The Coughing Canaries

I’m cheating today. (That’s what fundamentalist separatist nationalists do, you see). I don’t think I can better this article in his own magazine by a friend, Gordon Young, the publisher of The Drum.


Gordon has been a successful businessman in his native land for 30 years writing about marketing, advertising and the media and has now expanded into London because that’s where the action is, not in Scotland. Here he gives his reasoning on why he is for Yes, despite being obliged to seek business in the south.


‘Every time I mention that I intend to vote Yes in the Scottish Independence referendum I can almost see the hurt in the eyes of my English pals. You can tell emotions are running high south of the border. Paul McCartney has just signed a letter telling us how much he values us, Adam&EveDDB has put together a website inviting people to tug Scottish heart strings and there is an open letter doing the rounds which declares England’s love of the Scots. But such activity demonstrates just how out of sync sentiment is South of the Border with what is going on in the highways and by-ways of Scotland.

There, the debate has transcended 19th century nationalism. It is neither pro-English or anti-English. It simply revolves around what is the best way to govern Scotland. That perhaps explains why so many English people who have moved North of the Border are also minded to put their cross in the Yes box. From my perspective I am a rabid Anglophile. I love the place. In fact if somebody organised an open love letter to the English I would be one of the first to sign on the dotted line. Seriously, it must be the most open, tolerant and welcoming country in the world. The very fact that this is one of the few places which would allow such a referendum to take place without some form of armed intervention testifies to these qualities. But that is not going to stop me voting Yes. The experience of helping to set up The Drum has very much shaped my judgement.

Over the past 30 years we have charted the relentless decline of the Scottish marketing industry. Hell, it even declined during the boom years – when Gordon Brown was proclaiming the end of bust. One after another large agency closed – Rex Steward, Riley, The Bridge, Faulds, Ogilvy & Mather, 1576, Barkers, Morgan Associates, Elmwood, Blue Peach, Navy Blue, Newhaven, McIlroy Coates…the list goes on and on. In fact, Scotland has the dubious distinction of being the very first market in the world where McCann-Erickson closed an office. Clients too have vanished from the scene for one reason or another – Bells, Royal Bank, Bank of Scotland, TSB, Clydesdale, John Lewis, Standard Life, Wm Low, Kwik-Fit, British Midland and John Menzies Retail.


Today, a mere rump of an industry is left. Okay – there are some good players around – but there are account groups in single London agencies which are bigger than the entire Scottish ‘industry’. So enfeebled is the market that even those behind the No campaign could not find an agency North of the Border to run their campaign selling the benefits of the Union with England. The account is handled by M&C Saatchi London.Why is this important? Well in my view the marketing business remains a canary in the coal mine for the economy as a whole. If it coughs and splutters then the business sector itself is in peril. Perhaps that is why the best part of one million Scots have migrated to England – there simply is not the opportunities North of the Border.

I have listened to the No campaign arguments. I have read their websites and literature. But I can find no cohesive argument as to why a No vote would arrest this relentless decline. So I have become convinced that Scotland’s business community is in cardiac arrest. it needs a radical shock to the system if it stand any chance of revival. And in my view a Yes vote has more chance of delivering that. The very transfer of the primary economic levers to Edinburgh will help. A cut in corporation tax for example will give companies a reason to move their operations North of the Border. That was certainly the experience with Dublin which, for example now has 2,000 Google employees, which compares to just one in Scotland the last time I checked.

Another key power is control of immigration. Scotland needs more Scots – in fact the population has been largely static for decades, which in itself is a real barrier to growth. But apart from all that, in my view the change of sentiment in the country that a Yes vote would bring about is a strong reason in its own right. As one one leading business figure put it; independence would be akin to a ‘management buyout’. The energy and enthusiasm this alone would generate would make a difference in itself.

Incidentally, as far as arguments about North Sea oil, EU membership and currency union goes, I have to admit that I am persuaded by the Yes camp’s arguments that many of the No contentions are paramount to scaremongering. In many ways the difficult trading conditions forced The Drum to look outwards. We expanded first into the English regions and then to London. Today we are the UK’s largest marketing website employing 45 people in Glasgow and 21 in London. But that experience of expanding across the English regions has given us fascinating insights into the challenges the UK as a whole faces. There is no doubt London (which I love too by the way) is both its biggest asset and its largest liability,

It does suck the life blood from the regions – in terms of investment. talent and profile. In fact I am told it is actually Scotland’s third largest city by population. And I marvel at the infra-structure in the South East. From the balcony of my London flat for example I can see a cable-car system in one direction and parts of the massive Crossrail development – Europe’s largest construction scheme – in the other. Glasgow Airport meanwhile doesn’t even have a rail link connecting it terminal with the city centre. The South West, North West and North East of England actually face many similar problems. Their marketing industry canaries are also beginning to cough and splutter.

