LETTER FROM GERMANY 24th February 2014

Glenglassough Distillery

Bavarians, Prussians and the indy debate
Germans have a positive image of Scotland – though largely based on whisky, football and scenery

Up until a few months ago the usual German press coverage of Scotland was about football, tourism, whisky, music and an occasional human interest story such as the recent “German Shepherd with 2 noses” scoop. There have also been occasional articles about things green including Scottish government climate change targets and German wind energy companies opening offices in Edinburgh. So not much happening was the media verdict. More recently the number and length of articles has increased as the independence debate hots up and journalists are dusting off their maps of Scotland and getting out their school history books.

The Germans remember the 'glory days' of Scottish football
The Germans remember the ‘glory days’
of Scottish football
For some reason German commentators often remember the glory days of Scottish football and seem to give the results more coverage than you might expect for a smallish country in the top left hand corner of Europe. Tourism and Scotland is altogether a more distinctive topic. The Germans love to travel and Edinburgh and the Highlands are high on the wishlists as places to at least visit once. Reassuringly German visitors always seem to get a positive reception in Scotland and it is commonly reported that the natives are friendly.

Add in the increasing interest in malt whisky over here and the picture is broadly positive. To date the reporting of the independence debate has not fundamentally altered that cosy view but because the media is now getting into some detail on the subject then questions are coming up. You have to know that the press in Germany is more professional and more serious (“boring” is another description) than in the UK. Journalists are actually respected professionals and there is really only one equivalent of the British tabloids which is “Bild” and it is rather tame in comparison.

'Bild' - the nearest the Germans have to a tabloid
‘Bild’ – the nearest the Germans have
to a tabloid
Initially the reports of the debate were a straight translation of articles appearing in the British press, particularly the Guardian. However, following recent developments in the debate around the currency and the EU, journalists are developing their own views of the situation. A couple of things stand out. The first is that there is genuine appreciation of the calm and democratic approach of the campaign for independence. Germans are naturally on their guard when they hear the word nationalism but they are also keen students of history so have quickly understood that this has been a long and non-violent process.

The other point to note is that the typical analysis does not usually capture the gulf in political culture between Scotland and London so journalists here are often left wondering what the fuss is about. The perception of a clear contrast to the situation with Catalonia and Spain is marked and, in that case, characterized by real concern about the economic damage which would be caused by a secession of the Catalans. However, the dispute around an independent Scotland’s use of the pound and the future of North Sea oil has started to raise similar fears for the UK economy among German commentators.

Scottish independence - seen in the same light as the rivalry between Berlin and Munich
Scottish independence – seen in the same light as the rivalry between Berlin and Munich
The rivalry between the English and the Scots is a well-known cliché here but was thought to be similar to that between the Bavarians and the Prussians. That folksy picture is dissolving and historical references to Bannockburn (astonishingly many Germans actually know what happened at the Battle) and the Treaty of Union (ditto) backlit with gory images from the film Braveheart are creating a new awareness of the inherent differences between the 2 nations. Reporting has become much more thorough as a result and the complex issues are now being picked out and analysed. One example was a long article in the Handelsblatt (roughly equivalent to the Financial Times) which also looked at what the United Kingdom had given the world. Another daily, the Munich-based Suddeutsche Zeitung, commented in detail on the historical context of the debate for Scotland. There is no question of taking sides though, the tone of these articles is uniformly neutral.

Regardless of what happens after next September the likely outcome will be that the German press goes to sleep again on Scotland and we will be back in the journalistic world of double-nosed dogs. In the meantime over the next 6 months there is perhaps an interesting marketing opportunity for the Scots to use this heightened profile and take the chance sell more whisky and holidays.