Scotland Votes 'No'!

19 September, 2014 Share socially
​Today, the people of Scotland have voted and decided to retain and maintain their political and cultural integrity of being part of the United Kingdom.
What does this mean from a brand perspective?

After a series of debates, dilemmas and hundreds of articles written about the subject it’s time for the drama to end as the union has been preserved. However, this doesn’t mean that brand UK will be exactly the same after this decision. The message of this referendum was received loud and clear across the UK: Scotland is not satisfied with its current role in the UK nor with the lack of clarity on what the UK means and stands for to them. Westminster and Parliament will now have to change. Across all the UK political spectrum it was agreed that constitutional changes and new power deals for Scotland would be granted if the nation chose to remain in the UK, and these changes will also instigate similar discussion for Wales, Northern Ireland and England as well. The decision to vote ‘no’ to independence signals a desire to strengthen and improve what the United Kingdom means.

At the end of the day and at the centre of the referendum was a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice. A choice that was determined and led by an emotive perception and association of whether it was better to be British together, or Scottish apart. The rational arguments to remain part of the UK created anxiety and questions about the future that meant that the choice for an independent future was more risky than staying with the known if not appreciated union. The emotional ‘pull’ of being part of the union triumphed over the allure of independence. However, the results show it was very close and that brand UK still has a lot of work to do in order to further define and clarify what it means to Scotland, as well as the whole of the UK. For now, the question of independence will be taken off the table and a new challenge will emerge related to creating a more relevant and inclusive sense of participation and representation. The purpose and definition of the UK is now urgently required and demanded.

To understand the impact of remaining in the union for both brand UK and brand Scotland we need to understand how Scotland has contributed to and is defined by being part of brand UK.

In our FutureBrand Country Brand Index (CBI) we assess the strength of a country brand by measuring awareness, familiarity, preference, consideration and advocacy. But most of all, the CBI focuses on people’s associations with a place – what defines and differentiates a country brand. In the 2012/13 CBI, 3,600 international business and leisure travellers rated how they think and feel about brand UK across five key dimensions (Value System, Quality of Life, Good for Business, Heritage and Culture and Tourism). These associations and scores were then aggregated to compile an index that enabled comparison to other countries. Overall, the UK is a leading country brand with a strong cumulative performance, ranked #11 in the CBI 2012/13 and enjoys very high levels of awareness, familiarity and preference. Examining brand UK’s performance across these dimensions and simultaneously looking at the Scottish-ness component and contribution to this performance helps us better grasp how today’s decision will need to guide the UK’s future brand image and reputation investment.

Enhancing the associations with iconic cultural symbols

The UK enjoys great perceptions about its heritage and culture, ranked #5 amongst the 118 countries assessed in the CBI. More specifically, the UK’s performance in the attributes of History (#5) Art & Culture (#5), Authenticity (#22) and Natural Beauty (#39) gives the country its highest score across all dimensions and confirms that heritage and culture is the UK’s greatest strength. Part of this strength though can be credited to Scotland, a land of rich history and cultural monuments and storytelling. From significant sites like Edinburgh, Sterling and Balmoral Castle as well as important historical figures like Adam Smith, David Hume, Alexander Fleming, James Watt and Robert Burns to iconic cultural symbols like tartan, bagpipes and tweed cloth - Scottish heritage adds breadth and depth to UK cultural reputation and authenticity.

Scotland’s modern art and entertainment culture also contributed to the union’s perception and offers famous representatives - from actors such as Sean Connery (and his fictional character, James Bond), Ian McGregor, Tilda Swinton and James McAvoy to singers/bands like Rod Stewart, Annie Lennox, Emeli Sande and Paolo Nutini, plus other celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay and Sir Alex Ferguson. Almost to reinforce their contribution to the UK’s image, numerous Scottish elements and representatives were used in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies. Scottish athletes, such as Andy Murray and Sir Chris Hoy, triumphed in the games and contributed with 14 (7 gold, 4 silver and 3 bronze) medals out of the 65 of the team Great Britain.

Power in education

The UK is perceived as a country with a high quality of life; it ranked #14 out of the 118 in the CBI report. A crucial component of the UK’s reputation in this area is the country’s perceived strength in Education (#10).

The UK’s plethora of high-level educational institutions attracts talent from all over the world. The top English universities, Cambridge and Oxford University, take the lead #1 and #2 respectively. But looking at the top 40 UK Universities, we find 4 Scottish universities with great reputation and tradition – St. Andrews University (#4), Edinburgh University (#21), Glasgow University (#30) and Heriot-Watt (#33) (source: the St Andrews, the third oldest university in the English - speaking world, was where Prince Williams, the Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, studied and met. This area could provide a rich source and point of difference for Scotland in brand UK.

The importance of inbound and domestic tourism

Perceptions about the UK’s Tourism are quite high, ranked #19 in the CBI 2013, with the highest score attributed to the Attractions (#7). When it comes to Tourism, Scotland’s natural beauty and plethora of attractions complement the UK’s touristic power, with areas such as the Highlands and Outer Hebrides, and important cultural cities like Edinburgh (ranked 2nd in the top 10 UK destinations in Trip Advisor after London) and Glasgow being top tourist sites and desired locations.

