Has Harris Tweed 'de-Scottishified' to appease US?

Manufacturers of Harris Tweed may be hiding their Scottish roots to avoid offending reactionary Americans.

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

If you’re anything like us, you may have been horrified to learn this weekend that manufacturers of Harris Tweed, the luxury Scottish cloth favoured by hunters and tweedy-types across the land, have dropped all references to their Scottishness from their US marketing material – apparently because they were scared of alienating Americans up in arms about the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. OK, so there has supposedly been a slight backlash against Scottish products in the wake of the controversial decision. But does that really justify denouncing a 180-year heritage? Not surprisingly, the firms involved have been quick to play down the story this morning...

Mark Hogarth, who’s the creative director of Harris Tweed Hebrides (the biggest of the firms allowed to make the stuff) was quoted in several papers as saying that his company had decided ‘to de-Scottishify the image of the brand’ because of the furore over Megrahi’s release – which he says was seen as a purely Scottish decision. ‘We are quite worried’, he added helpfully, for the purposes of clarification. The Times reports that several Scottish firms have received threats of a boycott from their US customers, including Walkers Shortbread (quite what these people hope to achieve by switching to Oreos is beyond us, but there you go) and various other purveyors of tenuously-Scottish-themed tat. So it’s true that the Megrahi decision has gone down very badly on the other side of the pond.

However, the company’s chairman Brian Wilson told the BBC today that Hogarth had been ‘misrepresented’. Apparently he wasn’t saying that the company would drop all Scottish references; just that it would place more emphasis on its island roots (which in fact it always has done anyway). The whole thing had been ‘blown out of all proportion’ and was ‘really quite dangerous nonsense’, he insisted. So when Hogarth talked about a plan to ‘de-Scottishify the image of the brand’, he wasn’t in any way suggesting that there was a plan to de-Scottishify the image of the brand. Is that clear? (On the off chance that you think this sounds a bit mealy-mouthed, it’s probably worth pointing out at this juncture that Wilson used to be a Labour government minister)

So the good news – possibly – is that Harris Tweed will remain Scottish, whatever those irate Americans say (they’ll just have to get used to living without overcoats, shortbread and whisky). And there’s another benefit to this whole spat: at least a few more Americans will actually know where/ what Scotland is now.


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