If you haven’t tuned into the latest manifestation of social media volatility this tweet by Lesley Riddoch yesterday morning will tell you what it’s about, the absence of Scottish books and snacks at an airport retail outlet. Stoats by the way, I have discovered, are not the small furry animals but a Scottish producer of porridge and oat-based snacks. Ochone, which Ms Riddoch explained to some of her interlocutors, is a general Gaelic expression of regret. Ironically, when I checked to see if it had any more specific meaning (I was hoping for something racey) all the definitions appeared in dictionaries of the English language.
Lesley, if she’ll forgive me the familiarity and you didn’t know, is a journalist and broadcaster who broadly speaking takes a nationalist position on most things. Her tweet has led to a deluge of comment, some supportive but most against the point she was making. Most of it seems to be fairly good natured. Much veers towards the ‘For God’s sake, don’t be daft’ part of the spectrum although a small minority is along the lines of ‘Behave yourself, woman!’ (© A Salmond). I think she’s getting a bit vexed at some of this but, as I’ve found on other occasions, she is almost invariably patient and polite.
I think however, there are one or two lessons to be drawn from her upset.
The first is quite simply that perhaps her expectations of an airport stationer’s are too high. My complaint about the W H Smiths I’ve seen at British airports is that apart from newspapers there’s very little of anything they sell I’d want to read. My perception is of ranks of alleged ‘best sellers’ of the romantic/crime/war type, too many business and self-improvement books, and year-round racks of calendars. And the scandal of the snacks they sell is not the absence of Stoats (although I’ll bet they’ve got some shortbread lurking somewhere) but the fact that with even the cheapest purchase they try and ‘upsell’ you a giant bar of third-rate chocolate.
The second lesson is don’t set pen to paper or finger to screen until you’ve had a quick glance around you. Sundry folk also passing through Edinburgh airport yesterday reminded everyone that just along the way from the offending W H Smith’s the same retailer has a separate shop devoted entirely to books, including a section of Scottish books and a prominent display of their … Scottish Book of the Month.
The more serious lesson from something that in itself is no more than a nine minute wonder is what it tells you about the psyche of at least some Scots. It is, I’m afraid, an all too ready willingness to find offence and discrimination in the least of circumstances, and for that to feed into yet another grievance about how Scotland is said to be treated.
The loopiest example of the grievance mentality I saw in this discussion was someone who complained that aforementioned retail outlet also didn’t sell ‘Scottish water.’ The last I heard all water was just H2O, perhaps with a bit of fizz added. Blinkered ‘patriots’ like that who always want Scottish products sold in Scotland might want to ponder where all the Highland Spring goes. What is probably the mineral water of choice in much of England could easily become a product avoided because, ‘Well, why would you buy it if that’s what the Scots think of us?’
I hasten to add that Ms Riddoch didn’t complain about the water but it’s all part of the same mind-set and in the past she has had a go at that old grievance favourite, the acceptance of Scottish pound notes in England. And she is not some random member of the public. She is an influential commentator who appears frequently in the national media.
No, if I wanted to complain about airports there are many other grounds for discontent, not least Edinburgh’s imposition of a £1 charge for dropping someone off by car on their windy forecourt, a degeneracy that has spread to my own local airport. I’d be with Lesley if she could get wound up about that scandal.