On the 18th September 2014, Scotland became an independent country. Later that day, as the votes were counted and when the “No” vote won the Scottish Referendum, Scotland returned to the 307 year old union with England, Northern Ireland and Wales. However, for a short period at least, it was independent. I decided to write a little on this subject, because here in Asia this historic occasion perhaps didn’t receive full coverage – for reasons which I will let you speculate on privately. Very few people I have met in Malaysia were, for instance, aware of the process, the ramifications of the referendum and how it acted as a kind of bell-weather for many of the issues that we are grappling with globally as our societies become increasingly, paradoxically connected and disconnected. For me, it was a fascinating process to watch, albeit from afar. Issues of identity, culture, devolution and globalization, along with of course history and nationalism, were played out on a grand scale, where the stakes couldn’t be higher. The question in the referendum was amazingly simple: “Should Scotland become an independent country?” The voters – resident Scots, were given a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to decide their own fate. This already created an interesting linguistic dynamic to the campaign. I think it is harder to lobby for a negative – a “no” – than for a “yes”. You are turning something down, unsure of what you may be missing out on. So this infused the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns with a different sense of energy. The ‘yes’ campaign painted a picture of a liberated, autonomous Scotland, a kind of Scandinavian, nuclear-free liberal paradise. They were ‘selling’ if you will, a dream of something new and better. I would argue the ‘no’ camp had a much more difficult task: to persuade Scotland that the country was – in their campaign rhetoric – “better together” in the Union. Through clever use of this phrase, plus framing their no vote as a vote for change as well (albeit less radical than a yes vote) the no campaign won out in the end. But it was close (54% to 46%). Think about the ramifications if the ‘yes’ vote had won – of course a new country would have been born with all the fiscal and political issues this would have created. More trivial, but important on a symbolic level the Union Jack flag, the iconic symbol of Britishness (and amazing piece of design in its own right – http://www.know-britain.com/general/union_jack.html) would have been no more. Passports would have been redesigned. Truly a shocking thought for a Britain that a hundred years ago had an empire upon which “the sun never set”. Having lived in Kuala Lumpur for the last 4 years, I have witnessed a level of energy and engagement with politics that I had never seen in the UK. As the various pressures and valves and gears in Malaysian politics grind forwards, movements like Bersih (the electoral reform movement) and the fact that the opposition won the popular vote in the last election have pulled in a sector of the urban young to take part in the political sphere. In the UK, the level of disengagement with the political class, their language and the sense that any meaningful change would actually happen, is significant. A Scottish referendum turnout of 84.5% is testament to how giving people a say in the big decisions can re-engage them with the political process. It is something we would of course never see in Asia, sadly, this mass engagement in a truly democratic process – at least in the near future, despite the changes and progress we see in places like Myanmar and here in KL. Part of the problem with UK politics of old, is the language and connection with the people. Complex problems and processes are not subjected to the rigorous communications process that happens – for example – out of competitive necessity in the corporate world. Apple makes hugely complex machines, but it works just as hard to make them simple to use. The political world has rarely such pressure to communicate simply and clearly to a broad audience. The Scottish referendum, by its black and white nature, forced a different type of debate and dialogue that electrified the country, all for the better. I was proud to see British democracy leading and setting such an example. So what has this to do with branding? Well on one level, ‘brand Britain’ has survived, just, from a close brush with death. It shows that even the most established brands must evolve and move with the times to remain relevant. I had always thought of “Britishness” to be a fixed concept – something set in concrete and “timeless” – like red double-decker buses, HP Sauce and Shakespeare. Of course it is not. And for a few months at least, many of us Brits had to consider what Britishness would consist of in a Disunited Kingdom. Certainly it will never be the same. And so with brands. The biggest and strongest brands must adapt. New products, new audiences, old audiences buying new products. What is the core, the sense of self and how can this flex – ‘freedom in a brand framework’ – across the different areas and developments of the business. A truly great brand knows itself and is confident enough to do this successfully.