Until recently, I’ve thought of long-serving SNP MSP Richard Lochhead as very much a managerial politician, a rather dull be-suited figure who in slightly different circumstances could have fitted neatly in his younger days into any of the mainstream parties. Farmers (large-scale agricultural payments system cockup) and Kezia Dugdale (clyped on by Lochhead for applying for an SNP internship when a student) might not agree but, hey, we all make mistakes. Which may be why he’s no longer cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment.
Now, however, it appears he’s cross at stationer W H Smith for not selling Scottish water, albeit only in ‘some’ stores. This is what might be called the minutiae of commerce but it winds lots of people up. On the nationalist/SNP side there’s outrage – ‘How dare they not sell our good/clean/pure/unique Scottish water?’ For everyone else, there’s the possibility of easy ridicule, which a quick glance at Twitter this morning proves has duly happened, with one wag asking Lochhead to intervene against W H Smith’s sale of confectionary from Malta (Maltesers – geddit?) when good Scottish sweeties are available.
Ridicule may indeed be the best tactic to counter this sort of ‘Buy x,’ where x is the adjective for your country/region/district. But a serious issue lurks behind his knee-jerk reaction to the lack of ‘our’ produce in one shop or another.
It’s this. If you want people here to buy Scottish water, what do you expect English/Welsh/French/etc. people to buy? Only their own water/vegetables/beef/etc.?
I see on the website of the largest UK producer of bottled water, Highland Spring, that they export to over thirty countries, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar they sell a hell of a lot more water in England than in Scotland (incidentally, they brand themselves a British company – think on it, Richard).
I am sure Lochhead was assiduous in promoting exports of Scottish food and drink in his former role as cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment, and that’s great. But you can’t expect other people to take our stuff and want Scots and companies trading in Scotland to discriminate in favour of one sort of H2O over another.
Lochhead’s position is actually worse than this – he wants W H Smith to ‘set a good example’ and turn their shops into ‘showcases for Scottish produce.’ And he’s writing to them about that.
When we get to this level of economic illiteracy I really do despair. On what basis does he expect this (or any other) company to take on the role of showcase for Scottish produce? Is their commercial judgement about what their customers want to be tempered by political interference? Are they to receive a subsidy from the Scottish government to promote Scottish produce? Perhaps taken over as National Stationers plc, rather like Prestwick airport (although unlike that enterprise I hasten to add that W H Smith are not in need of a government bail-out)?
You’ll notice a reference in the title of this post to Lesley Riddoch, so different in personality from Lochhead (the word febrile comes to mind). It’s because she seems to share similar concerns, and focussed on the same company. She got in a huff about the lack of Scottish snacks and books at their Edinburgh airport branch. As it turns out she was wrong, but zooming in on her coat tails came a nationalist moaning about, yes, Smith’s lack of said water. It’s what happens. I’m waiting for someone to suggest a boycott of W H Smith.
I expect Master Lochhead and Missie Riddoch are too young to remember the ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign of the 1960s, in which we were all urged to buy British, not least by a youthful Brucie Forsyth and his campaign song (it’s a bit grizzly, listen at your own risk). It was daft then, and its ironic echo in ‘Buy Scottish’ is daft now.