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What Shall We Call Ourselves?

Blog - Is It Scotland?

A sporadic blog about Scotland and tourism that isn't grumpy all the time.  Promise.

What Shall We Call Ourselves?

Gilbert Summers

There are two sorts of areas in Scotland. With one you kind of know what you’ll get. With the other, well, it takes a bit more marketing effort...and sometimes, you just can’t argue with geography.

Take that bit of Scotland in its north-east. (Normally, I would just say THE North-East, but appreciate some of you furth of Scotland will think I'm talking about Newcastle way down there in England.)

Anyway, North-East Scotland has got a big city (Aberdeen), it’s got a coastline and it’s got an upcountry bit, the last two aspects labelled Aberdeenshire. How to promote it as a whole has been a preoccupation of the tourism folk for generations.

Years ago now I remember being asked by an agency with cash to spare to wheel round some hot-shot brand specialist from London, England (gasp) on a ‘familiarisation’ trip of Aberdeen(shire) so that he could pronounce on what marketing name Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire should have.

I took him to Aberdeen (where he was amazed to find it had an oil industry) and then upcountry (where he was surprised to find it had heathery hills and lochs, as I took him up Glen Muick).

Anyway, he went off to cogitate and then pronounced that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire should be called Aberdeen City and Shire. It was a bit like proclaiming that the best name for Mr Marks and Mr Spencer’s shop was definitely, uhmm, Marks & Spencer - and as for those garage owners, Mr Rolls and Mr Royce, well, he might be able to come up with something if the fee was right...

Oooh, look: heather, a rowan tree and big mountains - it must be 'The Highlands'. 

Oooh, look: heather, a rowan tree and big mountains - it must be 'The Highlands'. 

On the other hand, if you have the job of promoting ‘The Highlands’ - well, that’s a lot easier. There is less politically-motivated argy-bargy about what you call yourselves.

For promotional purposes using ‘Highland’ in your name doesn’t need a lot of explanation. It doesn’t take much research from a potential visitor to work out they’ll get mountains and tartans.

With the added bonus of Nessie, an internationally recognised icon living amongst lochs and hills, all tourism promoters have to do is bang on about the accommodation, the welcome and all that other stuff.

You don’t have to explain the experience. I suppose this trick also works for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs - with Loch Lomond famous as a romantic destination because of the song and the Trossachs because of that Scottish image maker, Sir Walter Scott, long ago.

Small areas of Scotland, such as Moray, in the shadow of the Highlands (in a sense), have a further problem when trying to work out their best shot. OK, it’s an old county; the name is associated with the Moray Firth, which has dolphins, which are kinda cute, but the most famous product is whisky which is up-country round the River Spey.

OK, another compromise: they’ve called themselves ‘Moray Speyside’ for marketing purposes - geographically a little confusing, but ‘Dolphins and Distilleries’ would just have been weird.

(Oh, and a word for aspiring tourism copywriters. Mention of Moray has just reminded me. Try to avoid the words ‘undiscovered’ and ‘hidden gem’ on the assumption that if any part of Scotland is still undiscovered then that will be for a reason - and it’s unlikely to be a good one. Moray is sometimes just 'overlooked' or 'uncrowded'. That's different. Thank goodness.)

A sunny summer day on the coast of the Scottish Borders. Not a rugby ball or flag-waving horse-rider in sight. 

A sunny summer day on the coast of the Scottish Borders. Not a rugby ball or flag-waving horse-rider in sight. 

Scotland is small but highly diverse. For example, in the Scottish Borders, I’ve always thought the folk of the coast - say, around Eyemouth, have much more of a common heritage with other east side fishing communities, from Fife to Caithness, than they have with the inland ‘Common Ridings’ towns, with their general horsiness, rugby, rivalry and sense of community pride.

Yet both are in the Scottish Borders. ‘Horses and Haddocks’ just wasn’t going to work. Instead, visitors can enjoy the diversity of the south of Scotland. And better a collective name than one that divides.

Finally, in this brief survey of what some parts of Scotland call themselves for tourism marketing purposes, there is an alternative, sometimes used south of the Scottish Border. Label your area with the name of a famous figure, usually literary, eg Bronte Country, Catherine Cookson Country and so on.

‘Burns Country’ is still a creaky kind of label associated with Ayrshire. It’s probably as old as ‘Scott Country’( which really belongs to the North British Railway’s promotional efforts in Victorian times) and here in Scotland it is also tentatively tried with the Lewis Grassic Gibbon Centre, south of Stonehaven, recalling one of Scotland’s finest writers of the 20th century, who died tragically young.

And, yes, it is true. Apparently, visitors still turn up to the Grassic Gibbon Centre asking where the monkeys are.  Moral: the key word here is ‘famous’ - really famous.

Is Moray in the Highlands really? Find out on that link.