Scotland


The al-Megrahi release row is yet another knock to the country's reputation, writes Alex Brownsell.

After a decade of devolved power, the Scottish have discovered that taking a place at the top table of international affairs can be tough.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi has led to a diplomatic row and a potential US boycott of all things Scottish.

Released on humanitarian grounds - which MacAskill described as a 'defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people' - al-Megrahi was greeted in Tripoli by a jubilant crowd, some of them waving saltire flags.

President Obama led condemnation of the decision, and FBI director Robert Mueller even accused the Scottish government of 'rewarding terrorism'. US media reports also expressed outrage and a website was set up to encourage consumers across the world to cancel holidays in Scotland and refrain from buying Scottish produce.

This comes at a time when the number of US visitors to Scotland is already on the wane, and many of the country's exports, particularly whisky, seek to exploit their authentic Scottishness.

Given that the country's reputation for financial prudence is already in tatters, following the bail-out of RBS and HBOS, there are questions about what lies ahead for Scotland.

We asked Ben Kay, head of planning at RKCR/Y&R, who has worked on the Visit London account, and Jim Prior, chief executive of The Partners, whose clients include Hilton Hotels, how they would go about the task of rebranding a whole country.

DIAGNOSIS

- Two industry experts suggest how to get the flower of Scotland to bloom

BEN KAY, HEAD OF PLANNING, RKCR/Y&R

Let's pause before we start bulldozing the hotels built on the wealth of the travelling greenback. In truth, Scotland has unwittingly just pulled off an extraordinary brand repositioning.

A country that has for so long stood in the American mind for castles, whisky and golf courses has shown itself to be a proud, modern and independent nation at the heart of world affairs.

Combine this with the tendency of US consumers to ignore calls to boycott other countries on ethical grounds (their third most-popular foreign travel destination is China) and you wonder just how badly Scotland will be affected.

The current storm will, rightly or wrongly, soon be nestling alongside 'freedom fries' in the trashcan of forgotten causes.

In the meantime, Scotland has an opportunity to consolidate its new-found reputation, highlighting the nation as a centre of academic and cultural excellence, not to mention a progressive environmental and commercial centre.

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