15/09/2014 12:42 BST | Updated 13/11/2014 05:59 GMT

An End to Brand Britannia


One of the consistent issues with the 'No' campaign is its reliance on dry economic arguments, doom and gloom. I mentioned this point last November - you can't rely on what Carlyle called the 'dismal science' to appeal to human sentiments.

It's long seemed obvious to me that this is no way to run a campaign. You can't scare or depress people into voting for you. And happily, this seems especially true with Scots: scare stories or telling them they can't do something usually evokes a strong reaction in the opposite direction. It's also led to the image of the 'No' camp as a nasty little clique of Westminster politicos and Big Business. Remember those once despised and hated banks? Well, now they're being wheeled out at the (apparent) prompting of Number 10 to worry people into voting no.

But if the need for a more emotional pitch to Scotland is so blindingly obvious, why is the 'No' campaign not adopting a different position? Why is it not, as the Economist suggested it should, trying to 'love bomb' Scotland into staying?

The simple fact is there is no meaningful 'Brand Britain' to fall back on. Britain is a vague and amorphous concept; a logo worn on t-shirts sold in Topshop rather than anything more concrete. In the minds of many it's something inhabited by distrusted London-based institutions. In certain parts of Scotland it's unhappily associated with sectarianism and is generally seen as an 'English' symbol. It's the sort of brand which needs an overhaul. It's ill-defined, lacking in purpose and worn out.

Odd then, to find people who think brand Britain is doing well. It's a brand with a 'mojo', surely: just look at the Jubilee and the Olympics and Bradley Wiggins and James Bond and Andy Murray and all that.

Not quite. Again I'd return to a Carlylean thought: the issues are much deeper, structural and spiritual than simple branding and surface reality. Sure, the 'No' campaign has been negative and often condescending. But its failure reflects deeper currents that have gone unnoticed in much of England. Those things that once held Britain together - Empire, existential threats and protestant religion - have all faded into the background. The ties that once bound cities like Glasgow to London or Calcutta have dissolved.

What then, of the success of brands like Burberry, which do well selling the image of a moodily lit London replete with floppy haired Cambridge graduates and black cabs? Certainly this works - but as a clever fantasy rather than a reality most people can relate to. Such images are no more true than the 'see you jimmie', haggis and Braveheart images of Scotland the 'Yes' camp have smartly avoided.

Britain is fraying as a concept. Look at how 'Britons' define themselves: increasingly as English or Scottish according to the 2011 census. The proof also bubbles up in more subtle ways. It leads to those moments of incomprehension when Scots explain that they will not, in fact, be supporting England in the World Cup. It led to Irn-Bru's brilliant mockery of Coca-Cola's cheery message of breezy west coast harmony. More specifically it accounts for the success of 'Yes', something a London establishment long found hard to comprehend.

Whichever way the referendum goes, it's clear that brand Britain has become little more than a logo and a few slogans: good for selling clothing, perhaps, but hardly the basis for a successful political union.