Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, was a red-baiter of such ferocity he made Joe McCarthy look like Julius Rosenberg. There was almost no one in 1950s America Welch did not accuse of allegiance to the Soviet Union. His crusade reached its apogee as only it could with a 1958 tract naming President Dwight Eisenhower as ‘a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy’.
Scottish nationalism has arrived at its Robert Welch moment by declaring shortbread unpatriotic. The buttery biscuit went from beloved confection to traitorous treat after a nationalist, on a trip to Germany, spotted Walkers Shortbread being sold in a Union Jack tin. She posted a photograph of the offending packaging on Facebook with the message:
‘It breaks my heart! This is how Walkers are marketing our famous Scottish shortbread in Germany! Our hard won Scottish branding is being systematically destroyed! For what? To protect their Union! I feel so sad and angry.’
If you’re thinking, ‘I’ll bet everyone had a right old chuckle at that,’ I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for my country. Far from being ridiculed, Angry Shortbread Lady has been embraced as a Paul Revere of sellout snacks. The National jumped on what, in the world of paranoid insularism they inhabit, is considered a story. In the assessment of Scotland’s premier alt-Nat publication, this was ‘more Union Jackery’ of the sort it has taken a stand against with a name and shame campaign. (For several months now, the paper has encouraged readers to report companies that label Scottish products ‘British’ or feature the Union Flag. I can’t tell you how much I wish this was a joke.) Because this is Scotland, a boycott was launched and Walkers Shortbread was forced to release a statement pleading that they ‘take great pride in our Scottish heritage’.
There are far greater sacrileges visited upon the nation’s favourite tea break nibble. Consider those Sassenach heathens, from Nigella to Delia, who counsel the use of room-temperature butter in the baking process. For some unfathomable reason, the Magimix mafia conspire to deprive English palettes of the crisp, crumbly taste that only comes from cutting cold butter into the flour and sugar. The Barnett formula is not a subsidy, it’s hush money.
What about those joyless wretches who change the shortening and short-change the consumer with margarine? Or our excitable cousins across the pond who insist on adding icing or chocolate chips or – Heaven above – fruit? I’m not against irrational lynch mobs, but can we at least point our pitchforks in the direction of those who really deserve it?
But to nationalists, symbols are everything and every flap of the enemy’s standard is like a stinging blow to their self-worth. When Ruth Davidson suggested this was all pretty embarrassing, she was called a ‘British Nationalist’ and ‘ashamed to be Scottish’ by SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor. MacGregor has not distinguished himself since confusing his swearing in at Holyrood with a revival of the White Heather Club. Still, his reaction was telling. Once again the SNP mask slipped to reveal swivelling eyes and a foaming mouth.
This would be a quirky tale of Scotland’s half-baked grievance culture but for the long, glum record of nationalists denigrating, boycotting and intimidating Scottish institutions and people who fail to toe the separatist line. It speaks to the centrality of marginal things to SNP politics and confirms the aimless resentment that still fizzles across the country. The SNP got to 45 per cent in the 2014 referendum by stirring animosity towards ‘Westminster’ and ‘London’, a code language that doesn’t exactly require Alan Turing to decipher. They told the poor and the angry that their woes were not the fault of the SNP government but of elites out to get Scotland and by extension them. They unleashed a roiling victimhood that, shorn of the daily battle for independence, searches for an outlet in parochial prejudice and endless culture wars. All that’s missing are red baseball caps sporting the legend ‘Make Scotland Braw Again’.
That SNP energies would be channeled into dead-end rage when they have an entire government at their disposal says nothing good about nationalism and its willingness to set demagoguery aside and govern. They have the power to do almost anything to change Scotland for the better but they would rather pick fights with a shortbread tin. We should stick a Union Jack on the attainment gap and maybe they’ll finally take an interest.