I believe that a dynamic, growing Scotland, would at last provide a counterbalance to the London powerhouse in these islands. Simply having the Scottish border would add spark to the economies of the Northern regions. A streamlined Westminster legislature that has at last managed to deal with the West Lothian Question, would also be able to focus on the specific challenges the rest of the UK faces. And, reeling from the shock of an independent Scotland, I believe the political elite would at last start seriously addressing the challenges faced by the English regions; and a good start would be to give them more power over their own affairs.

This would be a great thing – because by neglecting its regions England is currently falling miles short of its true economic potential. So my message to Paul McCartney, Adam&EveDDB, et al is that I am not voting yes to break-up Britain. I am voting yes because i reckon it could put the Great back into Britain as an economic zone.’

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25 thoughts on “The Coughing Canaries

  1. Thanks for sharing this Derek.

    Brian Wilson’s comments on Radio 4 this morning trying to describe the Yes side as “fundamentalists” was appalling. He knew exactly what he was doing and he chose the word very deliberately to equate us with some or other terror group. Congratulations Brian for insulting 2 million Scots (not that you care).

  2. “This would be a great thing – because by neglecting its regions England is currently falling miles short of its true economic potential. So my message to Paul McCartney, Adam&EveDDB, et al is that I am not voting yes to break-up Britain. I am voting yes because i reckon it could put the Great back into Britain as an economic zone.’”

    Very last para sums it up neatly, but the article as a whole gets the message across very effectively. Its not and never has been about the break up of Britain or hating England, that nonsense we leave to sociopathic political strategists and media ignorance. It has always been about lopsided, uncaring, anti democratic governance. How the politics of the UK state entity (Westminster) has served or rather not served the population of Scotland, the public interest. As partners in a bipartite treaty, our representatives to that parliament should have been asking the Scottish population on a regular basis ‘well how do you think things are going?’ or ‘do you think we should change things up a bit?’

    It took nearly 270 years just to ask the question, 290 to get a second bite, this was fought over tooth and nail all the way. Westminster as an entity was always jealous of its power. This referendum is again a people’s judgement of the system, of their politics as practiced by their current political representatives and institutions. Have they handled our democracy or our economy well?

    In a fortnight they’ll find out what we think about it.

  3. “As one one leading business figure put it; independence would be akin to a ‘management buyout’.

    The energy and enthusiasm this alone would generate would make a difference in itself.”

    Or, as one leading council house buyer, put it, ‘ Now I can do anything.’

    Even the briefest walk through any former Council ‘scheme’/estate, reveals a transformation in those former council houses – and gardens.

    A wealth of creativity, energy and imagination is on display for everyone to see.

    And all because of the transfer of power to the new owner of independence and control.

    While the No campaign and people like Brian ‘fundamentalist’ Wilson,
    are blind to Scotland’s creativity and huge potential,
    projecting instead the doom and gloom of their own corrupt lives.

    So, whichever model resonates with you dear reader, management buyout or council house buyout,
    the resultant release of human resourcefullness is undeniable.

    To see it happen in a town or estate near you, in the near future,

    Just vote YES.

    Vote Yes to transform Scotland

    – and banish the canary cough.

    That will please Gordon Young.

  4. Gordon Young refers to a streamlined Westminster legislature, but I see no indication of this happening – not even if Scotland votes Yes. I see no campaigning and no shows of intent to get rid of the House of Lords – that would cut Westminster government by half.

    As for more power for the English regions, again I don’t see the demand for that. The contorted reasoning against any system of federalism that I’ve seen widely expressed are that a federal system would divide England and make people feel less English. Until people in rUK seriously debate and decide what form of government would best suit them, then I’m not convinced anything much will change.

    A Yes vote in Scotland might be the push needed to galvanise action, but it has taken Scotland decades to reach this stage. What hopefully after 18th September will become rUK has a long journey ahead before it can take a decision on what sort of country it wishes to become, whether it wants to go along with UKIP and Tory right-wingers opting for an rUK out of the EU, or whether it wishes to retain its European links; whether it wishes to increase inequality between the haves and have-nots, or whether it truly wishes to become a more equal society.

    Scotland did not reach this stage overnight, and it remains to be seen whether in rUK there will emerge the determination to change what is now a very outdated system of government.

    • Exactly J&T,

      People are too quick to forget that the offer of regional assemblies and changes to the electoral system through the AV vote were overwhelmingly rejected by voters.

      There is absolutely no desire to change Westminster from the public.

      Politics in Westminster will not be changing any time soon. The AV vote was the first UK wide referendum offering electoral reform ever, it will not be repeated anytime soon.

