that in mind, here are the results of the most recent Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index for the top ten countries, based on data collected in 2017:
You’ll notice how the top ten rankings are taken by what the index compilers call ‘Western market economies, along with Japan’. You might also notice how France has moved up the rankings from 2016 and the USA down (Macron and Trump respectively? My guess).
What I want to point out particularly is the UK’s position, in third place, above other nations usually highly thought of. The only Nordic nation in the top ten is Sweden and many Scottish nationalists’ favourite exemplar, Norway, doesn’t make the top ten at all.
If perceptions are important the UK’s third place is a major asset, even or perhaps especially in these Brexit hard times. It also gives the lie, repeated so often by many Scottish nationalists, to the claim that the UK is universally reviled throughout the world (cue canards ‘Westmonster’, ‘evil empire’, ‘butcher’s apron’ etc. etc.).
None of this says anything about international perceptions of Scotland which, if some nationalists are to be believed, are as high as they claim perceptions of the UK are low. But if you’re part of a country, the UK, that enjoys such a high international reputation, why not rejoice and use that reputation to support your own efforts to promote the advantages of Scotland?
That of course is not on the SNP’s agenda. Their own attempts at marketing Scotland focus on what they disingenuously call a ‘partnership’ with the fatuous slogan ‘Scotland is Now’, to ‘create a new campaign and identity for Scotland’. Their website has some interesting stuff on it but also much that is partisan. In its short life it has accumulated eleven items that feature Nicola Sturgeon, from ‘First Minister’s statement on the EU referendum’ (placed, I’m pretty sure, on the site retrospectively) to ‘Scottish whisky tourism gets £150M boost’.
The range of even this small part of the contents exemplifies another problem – who’s it all aimed at – investors, tourists, business, potential students, people who live here already …? In seeking to have something for everyone it looks as if it doesn’t have enough for anyone. As for ‘partnership’, all the agencies listed as partners are actually part of the Scottish Government except Universities Scotland, who rely for a substantial part of their funding on the government.
Admittedly, the endeavour follows other campaigns that didn’t last long – Scotland the Brand (which I quite liked), the Best small country in the world, and the stunningly imaginative Welcome to Scotland.
If it’s a problem finding the right image for a country, the originator of the Nation Brands Index, Steve Anholt, has a word of warning:
I have been looking for 20 years for a single properly documented case study of one single country, city or region that has demonstrably moved the needle, even by the most microscopic degree, on its global image as a result of marketing, messaging or communications.
His view is that reputation comes from doing things not consciously trying to build images.
In that context, ‘Scotland is Now’ is likely to be a waste of time and money.
Meanwhile in the real world, international perception of the UK is right up there with the best.