19th April 2012
The Economist, the magazine founded in 1843, has been annoying the people of Scotland, founded perhaps in 843 (although no one is exactly sure of the exact date)
Its latest UK edition features a map of that country on its cover. The cartography is fine – just the names have been changed. Scotland becomes Skintland, Glasgow translates into Glasgone, capital Edinburgh turns into Edinborrow (the magazine says it will truly become the Athens of the North), – and the Highlands, Grampians and Lothians convert into Highinterestlands, Grumpians and Loanlands.
It's telling readers what it thinks about Scotland, and its editors must see it as a major strike in a campaign much of the London financial and political establishment is running against the Scottish independence proposal .
Needless to say, it has angered many, especially north of border, including Scottish first minister Alex Salmond. Salmond has promised that "The Economist will "rue" this cover. The Daily Telegraph, voice of the London financial and political establishment, thinks he is suffering from a lack of a sense of humour.
So here's a way for the five millions inhabitants of Skintland to get their own back on the magazine.
Scots' financial revenge on The Economist
Their revenge could be to live up to the Economist's labelling of their country and
take out the £1 subscription offer. The Economist is offering 12 issues to new readers for just £1. Sometimes, it even adds in an extra such as a memory stick or a book.
It's a loss leader. The idea is to sign up readers with this near giveaway deal and then hope they continue but pay more in subsequent months. It's hard to nail the exact cost of this offer but it must conservatively be around £12 once the printing, postage, free gift and administration is costed in.
Now if just one million Scots signs up to this and remembers to cancel in time, the magazine will lose about £12m. It can afford this but it would be noticeable all the same.
I admit I am not a fan of The Economist. I've tried it perhaps six or seven times but never get past the first half of the magazine in the first issue and increasingly less thereafter until unopened copies go straight to recycling.
But prejudices apart, what is wrong with the Scotland issue?
Let's start with the magazine's analysis of Scotland. The leader article has attracted over 1,600 online comments, a great web success which it could never have done without the cover and the attendant publicity.
History is bunk
The leader starts with why Scotland entered the union with England 300 years ago, ignoring that times have changed and the world map then and the world map now are largely unrecognisable. More pertinently, it mentions the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland fiascos. But what about some further analysis? Would RBS and BoS have been content to have reigned in Scotland had they not been urged to become global players. And who urged them? Not Edinborrow but the City of Lend-on.
Arguably, that's the leader column and it is entitled to have its opinionated say. It's what the Daily Mail does. But the main article on Scottish independence does not take the matter any further. There is little in it other than negativity for the nationalist line and approval of the pro-unionist effort. As a small country, Scotland only has (declining) oil, (declining) financial services and luxury goods.
It reflects a London-centric world view. Investors into the UK might question that if Scotland would be as economically unhinged by a break-up as the article suggested, then it might be better if England went it alone. There is nothing here from the economic case for independence. It is one-sided.
The Economist is a great believer in free markets and liberal freedoms. Did it condemn the break-up of the Soviet Union two decades ago because it created a large number of small countries, many of which might have been economically non-viable or did it support its dissolution on the grounds of freedom, individualism, and progress.
Europe's shining light dimmed
And what about Ireland? Has The Economist argued that Dublin should succumb again to rule from London? And did it welcome the "Celtic Tiger"? Certainly. In May 1997, its front cover had a map of Europe with the Republic of Ireland highlighted – literally – as Europe's shining light.
It wrote at the time: "Ireland's transformation is so dazzling that it blinds outsiders to the deeper social and cultural change of which it is, in fact, only one aspect. For centuries, Ireland defined itself in relation to Britain, as a victim."
A decade later, the light had gone out. With a publication that has taken the name of The Economist, a more nuanced – dare one say Mindful – analysis might have been more usable for investors, politicians and all the others it claims to influence.
It's not a question of right and wrong. Rather, it's about a transatlantic attitude to economies that brooks little discuss
ion, leading to a smugness that it is "THE Economist". Yes, the Daily Mail does assuredness and smugness as well. But world leaders ignore it and readers treat it as their daily treat of cellulite bearing celeb bashing.
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