The curious case of Branston Pickle and Westminster’s managed decline of the Scottish economy


This is just one of a small blizzard of tweets appearing over the last few days:

The ‘scandal’ concerned is the fact that Young’s Seafoods have decided to close their Pinneys plant at Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, with the loss of hundreds of jobs (confirmation of the closure was reported by the BBC). No one could take joy in that decision and some claim it’s linked to a grant Young’s received to invest in their Grimsby operations in Lincolnshire:

It doesn’t need me to explain the narrative that’s being pushed here, but for the avoidance of doubt let me summarise it – large company gets UK government grant to move Scottish jobs to England as part of a Tory/Westminster plan to run down the Scottish economy.

It’s a neat story for those who want to believe it, but it’s just that, a story. Fiction.

The first and most obvious flaw in the plot is the fact that the grant referred to, £1.3 million, was awarded three years ago in 2015 and the link to the Annan closure is tenuous at best. In any event, while £1.3 million may seem a large sum to the likes of you and me, to Young’s, with an annual turnover of £600 million, it’s a marginal amount although not one to be turned down.

The other, more substantial, flaw is the claim that the Annan closure is part of a plan by the UK government to manage the decline of the Scottish economy, to which my response would be ‘Prove it’. It’s something I’ve seen absolutely no evidence of. I haven’t even heard our SNP government make the claim. If someone can produce evidence, properly sourced, of the plan I’ll be more than happy to publish it here and retract my scepticism.

Which brings me (be honest, you were wondering) to the estimable condiment known as Branston Pickle, with its mystery ingredient no-one has ever heard of in any other context – ‘rutabaga’.

I’m partial to some Branston myself, in a cheese and pickle sandwich or with the occasional pork pie I manage to smuggle past the family health police.

But I have, if you’ll excuse the phrase, a rather more intimate connection with the product.

In my youth I worked as a town planner in a deprived borough of East London. In an area called Silvertown full of mostly-deserted wharves on the Thames, stood two factories – the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, and next to it, Crosse & Blackwell’s Branston Pickle factory. If the wind was in the right direction I could stand at the back window of my office and take in a deep breath of rutabaga and sundry other vegetables being simmered in a rich broth of vinegar and sugar. It was a valuable asset to have in an area with a persistently high unemployment rate, providing, not unlike Young’s in Annan, hundreds of food-processing jobs.

One day a colleague came into the office and said ‘[Expleted deleted], they’re closing the Crosse & Blackwell factory and relocating it to somewhere called Peterhead. Where the hell’s that?’ In those pre-internet days we scurried around to find an atlas that confirmed said-place-we’d-never-heard-of was indeed in North East Scotland. By the way, if you groan at my youthful ignorance about the existence of the Blue Toon, just ask yourself if you’d heard of Silvertown.

On further investigation, we discovered that Crosse & Blackwell (owned if my memory’s correct by Nestlé at the time) had received a hefty government grant to relocate its plant to Scotland. The government at the time was Conservative.

For several years after I moved to the North East I would visit Peterhead for work to be greeted by, yes you guessed, the heady whiff of rutabaga etc. etc. simmering in the same rich broth that had once pervaded Silvertown.

The Peterhead plant subsequently closed, the brand went through at least two different ownerships, the current one being Japanese, and after more than one re-location Branston is now manufactured in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.

You can draw your own conclusions from these two tales of pickle and fish.

You might conclude that they show a dynamic capitalism alert to market demands and opportunities.

You might on the other hand conclude that they demonstrate how ruthless multi-nationals exploit governments to maximise profit and discard workers at will.

You might look with approval at the role of governments in pump-priming the economy in deprived areas desperately needing it.

But you might gaze at the folly of government subsidising large corporations to move the same jobs around the country at public expense.

All these and other conclusions, according to your economic beliefs and political philosophy, are possible.

What you can’t do is sustain a lie that there is a Tory plot (but don’t worry, if Labour were in power it would be a Red Tory plot) to do Scotland’s economy down. Both cases are just part of the not always logical rough and tumble where government and business meet.

Meantime, of course, the likes of Messrs Gallagher and Macdonald’s falsehoods feed the never-ending well of nationalist grievance. You’ll note that when I found them, their views had been liked or retweeted hundreds of times. Lies, propaganda and nationalism. They go well together.

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3 Responses to The curious case of Branston Pickle and Westminster’s managed decline of the Scottish economy

  1. Dermot McQuarrie says:

    Rutabaga is the word used in the USA for neeps!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger White says:

      Yes, I googled it after wondering for years what exotic tropical product it was, imported by tramp steamer to Crosse and Blackwell’s Thames-side plant!


  2. Sam Duncan says:

    Same old same old. Anything that goes well is Holyrood’s doing, anything that doesn’t is a nefarious Westminster plot. Is anyone but their own side still listening any more?

    I’m reminded of Scott Adams’s take on the polarization of American politics, that each side is “watching a different movie in their heads”. Presented with the same news, they (in his words) “literally” hear different things. I wish I could find the original post among his hundreds on the subject; it’s a fascinating read.

    Liked by 2 people

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