Meeting date: Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 27 February 2018
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Healthy Weight Strategy, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Update, Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Healthy Weight Strategy
- European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Update
- Point of Order
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)
Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10433, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on the Scotch whisky industry’s contribution to the Scottish tourism industry. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. Members who wish to speak in the debate should press their request-to-speak buttons now.
That the Parliament recognises the contribution that Scotch whisky makes to the Scottish tourism sector; believes that 2016 saw a record number of visits to Scotch whisky distilleries, totalling 1.7 million, meaning that Scotch whisky distilleries, as a tourist attraction, are as popular as the Scottish National Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral; understands that the average visitor spend was £31 per person and £53 million overall in 2016; welcomes the new distillery to Hawick by The Three Stills Company, the first in the Scottish Borders since 1837, where a local visitor centre is planned, and wishes new and old whisky distilleries continued success in the coming year and beyond.17:10
It is a pleasure to rise to my feet today to praise and highlight the great work of the Scottish whisky industry and the boost for tourism that it provides.
All over the world, Scotland is known for its national drink. From New York to Tokyo to Sydney, Scottish whisky is bought and sold in restaurants, bars and shops. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, 39 bottles are exported every second, and it accounts for 80 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively, of all Scottish and British food and drink exports. On a recent trip to Brussels, I reminded Michel Barnier that the French consume more Scotch whisky than they do cognac, to which he replied that he is partial to the stuff himself. We are, quite rightly, proud to be able to sit down in almost any establishment in the world and peruse a list of countless whiskies, many of which are produced only a matter of miles from our own front doors.
I am proud to tell members that that will soon be the case for me in my constituency. For the first time since 1837—more commonly known as the year when Queen Victoria acceded to the throne—whisky will be produced in the Scottish Borders. The Three Stills Company is currently putting the finishing touches to its distillery in Hawick. The Borders has a proud history in food and drink; I look forward to the future growth of the sector, which will shortly include that whisky distillery. It is a pleasure to welcome the company’s representatives and those of many other whisky companies to the Scottish Parliament today. Nothing excites my staff more than having a day dedicated to whisky.
Like many other distilleries across Scotland, the Three Stills Company will look to capitalise on the growing tourism boost that has been seen in the whisky industry and the tourism sector as a whole. World-famous brands bring with them global-reaching interest, and it is great that tourists from all around the world are drawn to visit a world-leading industry at work—and, of course, to try a few drams along the way. I pay tribute to all those who have played their part in the achievement, from tour guides to tour operators, as part of the wider Scottish success story.
Members will be aware that 1.7 million people visited a whisky distillery in 2016. That number is up by a quarter on the number in 2010; no doubt the number will have grown even more in 2017, with the boom in the number of international visitors to Scotland. The draw of “Outlander” has undoubtedly played a part in attracting tourists, as has the creative and tailor-made north coast 500 whisky heritage discovery tour, which showcases the best that the Highland region has to offer.
Because of the very nature of our whisky making, many of the jobs that are provided by the industry are located in rural areas; about 70 per cent of people who are directly employed by whisky companies live in rural areas. That means better career opportunities in those areas for young people, which allows them to stay where they grew up and contribute to their communities. As whisky tourism grows, so too will the number of jobs. I hope that that will go some way towards ensuring that the balance of the Scottish economy is not further weighted towards our main cities and urban areas.
Tourism skills should become a priority for us all, as brand Scotland and brand Great Britain become ever more popular around the world. Only yesterday, I held—with the developing the young workforce programme, Borders College and local businesses—a tourism event for 150 secondary 4 pupils from across the Borders to highlight the massive opportunities that tourism presents, from brewing to distilling to becoming a tour guide.
The whisky industry, whether it is exporting products or importing tourists, will be of great value as the United Kingdom embarks on a new chapter in its global ambitions. It was great to see just a few weeks ago the Prime Minister, alongside the chief executive officer of the Scotch Whisky Association, Karen Betts, securing a 10-year renewal of the Scotch whisky trade mark in China. Currently, 25 bottles are exported to China every minute. It is right that our great brand is protected, which paves the way for even more sales in the future, as the Chinese taste for luxury British, Scottish and European products increases.
That is another compelling reason for the Edinburgh-China air link project, which I am sure we all agree is well overdue and which will make it easier for Chinese tourists to come and see our fantastic distillery tours.
Recent figures show that the USA continues to be our biggest export market in terms of value. That looks set to continue as the Americans’ appreciation of single malts grows. We are all very aware of the importance of American tourists to Scotland, whether for whisky or otherwise, and I hope that that continues for many years to come.
