What happens to Scottish brands if the “yes” vote wins?

As we approach 18 September, prepare for an appalling amount of bullshit about Scottish independence. We’re more than a week away and already the media are in a frenzy. So let’s boil it down to the fundamental issues.

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First, what will Scottish independence mean for the economy both north and south of the border? There appears to be two contrasting viewpoints. If you support independence, then Scotland’s natural assets, such as its oil and gas reserves, combined with a relatively small population will make a new, standalone Scotland significantly better off. If you oppose independence, you can point to Scotland’s ageing citizens and its relatively small GDP as evidence that any split would be economic suicide. So, in a nutshell, nobody has a clue.

But there is a third economic option – nobody knows what the economic ramifications will be, so stop patronising the Scottish population by making crap up in order to gain influence at the polling station. And by the way, since when do economic issues matter when it comes to national statehood?

Next up is the infuriatingly annoying debate about ‘Brand Britain’ and the impact of Scotland heading off into the horizon. As usual, the country brand claptrap should be ignored. The United Kingdom is not a brand, it’s a sovereign state. While there are huge implications for all of us if Scotland leaves the Union, they’re best not debated through the inappropriate prism of branding theory. Smarter, more experienced political types have advanced debates on this issue so let’s not sully it with superficial theories derived from selling chocolate biscuits.

The only real debate of any value over the next week is what a vote for independence will mean for Scottish brands. Now that’s an interesting and valid question as we head into this fascinating referendum.

On the plus side, it’s unarguable that independence will make Scottish brands stronger. The process of voting and the subsequent global debate about Scottish independence will generate thousands of media stories about all things Scottish. You can’t go wrong if you’re a Scottish brand and you are the number one story on CNN.

Equally positive will be the effect of Scottish independence on brand image. That’s because one of the classic sources for brand associations is provenance. While Scotland has always been seen as a separate part of the UK, its independence will bolster that country of origin effect and potentially build its appeal. Combine this stronger brand image with more brand awareness and you begin to see why brands such as Glenmorangie or Highland Spring would prosper more in an independent Scotland.

But there are brands that face a specific and disastrous conundrum should independence occur. Take the Royal Bank of Scotland. At face value it’s clear that the bank’s allegiance should lie north of the border. But there are two major snags. First, the British have bailed out the bank and own the majority share. Second, an institution the size of RBS could suffer mightily if Scotland becomes independent and faces a protracted period of instability as questions related to whether Scotland should be allowed to keep the pound or join the European Union are bashed out in the financial markets. 

According to BBC economics editor Robert Peston, RBS has already made provisions to move its headquarters south of the border and essentially become an English bank in everything but name should the independence movement emerge triumphant next Thursday.

And apparently RBS is not alone. Other major Scottish financial services brands face the existential choice of being true to their provenance and experiencing significant volatility in their share price and customer retention as a post-independence fog descends, or head south and face the equally intimidating threat of becoming an émigré brand that appeals to neither the rejected masses of the rest of the UK populace or a Scottish market now steadfastly loyal to the brands that stayed with them in their finest hour.

So ignore the rhetoric about economic impact: nobody knows. Forget the bullshit about the United Kingdom brand, it’s superficial and irrelevant. The big question is how many of Scotland’s big brands will sell their souls for safety if the people vote ‘Yes’.

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