It is our small businesses who are the friends of Scotland
Among the many negative scare stories perpetuated by the No camp in the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum was the claim that food bills would be higher as supermarkets would put their prices up. One Better Together leaflet released in early September 2014, it was claimed that bills at Tesco stores were 16% higher in the Republic of Ireland than they were in the UK, and they went on to claim that an independent Scotland would face similar rises. This was met with a swift rebuttal from Tesco who stated “I can confirm that this is not true”, and adding that it had “a great business in Scotland”. They even went as far as to state that “some items of fresh produce, meats and other household items” were actually cheaper in Irish stores than in UK ones, and an enquiry to the company on Twitter brought the response “we will continue to offer the best prices for our customers.”
Other companies weren’t so forthcoming, while there were others who insisted that independence and having to reconsider their position may indeed very well lead to price increases. When one considers who owns these companies however, it needs to be asked just how much we really need large stores ran by multinationals and boards of directors who know little about Scotland and probably care even less.
I propose that the 45% launch a campaign to reduce over-reliance upon large stores, in favour of supporting small, local shops. Shops which are an integral part of their local communities, whose owners know many of their customers and understand their wants and needs. On the Yes stall I volunteered on, one of the locations we chose was next to a small, local bakery. Despite there being Morrison’s and Lidl stores nearby, both of whom offer hot baked goods, that bakery does a roaring trade and is always busy. Their secret? There is no secret. It is a small, family-run business which has been going for decades, who offer quality, home-baked goods, and also sell tea and coffee. It is small businesses like this we should be supporting, and worrying about, not the multinational giants.
In these days where money is tight for everyone, it may feel good for the consumer to find a bargain, but that bargain is all too often bad news for the independent shopkeeper. As supermarkets launch price wars to try and undercut each other, pressure is inevitably put upon small businesses, and all too often many go out of business as a direct result.
A campaign within the 45% to support small businesses would not only be beneficial to our cause, I believe it is the only ethical stance to take. Such a campaign can have many benefits to the push for independence, the small business owner, the consumer and even the planet.
As I said before, small businesses are often an integral part of the communities they are located in. They know their customers, their customers know them and are often on first-name terms with the shopkeeper. Due to this the shopkeepers tend to take some degree of civic pride in the communities they support and benefit. They offer a personal service with a smile and treat their customers with respect. Much more respect than one all too often finds from bored, disinterested checkout assistants. By supporting small businesses therefore, we would also be supporting the communities they serve. And I like to think that this support would be reciprocated. When small business owners saw how much we support we offered, they would in turn support us.
Reducing reliance upon supermarkets would also mean reducing reliance upon imported goods, in favour of local produce which the small business very often offers. Who wants coriander flown in from Egypt, when it is grown right here in Scotland? In these environmentally-aware days, this could not be more important. By promoting small businesses and local produce, we would inevitably reduce the ‘food miles’ of many goods; meaning cutting down the number of goods flown into the country. That in turn would reduce carbon emissions, which is beneficial to the planet as a whole. The Scottish Green Party already support independence, but I have no doubt such a campaign would be championed by other environmentalist groups, not just at home, but across the globe. It would also strike a chord with many individuals, particularly young people, who tend to be much more environmentally-aware than the generations before them.
There are also other international benefits. In researching this article, I confirmed that there are indeed farms in Scotland which grow produce which supermarkets all too often import from countries with questionable political regimes. There are Scottish farms for instance which grow celery, and I know for a fact that there are many would prefer to buy Scottish celery, as opposed to that imported from Israel, which is the norm one finds in many supermarkets. With a large number of the Scottish population not buying such goods, that could put pressure upon supermarkets to stop stocking them for their Scottish branches, or even ceasing to import from countries with poor human rights records. If we even go some way to achieving that, little Scotland and the 45% would be congratulated by those standing up for human rights on a global scale.
I am not for one moment suggesting that we can completely eliminate the supermarkets and large chain stores. They serve a purpose and they can supply some goods which small businesses are incapable of doing so; that I shall admit. At the same time however, if we can get the consumer to think small business before they go shopping, that could have the potential to stop some chains from taking over entire communities, sometimes cities. Inverness for instance is known as the “Tesco Town”, because it is dominated by their stores.
And there is a lesson here for the consumer as well. As one who visits several shops while shopping, I can confirm that many small shops have goods priced as fair as supermarkets, and in some cases they are actually cheaper. And they have the added advantage of not putting pressure on the consumer. Supermarkets and large stores are masters of psychology. They will often do things such as putting two things would associate together in different aisles. Think about it – how often have you got pasta in supermarket, and had to go another aisle for pasta sauce? That is one of the more common examples and it is done for a purpose; as you go around the aisles looking for an item, human nature being what it is, you will inevitably see other things you like, and buy them. This is also why some stores frequently change their aisles about. How often have you popped into a supermarket for one or two things and came out with a bagful of crap you could have easily survived without? We’ve all done it, and the end result of course is that far from saving money, the consumer ends up actually paying more.
The Swedish furniture company, Ikea, plays another little psychological trick which some supermarkets are now beginning to copy. Ever been in Ikea and had a look out of a window? No, you haven’t. Within the store area, Ikea do not have windows to the outside. The purpose of this is to keep the customers focussed upon the goods on sale, with the same inevitable outcome of people buying things they do not necessarily need. The German supermarket chains Aldi and Lidl are particularly guilty of this as well. Doubt that? Just picture the inside of your local Aldi or Lidl in your mind for a moment. See? You’re learning.
A campaign to support small, independent shopkeepers and businesses over large chain supermarkets and stores therefore has benefits for the small business owner, the consumer, communities, local producers, Scotland, the environment, the planet, human rights, and the cause for Scottish independence. But the most important thing here is that we do not do it solely to further our cause; we do it simply because it is the right thing to do.
Let those opposed to independence shout as loud as they want about supermarkets putting the price up. By supporting small businesses, we can maintain the moral high ground, whereas they shall be the ones championing and supporting big, all too often multinational, businesses with boards of directors who are every bit as distant from and as uncaring about Scotland as the Palace of Westminster.