Treacherous Tunnocks

The Tunnock's Teacake production line

By Calum Henderson


If you think about it, we have very little to be proud of, we Scots. As Billy Connolly once pointed out, we have a skirt as a national dress and a dead cat as a national instrument. Our unofficial anthem – Flower of Scotland – intones nostalgically about the days when we battered our neighbours over disputes between long-dead Kings. Our food, such as Haggis and Deep Fried Mars Bars, is absolutely revolting. Take Tunnock’s Tea Cakes: they’re as unpleasant to the taste buds as bagpipes are painful to the ears.

Why then does it seem almost profane to point any of this out? I mean ask yourself: do you really disagree? It seems unlikely that many, given the choice, would volunteer to eat pulverised sheep’s intestines or a sickly lump of shaving foam encased in chocolate, let alone defend them on social media. Yet that is exactly what a hoard of proud Scots and other Braveheart enthusiasts did on Twitter early in January when Tunnock’s subtly rebranded its advertising campaign to appeal to a more broad, Britain-wide audience.

The teacake cemented its reputation as a Scottish icon by appearing at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. People would not care how Snickers or KitKat advertise themselves, but because Tunnocks products are artefacts of that curious phenomenon known as national identity — whereby a group of otherwise unconnected people are brought together by a dubious mix of flags, songs and bowfin food — challenging its ‘Scottishness’ has its consequences.

On the apparently serious Facebook group ‘Boycott the Companies that Scared Scotland’, one outraged nationalist complained that the company’s managing director, an unreconstructed Tory and unionist called Boyd Tunnock, had helped “fund a No vote” in 2014 and had “interfered with a country’s democratic decision so he can sell more biscuits.” A call to boycott his company received over a thousand likes.

‘Boycott’ used to be such a noble word, conjuring images of determined college students blocking the doors to racist hairdressers in the American South in the 1960s. I suppose it has not occurred to these deluded social justice warriors that were their ‘boycott’ to somehow succeed in bankrupting the legendary Scot’s biscuit company, at least five hundred people would lose their jobs and livelihoods, depriving them of the money needed to buy teacakes, and other essentials, in the first place.

The very people who claim to support a more prosperous society gallantly desire to penalize and blacklist large employers for the most trivial of reasons, apparently without thought for the consequences.

But do not be put off by my cynicism, reader. Scotland can still be proud of its beautiful highland territories, our fine capital city, and whiskey that can be found in any bar in the world. When we start bickering over what is truly Scottish and what isn’t, we make ourselves look petty and insular. I’m sure Connolly warned us against that, too.