Trade, Development, and Immigration

Haggis croquettes and the problem with compromise


Government and Institutions
Last week the City of London held their first attempt at a Burns night supper, with the First Minister and representatives of the Scottish Government as guests of honour.

It is a difficult tradition to get wrong. Largely it requires steaming piles of Scotland’s revenge on the sausage, poetry that the English politely pretend to understand while feeling vaguely threatened, and bonhomie to overcome it, enabled through litres of distillate infused with the flavour of an entire peat bog.

The City served haggis croquettes, with wine.

There’s possibly a Glaswegian satirist somewhere who’s just given up. “Ach I canne compete. The sassenach dough-monkeys just served wee Nicola a haggis croquette, on Rabbie Burns night! I’m breaking-me pen.”

Meanwhile in Shoreditch two Millenials have just set up the Haggis Croquette Cafe, serving Organic Iron-Bru made from recycled plastic girders. The haggis croquette is the most London-thing ever done in London.

I spent much of the evening talking to trade officials. Their job is to sell Scottish opportunity around the world and open up its markets.

This was interesting – how would descendants of Adam Smith visiting the birthplace of trade economist David Ricardo define their comparative advantage? What can Scotland do better than anyone else? What might they do well enough that they can carve out positions, despite larger rivals, better off leaving such things to Scotland? Fundamentally, how are they going to compete?

There was an uneasy pause after these questions. And then to paraphrase, “Oh no, we don’t want to compete, we want to cooperate! With everyone! Not being threatening, that’s our advantage!”

I feel very sure that Smith, on hearing this, would have reached out, to extend the invisible hand of history across time, to give this official a mild slap. “Encouraging competition, with and from other places, and then getting out of the way, is the whole point”, he might say.

Free trade underpinned by competition reduces prices for consumers. It encourages firms to invest in better ways of doing things, or shift to doing new things. In doing so it raises productivity, prosperity and progress in all markets.

Cooperation conversely speaks more to defending vested interests. You give our oatcakes geographic indicator protections, we’ll pretend your mooncakes can only be made on the moon. Rather than put the consumer at the heart of trade deals, it speaks to producers – the rules and bureaucracies that surround them and raise barriers to entry, often on specious grounds, or as straightforward protectionism. It encourages politicians and their officials to seek unpalatable compromises in trade deals rather than to confront difficult choices.

Back to the haggis croquette.

Rather than the representing an exchange between the oozing splendour of the Scottish haggis and the crunchy warm satisfaction of a French potato snack, it’s a sad soggy mess of both. It’s a prime symbol of our Brexit negotiation process – the promotion of terrible compromises when none are required. Only perhaps the architects might have also insisted it were run through with a soft layer of Irish soda bread, just in case there was a risk of anyone wanting to eat it. A compromise is not always better than making a choice.

Scotland additionally, in or out of the UK, does not need to mince around the world’s markets like a wee timorous beastie, hoping for cheese. It has an export and investment story to tell, and can tell it proudly. Push these officials for long enough and they’ll apologetically admit Edinburgh is a bit like London, only 40% cheaper, and brilliant at insurance and cybersecuity, alongside the whisky and culture.

In doing that less whimsically they help raise the ambition of the whole UK, and encourage other regions to compete. They might even convince the British Government to focus more on what investment climate it wants here, rather than on the compromising process games of officialdom. It’s what Smith and Burns would have wanted.

“Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis.”

Not a haggis croquette.

Andy Mayer is Chief Operating Officer, Company Secretary and Energy Analyst at the IEA. Andy is responsible for developing our people, all operations, and managing the reputation of the IEA, including for example over-turning the Charity Commission’s unlawful attempt to ban one of the IEA’s publications, and dealing with failed attempt to smear the organisation by activists at the same time. When not leading operations, Andy writes and comments on free market issues around energy and climate change, and occasionally general commentary. He was previously the Head of UK public affairs for the world’s largest chemical company and green energy advisor to the UK’s largest company. He has over 25 years of experience in strategic communications and the operations that support them in the business and think tank worlds.