Leaders: Tesco's strawberry fields are harvesting discord

Supermarket may be jumping out of the Saltire frying pan into the Union flag fire as it claims to be looking for political neutrality

Tesco admitted removing Saltires from packaging after English customers complained. Picture: PA
Tesco admitted removing Saltires from packaging after English customers complained. Picture: PA

If we needed any further evidence that use of the Saltire has become a political minefield, it has come in the decision of Tesco to remove the flag from packaging of strawberries grown in Scotland.

The supermarket said on Twitter that this development was prompted after complaints from England that the St George’s Cross was not used south of the Border, when packaging fruit sourced in England. This explanation was later said to be an error, and the reason for the change was given as a desire to “provide consistency for customers”.

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But we should be in no doubt that this is not the first instance of marketing departments in the food industry questioning the wisdom of displaying the Saltire, and consequences of this issue are not likely to stop here.

Sensitivity stems from the 2014 independence referendum, where the Saltire became the symbol of the Yes campaign, and the Union flag the equivalent motif of No supporters. Since then, there has been an enduring impression – justified or not – that displaying the Saltire is a statement of continued support for independence. The debate has never gone away, so it is understandable that the Saltire is still being viewed in a political context.

What Tesco might find is that the same can be said of the Union flag, which will now be on strawberry packaging. Yesterday’s public backlash suggests the supermarket may find itself in a no-win situation.

But aside from the political wrangling over who “owns” the Saltire, there is another important issue to consider. The food and drink industry has made significant progress in marketing Scottish produce as a symbol of excellence in recent years, making our offering more attractive to international markets as well as appealing to local pride, and part of that process has to give food a distinctive, unmistakable Scottish identity which leaves consumers in no doubt about its provenance. It is only natural that the Saltire became part of that image.

And of course, we should not forget that the fallout extends beyond Scotland. The referendum stoked up anti-Scottish feeling south of the Border – our biggest export market – and two years on, the Saltire can still stir those negative emotions.

Tesco has said that although the Saltire has disappeared, strawberries from Scotland will continue to be printed with information regarding their place of origin, and thus can still be identified as “Scottish”. But there is no escape from the fact that the product’s Scottish identity has diminished on the supermarket shelf. Further developments such as this can only be bad news for industries which trade of the quality of Scottish products.

It is a sad day when the Scottish flag is seen as being as much of a hindrance as an asset, but the market will dictate its immediate future. Those who will be hurt by a blow to national pride may have to prepare for further pain, because we can expect food and drink, and other export industries, to carefully re-examine what still works for them.

Children want the whole festival too

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It is an old complaint – that the majority of Scottish pupils do not get a chance to enjoy all the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has to offer, because, while posters advertising exciting show and events are still being put up they are donning their uniforms to return to school half way through the programme.

And it is not just the Fringe – the Festival is very keen to reach out to pupils, who are missing out.

Meanwhile, state school pupils were back at their desks just four days after the Book Festival started in Charlotte Square, with all its family-friendly facilities and inspirational readings and workshops.

It is little wonder parents get upset – here is a massive event on their doorstep but they feel their children are excluded from it.

Could the Fringe be rescheduled? It would be difficult to see that happening. It would have to be moved two weeks earlier, a significant shift for an event with a traditional slot on the calendar. Solving one problem would create another.

Shona McCarthy, the new Fringe chief executive, says this is not going to happen.

So what can be done? An obvious option is looking at ways to attract more children – possibly a “schools day” at the start of term – a busy time yes, but hardly disruptive as pupils and teachers find their feet. Or targeting weekends or Friday afternoons when some schools operate a half day. Or make inroads in May or June to enthuse youngsters about festival events coinciding with their holiday.

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Whatever the approach, it is important to engage with this audience so that the festivals continue to thrive and grow, and remain inclusive for locals and visitors alike.