Hamish McRae: Ireland - A brand to make the rest green with envy

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The Independent Online

Some good news about Ireland. No, it's not that austerity seems to be working and that Dublin is regaining access to the financial markets and is now less dependent on life support from Europe. Austerity may indeed be working, but the social costs are huge and continuing, and they are falling largely on people who had nothing to do with the disaster. So any success has to be set against those costs.

No, the good news is quite different. Next month, on 17 March, St Patrick's Day, there will be a greening of the globe.

Many famous sites of the world have been floodlit in green on previous years, including the Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Empire State Building in New York. But this year for the first time they are joined by a number of firsts, including the Pyramids of Giza, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Welcome sign in Las Vegas, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, City Hall in Houston, the Citadel in Jordan, the Tower of Hercules in Galicia in Spain, the new EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, the International School in Bonn, the Allianz Arena in Munich – and HMS Belfast in London.

This is about the power of the brand. No other country is able to project an image (literally, actually) on the most famous sites of the world. The US can't do it, nor can the UK, though both have very strong cultural brands.

Scotland has got the words of its national poet, Robbie Burns, sung by upwards of a billion people every New Year – even if "Auld Lang Syne" does get pretty mangled in the process – but even Scotland cannot get itself on the pyramids.

What does it mean in economic terms? Not as much perhaps as it should, but in a world where everything is increasingly the same, any country that has a brand that can stand out will gain more and more.

It is just now a question of extracting more value, even if St Patrick would spin in his grave at the thought.