On Sunday 13th September The Sunday Telegraph ran a story stating that Harris Tweed Hebrides had decided to disassociate itself from Scotland in it’s promotional material due to a backlash they were experiencing in the USA - apparently caused by the release of Al Megrahi.
The story was picked up by The Times as well as Scottish newspapers including The Scotsman and The Daily Record who ran it on Monday. Within 24 hours though, the story had been comprehensively torn apart by Harris Tweed Chief Executive Ian Mackenzie who described the reports as “nonsense” and that Harris Tweed was a “Scottish icon”.
Mackenzie went on to say:
"Harris Tweed Hebrides have never once thought about, far less spoken about, dropping the word Scottish. "We are a Scottish company. We are all proud Scots and we will continue to sell Harris Tweed all over the world as a Scottish product made in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland."
Asked whether there had been a backlash against Scottish tweed following Megrahi's release on compassionate grounds, Mr. Mackenzie said: "Absolutely none. We sell about 5% of our product in the US and we have been speaking to people in the market over the past few weeks. "There has been no reaction whatsoever. We would not expect any reaction."
The story had already traveled the globe before Mr. Mackenzie highlighted it as fictitious garbage – so, the question is: Who was behind it?
A clue may be found when we look at the identity of Harris Tweed Chairman, for it is none other than former Labour government minister and well known critic of the SNP Brian Wilson, who has already publicly attacked Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill’s decision to release Al Megrahi on compassionate grounds.
On the morning after the publication of the original article Brian Wilson miraculously appeared on BBC Scotland’s ‘Good Morning Scotland’ where, although denying that the firm was ‘trying to hide it’s Scottishness’, confirmed the thrust of the story by stating that “I think all that was said was that in the current climate we will emphasise the Hebrides”. Wilson also claimed that other Scottish firms had expressed stronger concerns, although he did not name these firms.
The journalist who broke the story is one Auslan Cramb who cited as his source Harris Tweed Hebrides' creative director Mark Hogarth, it was comments attributed to Mr. Hogarth that led to the article being written. However what isn’t clear is how these two came together and at who’s behest it was that Cramb spoke to Hogarth – if indeed he ever did?
Harris Tweed has been used as a club with which to beat Kenny MacAskill, the story however was fabrication and Harris Tweed has had to endure damaging publicity as a result - Brian Wilson may have some questions to answer from those at the firm. The reputation of Auslan Cramb, the journalist who broke the story, has also been badly damaged.
The myth of an ‘American backlash’ is one of the by-products of the politicising of the Megrahi release issue. This fabricated story is indicative of the vacuous nature of such a claim. It also serves as a reminder that the reputations of Scottish institutions and/or businesses is considered mere collateral damage by those who seek to peddle this myth.
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