One of the scariest things to come out of the recent revelations about big corporations avoiding paying their fair share of tax is trying to think of an alternative. A handful of big companies have become so dominant, that even if you are disgusted with them, it’s hard to imagine who else to use (think, for example, of trying to completely avoid Google). People swapping their Starbucks for a Nero in an effort to punish tax avoidance will sadly be switching one offender for another. And Amazon have a seemingly irreversible strangle hold on the book market, despite the bad stories about their tax avoidance and poor treatment of seasonal staff (stories that carry an extra sting when you recall that they have been on the receiving end of over £10m of Scottish Government subsidy).
Of course there’s a very good case for having a less consumerist Christmas altogether, by making gifts or sticking with the (often more interesting) second hand shops. But very few of us will avoid the retail whirl altogether, so instead of the chainstore giants, let’s seek out the alternatives, both online and on the high street (or perhaps more likely off the high street).
Glasgow still has some excellent independent record and book shops, and there are plenty of online retailers that are proud to wear their ethics on their sleeve. Sometimes these shops will cost a little more, but you might be surprised what a small difference there is on the pricetag. Independent cafes are often the places you’ll be really pleased you found, and offer something worth remembering instead of instantly forgettable blandness.
Besides, when you spend money in local independent retailers, that money stays in the local economy, and has a multiplier effect, meaning that it contributes to the success of other local shops. When you spend money on multinational corporations, all too often the money disappears into the offshore bank accounts of wealthy shareholders, with the only real value to the local economy being the wages. The economic crisis has revealed just how hollow this model is.
Aside from the clear economic benefits, there’s something inherently depressing about every town and city having the same shops on their high streets. It is so refreshing so walk along Queen Margaret Drive, Kings Court, or Otago Lane, and see the diversity of names and shop fronts and produce. Independent retailers, and independent minds, bring so much more to the mix than their corporate opponents.
I don’t think anyone expects people to stop using supermarkets or getting the odd bargain from Amazon; the tax avoiders are hard to avoid! But if we all just make that bit more of an effort to seek out our local independent retailers we can make a positive impact on the economy, and keep our city streets that little bit more alive. That’s what economic recovery would look like to me; not just another round of consumption for its own sake, but a celebration of the diversity independent businesses bring to life.