      • 1. AV was rejected because it is not a proportional voting system. I voted against for that very reason. I am in favour of proportional voting systems. I voted in favour when we changed the system in NZ.

        2. The NE regional assembly was defeated largely because it had pathetic powers and was rightly derided as a talking shop and simply a useless extra layer of local government. Had a proper assembly with at least powers approaching those of the Welsh Assembly been offered then maybe it would have been accepted.

        3. When Australia rejected a republic it was not for the lack of republican sentiment but because the proposed system of choosing a head of state, appointment by politicians, was derisory. Had a popularly elected president, say on the Irish model, been proposed the polls showed Australia would now be a republic.

        The lessons are that if you do not offer people something worth voting for, like the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly (the strength of the two votes for reflected the varying powers on offer in each) then they will not vote for it. However by offering something derisory that gets rejected you do nothing to assuage the pressures that built for them in the first place. If you are seen repeatedly not to be prepared to make serious offers those pressures may blow in less desirable ways.

      • Optimist Till I Die

        The Regional Assembly on offer some years ago would simply have been a talking shop and probably have less power than any of the Regional Development Agencies (sadly, now defunct or emasculated). Times have changed, and could change ever faster after the 18th.

    • Optimist till I die

      After listening to a debate on BBC1 in Cumbria and the North East (Scotland and Us) a day or so ago I reckon once they have got the message they will soon catch up with the movement for Change and Social Justice (I’ve given up like some others on considering it a campaign). All it needs is for Northerners to realise that no matter how long the elite have been ruling the roost once they loose the means of communication they have no adequate response to people power and social media. Social media trumps newspaper and TV any day. It might be chaotic getting information out there but the truth soon appears regardless of what the powers that be wish the populace to digest.

      Now how do I tell my friends that last week I was an expat Scottish Nationalist (with a small c) and once the referendum is over (YES Please) I’m an honorary Geordie (or next best thing) seeking Regional Government. And, if there is oil off the coast here……..

  5. Read this yesterday Derek and thought it was a very well written piece. 2nd read was much better too.

    Feel it in the air folks ,

    Yes Scotland

    I’m staring to tingle.

  6. Gordon, hate to say it but I suspect that like my experience, England is a wonderful place for you because you are bringing a lot to the table with your expertise. Mine was surgical and research skills first developed in Aberdeen.

    Says it all, doesn’t it, about why this nation needs planning for not only the supply of graduates but also labour, skilled or otherwise for its own people first and foremost. Otherwise Vince Cable’s “London black hole”will continue its unfettered suction effect.

  7. England isn’t really that tolerant a place: UKIP, BNP, Britain First, Xenophobic Tory Toffs, the list goes on…jeez there’s plenty. Casual.racism is commonplace, almost normalized to some extent. As for them generously “allowing” us to have a referendum without armed intervention: that only serves to demonstrate how low are our human expectations, when BASIC human decency is mentioned as a merit. You only have to look at the newspaper comments sections, even in the bastion of liberalism, The Guardian, we see rabid anti-Scots sentiment, & other Right Wing knee jerk reactions- a Right Wing nation is not a tolerant nation. Yet we Scots are continually painted as virulent perma-raging nationalistic English hating bigots, even by our own journalists.

    • Very very well said sir. Alas Better Together or UK OK or New Better Together or The Self Preservation Society as they should be called will stoop to ANY lengths to maintain their cushy lifestyles. Scottish Labour have a history of pure venom dating back to 1974 and particularly in 1979 with attacks.lies and smears against decent individuals

    • Indeed you are correct. It depends on where you live and what kind of environment you have to live in. Tolerance is not the norm when it comes down to the nitty gritty of life in many parts of the so called uk. And as for westminster allowing us a referendum, quite frankly it seems bizarre to have to have a bloody, (well non bloody even ) referendum on whether your own, yes your own country can run its own affairs! How weird is that when you really think about it?
      I have lived in Edinburgh for 25 years, coming from the North East of England, ( which always felt downtrodden) and I am seeing a lot of empty shops and offices now, in our capital city. Why is that? It is quite strange, and disturbing. Only a YES vote will be life affirming and take Scotland forward, a no vote will destroy Scotland. I pray for a YES and I am not religious, heaven help us otherwise.

    • Optimist till I die

      Lunatics love slinging mud but they are not typical of most people in England. I’ve just married an English woman (my first wife was also English). Apart from their family connections I also have English cousins. They are typically English, just like most Scots are typically Scottish i.e. normal with a particular cultural upbringing. The worst experiences I have ever had, with one exception, has been in the form of jokes. The ‘nasty’ experience was simply one individual, who in general I get on with, letting slip that ‘he would like to see the back of us.’

