HE was the pin-up of Scotland’s independence movement. And he is back.

In the years leading up to the big vote in September 2014, the world’s news media repeatedly used the same single image.

It was of a young fair-haired man in a kilt screaming in to a camera. He had Saltires clutched in both of his hands and a big blue Yes - and another Scottish flag - painted on to his bare chest.

The photograph re-emerged this weekend as tens of thousands of Yessers marched through Glasgow . Some picture editors, it seems, prefer old stock images with a distinct Braveheart vibe to the less glamorous (or certainly more clothed) reality of Saturday’s protest.

But the big march got a fair bit of international press coverage this weekend. Why? Well, because of all the kilts and bagpipes and drums and oh-so-many St Andrew’s Crosses. A big flaggy protest may be atypical for Scotland. But it was also stereotypical for newspapers and TV stations.


Die Zeit: Tens of thousands of Scots march for independence

This last week has been a big week for Scotland in global news media with three major stories. All ticked a box for Scottish cliche.

First came the long-expected minimum unit price for alcohol. It inspired some predictable headlines in countries where Scotland is best known for our national tipple.

“Scots will no longer be able to drink cheap whisky,” declared Moscow’s Izvestia. Russia has had minimum pricing for alcohol some time - per bottle rather than per unit. So the world’s first minimum pricing spin from the Scottish Government wasn’t much of a seller for Izvestia. The logic is clear: Scots? They’re careful with money but like a drink. So missing out on cheap whisky is the perfect headline.


80,000 Scots demand "independence now".

El Mundo in Madrid went down the same path. “Dry law in the land where whisky was born” was its headline on a rather thoughtful piece which combined an interview with a toothless 37-year-old alcoholic outside a Calton pub, with observations and how far its crime had fallen. “Glasgow boasts of being one of the most vibrant cities in the UK, despite its dark side,” its correspondent reported.

That’s the thing with stereotypes. Journalists love them. But what they really love about them is the chance to undermine them. And so it was with “banning cheap whisky”. By the end of last week news from Scotland had provoked debates across the EU.


El País 

The Berlin correspondent of Turin’s La Stampa reported that “German experts were looking at Scotland with envy”.  They, of course, worry about cheap beer, not cheap whisky. He cited one specialist, Raphael Gassmann,  saying “Beer, but also wine and other alcoholic drinks, today represent the cheapest drugs”.

Scotland was back in the headlines right after minimum pricing with the announcement of Steven Gerrard as the new manager of Rangers

Admittedly, much of that coverage focused on the man, not the club or country, and reflected huge interest in the English Premiership and UEFA Champion’s League.

However, many news reports did not feel the need in their headlines to explain what Rangers was or where it was from, suggesting the Scottish game has some brand recognition.

For years Scots may have had little to shout about on the terraces. But one of the few reasons foreigners would have to have even heard of Scotland is that, unlike most other non-sovereign states, it has its own national football team and league.


Russian sports media on Gerrard

And so Brazilian independent TV station Globo this week found itself explaining how Scotland’s third-placed team had three games left to challenge Aberdeen for second place. Il Sole 24 Ore in Milan stressed that Gerrard had turned down a side in England’s third tier. It said: “In Scotland Gerrard will have his first chance to put himself in front of a major European audience as a trainer.”

There was plenty of red-white-and-blue on display when Gerrard was announced by Rangers. There was not much of that particular colour combination on Saturday when 35,000 people rallied for independence in Glasgow.

But there were enough Union Jacks to catch the eyes of journalists and photographers always eager for a protest to have a little bit more than a mere gathering of people who agree with each other.

Paris magazine L’Express and newspaper Liberation ran the same wire agency copy speaking of the counter-demonstrations by unionists waving the British flag.

Scotland’s constitutional politics can be mystifying for foreign reporters. However, rivals brandishing different flags and banners? Now that is easy to “get”. Banal flaggy nationalism can be found everywhere, after all. Yet even here sharp-eyed correspondents, including those in Liberation and L’Express spotted something different: estelades, the pro-indy flags of Spain’s breakaway nation of Catalonia.

“Estalades tinge an independence rally in Scotland,” declared El Nacional in Barcelona. “The Catalan independence movement was well represented at the march where there were dozens of messages of solidarity with the situation endured by Catalonia,” its correspondent said before revealing yellow ribbons - the symbol of protest against Spain’s crackdown - had been for sale.

Here in Scotland, George Kerevan a former SNP MP and a columnist for The National, The Herald’s sister paper, described a Catalan Effect, where Scottish nationalists were trying to emulate the mass rallies of pro-independence groups in Catalonia. He has a point.

Catalans have now created an expectation for what the world media expects an independence movement to look like. Cliches are not just for nations.

HeraldScotland: El Nacional