In 2013, Scotland had contributed to the UK’s tourism statistics with 2.4 million visitors compared to England’s 30.4 million visitors (16.8m in London and 13.6 million in the rest of England, (source: but nonetheless, Scottish numbers were significant. Tourism is one of the most important industries in Scotland, contributing more than £11 billion to the economy and supporting around 200,000 jobs (source: Skift). International events like the recent Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and MTV EMA Awards may increase 2014 numbers.

On the other hand a research shows that 40% of the domestic holidays taken by Scottish people are spent in England while only 6% of the domestic holidays taken by English people and 4% taken by Welsh people are spent in Scotland. This means that Scotland not only contributes to the inbound tourism but also to England’s domestic tourism. Tourism and travel is another critical and valuable role for brand Scotland to play in brand UK, and a lucrative sector for domestic tourism development. 

A new, improved value system

The UK’s high rank in the Value system dimension lies in the country’s governing values – it is an open country, with high levels of political freedom (CBI # 8), Freedom of Speech (CBI #10) and Tolerance (CBI #13) and a stable legal environment (CBI #10). Scotland’s decision to stay in the UK enhances the union’s openness, unity and creates a stable reputation. This directly contributes to the perception and desire for many people to choose to live, work, study and invest in the UK and thus is a critical dimension for strength. The very nature of the referendum itself is evidence of the open and progressive values of a modern democracy. This bodes well for future investment and continued commercial success of brand UK on the global economic stage.

Business potential, brands and products

It is undeniable that the UK offers stronger and more defined brands than pure Scottish brands, and that brand London is core to the UK’s business image. Further leveraging Scotland’s business associations across Financial Services, fishing, whiskey and energy (Oil and Gas) will be future critical. Currently ranked #11 in the Good for Business dimension, the vote to continue to be part of the UK will help to further bolster this ranking. British brands for investors and consumers must now concentrate efforts to define what and how brand UK provides and reinforces a competitive advantage on the global stage. Famous Scottish brands and companies will continue to leverage this association, and perhaps because of the referendum will enjoy increased prestige and fame. The global interest in the process has created an opportunity to highlight Scotland’s resources, assets and business potential. The UK can now leverage this decision for certainty as evidence of a strong, stable and vibrant free-market economy.

UK: a strong and evolving brand

The 307-year relationship will continue between the different nations forming the UK and the cultural, financial and political bonds amongst them must now be reinforced. The UK, as any strong brand, will have to continuously evolve, progress and respond to this challenge in order to develop a meaningful and relevant future strategy. The vote of ‘better together’ is a great opportunity for brand UK to promote the message of unity and progress. The iconography of the union must now be examined and supported by a more inclusive and powerful future story that involves all UK citizens and assets so that the meaning of union is neither forgotten nor taken for granted. Brands within the UK would be well placed to leverage the meaning of brand UK, and of places within as a means of competitive advantage. In this respect, Scotland will continue to be a powerful descriptor and association. But the question now will be to what extend will it be part of the brand UK story? In addition, the role of the UK in Europe will also need to be clarified and perhaps the Scottish referendum is a blueprint for future political debates on the politics of association and union?

Scotland: a symbol of unity and collaboration

The awareness from this referendum and the potential of a more powerful role in the union has created new opportunities for Scotland to build a stronger brand. This is what all leaders must now capitalise on to create stronger and better communications for consumers, citizens, partners, visitors and global audiences.

Scotland has a rich tradition and cultural heritage, however the image of the country is currently based on stereotypes and a nostalgic narrative. So what about Modern Scotland? What does modern Scotland mean? What are their unique references? It is time for Scotland to build a reputation that is not solely based on kilts and bagpipes but also around modern culture, talent, technology and innovation. Scotland’s higher education institutions – already renowned for their quality of studies could be an anchor for this reputation.

Although the majority have voted 'no' to independance, there is a significant proportion of the population in Scotland who voted against brand UK and this is a critical factor to address. The high proportion of youth voters means that work must be done to address the future associations and affinity of this segment to brand UK. If done successfully, then brand Scotland will be seen to be a strong asset in addition to brand UK as opposed to an alternative. 

Brand UK moving forward

Congratulations to the people of Scotland for their decision to retain union, and to the people of the UK. There is no doubt that the process of this referendum has raised and reinforced the value of a free and open democratic system. By choosing to remain in the union, and to debate the issues related to what it means have implications for the future of the UK beyond Scotland. In order to move the brand forward, the discussion on what the UK means, stands for and wants to achieve will be front and centre for the General Election of 2015. For business and brand owners the vote for brand UK reinforces the strong associations with values and attributes the world already recognise. A smart next step would be for business leaders to further strengthen this UK association, and additionally leverage aspects of what and how brand Scotland is part of this narrative. In the coming months and years, we look forward to seeing and understanding, if not shaping, how the future of brand UK will evolve.

NOTE: FutureBrand's 2014 CBI report is due to be released early November 2014. More news to follow soon. 

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