As I write this, round one of the current French presidential election has just been completed and I heard a radio reporter comment on how all eleven candidates invoked the French national motto in their campaigns:
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Is there anyone in the Western world who doesn’t know that rallying cry – ‘Liberty, equality, brotherhood’ – coined by Robespierre in the French revolution in a speech in 1790?
That it’s still used in everyday political discourse in France and that almost anyone could tell you its origin speaks of its power. Apart from dropping the original ‘… ou mort’ after The Terror, it survives unchanged. It’s not something that needs to go to the marketing people for rebranding complete with all the accompanying paraphernalia of surveys, focus groups, new logo and so on.
How tawdry and ephemeral the slogans of Scottish nationalism seem by comparison.
It’s difficult to know quite what their rallying cry is.
The latest SNP rebranding emerged, for me at least, when word got out that what in Twitter-ese had been #indyref2, following on of course from the once-in-a-generation #indyref, was henceforth to be known as #Scotref, presumably in an attempt to be new, exciting, different and, well, in the hope that we’d forget we’ve been through the whole sorry farrago before.
If you look at the SNP website (no link, I’m not looking to drive up their page views) you’ll see reference to this:
You can hear the marketing whizzes explaining it:
First off, it drops all those negative associations with a past, let’s be frank, failed effort. It gets rid of that ghastly “2” which suggests it’s something we’re having to do all over again, locked in a time warp with numbers 3, 4, 5 to follow. It focusses on our USP, Scotland itself. It says this is Scotland’s referendum not anyone else’s. It’s inclusive. It’s decisive. And it’s the start of a new era.
It’s about as inspiring as the party’s current vision:
The SNP is committed to making Scotland the nation we know it can be. Our vision is of a prosperous country where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential. We want a fair society where no-one is left behind. And our vision is of Scotland as an independent country – equal to the very best.
Take out the one word ‘independent’ and this could be anyone’s vision for Scotland, or indeed for anywhere. It’s marketing/PR guff written by a committee, what an ex-colleague of mine celled applehood and mother pie.
Why do they do this?
Consider another rebranding within my memory – the car company known originally (at least when it merged several less than world-beating motor manufacturers) as the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Several transformations later, after British Leyland, Austin Rover and finally Rover, it went down the tubes and isn’t much more than a distant memory.
Of course the names themselves weren’t the problem, the issue was the company itself and, at least for substantial periods, the toxic association with shoddy products. The rebranding was an effort to cast off associations with failure and clutch at an image of quality, with ironically the final branding of ‘Rover’ harking back to one of the predecessor companies that did have a reputation for excellence.
The point, if you haven’t grasped it, is that you don’t rebrand if what you’ve got is successful. You rebrand when your product is stale or has negative associations.
If you comb social media, you can find various levels of nationalist confusion and upset at the new name for the SNP’s tired old recycled referendum product. Innumerable individuals, groups and websites have incorporated ‘Indyref2’ or ‘Yes2’ into their names, logos or URLs and have had all that effort undermined at a stroke, in a style reminiscent of the diktats of George Orwell’s ‘MinTruth’ (Ministry of Truth) in his novel 1984. History is being rewritten.
Mind you, history has been rewritten many times by the SNP since their 1930s formation from two earlier nationalist parties. Their first programme asserted their object:
Self-government for Scotland … as a partner in the British Empire.
We won’t see that again. nor many of the other slogans and visions in their failed attempts to persuade the majority of Scots that we really, really want the one thing they do.
It’s all a million miles from the crystal clarity of liberté, égalité, fraternité, still going strong after 226 years.
I’ll lay odds* that within two years the SNP will have a new slogan and/or vision as well as a new name for the referendum they’ll still want but won’t get, or more likely won’t have the courage to pursue since they’ll never get a clear majority for separation. Because you only rebrand a faltering product.
* – no offers thanks, it’s a metaphor, I’m not a betting man.