Activists seek to ride SNP surge to water down "Big Whisky"
Herald Scotland, by Colin Donald
A group of SNP activists is tabling a motion for this year’s party conference in Aberdeen to promote Scottish Government intervention in the Scotch Whisky industry.
The group, which includes a former drinks company executive, a trade unionist, and affilates of the Common Weal think tank claims that Scotch, "an extraordinarily valuable commodity" is not delivering sufficient jobs and economic benefit to Scotland under current, largely multinational, ownership.
The delegates hope to urge Scotland’s ruling party to use its strengthened mandate to challenge the ownership structure and alleged economic "underperformance" of the nation’s premium consumer export.
A spokesman said: "Scotch’s provenance has huge commercial value and it is our view that it is the duty of the SNP to do all it can ensure that Scotland’s people benefit from this bounty."
The proposed motion, to be submitted this week, is in the name of EIS official Bill Ramsay (Glasgow Southside Central Branch) and Donnie Blair (Edinburgh Central), a former Diageo executive and an longstanding critic of the Scotch Whisky Association, the industry’s Edinburgh-based representative body.
The proposed motion reads: "Conference calls upon the Scottish Government to establish a task force to consider… how to further develop the employment potential of the Scottish whisky industry.. to look at the feasibility of reforming the licensing regime for distilleries… to ensure that more of the revenue raised from the activities of the industry stay in stay in Scotland [and to] examine the feasibility of increasing the revenue of the industry"
Ramsay said : "The closing date for motions is next week when the standing orders and agenda committee will meet,"
"The first hurdle is to ensure it’s on the list of motions and then we would like to be sure that if it is on the agenda, it’s not motion six on a Friday, when things can fall off the end, if you get my drift. We will be trying to ensure that our motion is taken first."
Common Weal blogger Ben Wray wrote last week: "[Scotch is] an extraordinarily profitable industry. It is perfectly understandable that the multinationals who own most of it want to minimise investment and maximise relative returns. This motion is really very modest but when viewed by the perspective of the industry majors, very dangerous. If taken up by the Scottish Government, the discourse around how the industry is regulated will effectively take place in public for the first time."
The group is concerned that the majority of the industry (around 83%) is owned outwith Scotland, that the majority of raw materials (around 98%) are sourced from suppliers outwith Scotland, along with the majority of the high-value jobs. It also cites the research of the Oxford economist Prof. John Kay who has estimates that only about 2% of global revenues stay in Scotland.
According to the SWA, which has previously rejected Blair’s analysis, Scotch generated £3.95 billion for the UK balance of trade, contributing £1b n to the Exchequer in taxes. They claim that the industry employees over 10,000 "many in economically deprived areas", as well as supporting over 40,000 jobs across the UK.