I saw recently that an English shop has advised a Scottish supplier of biscuits that it wouldn’t be able to stock its products post-independence as it has a “Buy British” policy. The shop stated that it doesn’t stock Irish goods for the same reason. I wish I could find the article again but I don’t think I’ve misrepresented it.
On the face of it, how can you argue with a company operating a long-established principle consistently and in line with changing political considerations? Well there are some things worth thinking about on either side of the debate. For a start, how far back does this policy go? For example, following Irish independence, did businesses in England, Scotland and Wales boycott Irish produce? I don’t know but considering our wretched treatment of the Irish, it would have taken the biscuit. But I guess the Scots won’t want to protest on that basis.
So what about whisky and salmon which we English hardly produce at all? Well to be consistent, the shop would have to either not sell such products at all, or have a two-tier “Buy British – if possible” policy. So the biscuitmakers of Scotland would suffer while whisky giants like Bells would get off Scot-free.
So what of products which England does produce but not in enough quantity to meet domestic demand? I noticed that Tesco assure us that all their beef is from Britain or Ireland, presumably because there isn’t enough beef produced in Britain alone. The “Buy British” shop would have to think about their policy on this one.
Then how do you make sense of the fairly well-accepted principle of sourcing local products where possible? This could be complicated for businesses say in Carlisle and Berwick who source local Scottish produce on that basis.
Then what about existing campaigns in Scotland to buy Scottish produce? We English are perhaps more likely to go for the “Buy British” policy and include Scotland in that. So are the Scots operating a double-standard even now, while within the UK, which the English can put right after independence?
Ultimately, the biggest problem for England with treating Scottish suppliers less favourably following their exit from the UK is that our businesses can expect similar repercussions. English businesses which stand on principle are likely to indirectly harm fellow English businesses.
So my conclusion is that while “Buy British” is a principle that any English business would be entitled to stand upon when dealing with businesses located in an independent Scotland, it is in fact a principle not worth standing upon. This is because of the ongoing close business links between England and Scotland which are not worth risking.
My advice to English businesses which operate a “Buy British” policy is to use the independence referendum as a means of generating goodwill with existing Scottish business partners rather than seeing it as a potential stumbling-block. They could do this by assuring Scottish partners that their business relationships are highly valued and will not be affected by the outcome of the referendum. If the clarity of the “Buy British” principle is compromised any further as a result, then what the heck : it wasn’t that clear in the first place.