      Don’t forget we have just as many (proportionally) poorly educated and prejudiced individuals in Scotland likely to cause trouble. You have probably seen them at football matches and in the background of the media shots loved by the mainstream press in recent weeks.

  8. Soon what comments that the likes of Alexander makes will be irrelevant just like the Labour party has made itself to many Scots.That party and it’s media allies e.g. The Record are a disgrace and should be ignored until they slip in to oblivion which can’t come soon enough. All the yes side were after was a fair debate and the better together lot chose not to have one now their lies and reliance on their media friends has back fired as social media has exposed their campaign as the sham it is. Yes will win the nearer the 18th comes the more hysterical and panic ridden better together gets.

  9. Gordon, please stop referring to ‘the English regions’, when you should say, ‘England’. England is a nation, just like Scotland. Nobody refers to the ‘Scottish regions’, do they?

    • You mean like the Highlands and Islands, The Borders, The Central Belt, Tayside, the North East? That we don’t append ‘region’ to those and others does not mean that is not they are.

  10. You say the marketing business remains a canary in the coal mine for the economy as a whole, and that the lack of opportunities has caused the best part of a million Scots to migrate to England.

    Another canary for an economy, or at least a handy rough guide to how well a country is being run and how many opportunities it offers people, is population growth.

    Since 1900 the population of the UK as a whole has grown by 66%. France and Belgium, which suffered so much during 1914-18, grew by around 50-55%. The Scandinavian countries, which largely missed the wars, grew by over 100%. Even Ireland, which stagnated until it joined the EEC, managed to grow by 50%. Scotland meanwhile, enjoying all the benefits and security of the UK, saw its population grow by 19%.

    That 19% growth wasn’t continuous. We peaked at 5.25 million in 1976 but then the population fell by over 3% over the next 25 years. Other countries needed wars or famines to reduce their populations like that, we had an oil boom and Thatcher.

    Since 2002, and devolution, we’ve added another 5.5% to get to our current 5.3 million. If we had had the same growth as the UK, or even Ireland, there would be about 7.5 Million of us now. That’s almost half as many of us again, half as many again customers, businesses, musicians, footballers, and taxpayers.

    That’s the hidden cost of Westminster, the poverty of opportunity that drove so many people away.


    A very short video from N56 during which you will not cough; about Scotland’s most boring and inconsequential subject.

    There is simply no other game in town.


    Cameron knows it.

    Sterling is underpinned by Scotland’s oil and gas.

    Vote YES.

    Humpty Dumpty is about to fall.

  12. A very good analysis. There is one particular and important issue on which I would comment.

    “Another key power is control of immigration. Scotland needs more Scots – in fact the population has been largely static for decades, which in itself is a real barrier to growth.”

    As a society we depend on reproducing ourselves generation after generation in order to continue to provide and improve those benefits we have decided that we want. These benefits include pensions, NHS, education, defence, all adding up to civilisation as we know it.

    There is a population problem in Scotland in that the age group distribution has become skewed with a preponderance of older people. We will have fewer people when the older ones die. What we need are younger people to fill the workplaces. (The Scottish Labour answer was to bring in immigrants from places that hardly know what a bagpipe is.)

    The problem is self-inflicted. The official Scottish Government figures show that some 600,000 abortions have been carried out in Scotland since the 1960s. Had that not happened those 600,000 Scots would have had children and we now would have an additional 1m people in Scotland, most less than forty years old. They would be working, socialising, voting and paying tax. All able to make the contribution referred to above. As a society we should have, and still could, choose to adopt unwanted children rather than promote unwonted immigration.

  13. Antoine

    Must take issue with your last para re abortion. You have no way of knowing if any of those pregnancies would have resulted in healthy children.

    • mogabee
      Thanks for your response.
      There really is no indication that aborted foetuses are less healthy than those that go to term. Many babies are born that are less than “healthy”, depending on how you define it. Approximately 1% of the foetuses aborted in Scotland have a “disability”. It would certainly be useful to have some clear statistical analysis. However such as they are, the figures suggest that 98%+ of aborted foetuses are, or would be, normal and healthy. Most abortions are carried out on social/psychological grounds.. The medical authorisation process (two doctors) is quite lax to the point that we have abortion on demand. We know from some research in England that abortions can be procured because the baby is the “wrong” sex.
      I really don’t think that your implied point that had these people come into the world we would have had to support and care for them because they could not do it for themselves carries much weight.
      Look up information on people with disabilities or congenital deformities and consider the world without them, without footballer Steven Gerrard, or writer Sir Walter Scott.

  14. I do not believe that I had any “implied point” other than stated.

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