Of course, it is worth noting that not all visitors to our distilleries are from overseas. Yes—many of our main export markets, including China and the USA, are significant sources of whisky tourism, but so are Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
I remind members that not all whisky tourism visits are to distilleries. In my previous role as an MSP for South Scotland, I had the pleasure of enjoying the whisky experience at the Glenkinchie distillery in East Lothian. As well as going on the historical timeline tour, customers are educated on how to enjoy and taste whisky, which I certainly enjoyed. Glenkinchie also takes its commitment to the environment seriously and has created wildlife walks among the cooling ponds in the grounds.
It is a pleasure to bring to the attention of Parliament our thriving whisky tourism industry. Members are all very aware—as, I am sure, is Her Majesty’s Treasury in London—of the importance of the Scotch whisky brand and of valuing the tourism that it brings as a consequence. That will be even more important in the coming years, as we strike new trade deals around the globe as well as with the European Union—deals that will perhaps be better suited to UK industries—to ensure a global Scotland, a global Britain and a global Scotch whisky industry.17:17
I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate so that we can celebrate the Scotch whisky industry and everything that it contributes to Scotland. I expect that we will all be in the mood for a dram after we have listened to the various speeches. I am, already.
Scotch whisky is a global and Scottish phenomenon. It is the most successful food or drink export from Scotland and the whole UK. It sustains tens of thousands of jobs throughout Scotland—in particular, in more rural areas. Therefore, it is important to recognise that its economic contribution relates not just to manufacturing, but to the fact that it invites many people to visit our country, the distilleries and the visitor centres, and to see where the whisky is produced.
Whisky is a phenomenal success story and we should make as much as possible of the fact that it has contributed so much to the Scottish brand throughout the world. Around the world, people associate Scotland with quality products that they can trust, uniqueness and, of course, fantastic landscapes. Scotch whisky has opened doors throughout the world for other products, which is why it is so important to the country.
The fact that, as the Scotch Whisky Association says, 30 new distilleries are being planned or built at the moment is a sign of fantastic confidence in the sector. My constituency includes Speyside, where 50 per cent of Scotch whisky is produced. I am lucky enough to represent something like 45 to 50 distilleries.
A number of distilleries have been newly built in Speyside in the past few years, on top of the enormous number that we already have. Some of the bigger distilleries, including Glenlivet or Macallan, have in the past few years expanded even more or are being expanded at the moment. Macallan is investing more than £100 million in building near Craigellachie a new distillery that will be a visitor attraction in its own right. Its architects are world famous and reckon that the number who will visit the new distillery will be double the number who visited the old one.
The industry is going from strength to strength in Speyside and throughout the country but, as Rachael Hamilton said, the tourism is not just about people visiting distilleries. In Speyside, for example, we have the Keith and Dufftown railway. At one end of the railway line, we have the picturesque Strathisla distillery, which many people visit. At the other end of that heritage railway we have the Glenfiddich distillery, which is also a major tourist attraction in its own right and produces a very successful Scotch whisky. Talks are going on about expanding the role of that whisky line in Speyside in order to attract even more visitors to Scotland.
I want to make the point that whisky is not just about the magic of the malted barley, the spring water, the yeast, the casks and the nose; it is also about its folklore and its place in Scottish history. That is why I very much welcome the current efforts to recognise the role of smuggling in Speyside in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, which of course forms the bedrock of the Scotch whisky industry that we have today. George Smith, the founder of the Glenlivet distillery, was a smuggler before he opened the first licensed distillery in Speyside in 1824. That folklore is important and can play a huge role in attracting even more tourists to Speyside and, indeed, to other parts of Scotland.
The Cabrach Trust is talking about building a new historical distillery in the Cabrach, where there have been many illicit stills over the centuries, and it also wants to open a heritage centre in order to tell more of the story of the role of the Cabrach in illicit distilling. It is reckoned that between Glenrinnes, Glenlivet and the Cabrach, there were 400 illicit stills in the 16th and 17th centuries. As I said, that is the bedrock of the Scotch whisky industry that we have today. I hope that the distilleries, the whisky companies and the communities can get together and celebrate the social history as well as the economic history, in order to ensure that we attract more people to Scotland.
There is much more that can be done to attract whisky tourists to Scotland. I hope that the companies can work more closely together with local authorities, VisitScotland and the Scottish Government, and I hope that the minister will give some thought to how that can be achieved in the next few years—provided, of course, that we get through Brexit and maintain the current protection for Scotch whisky, which is an important political priority for the Scottish Government.17:21
We are fortunate to live in a beautiful country that, despite our somewhat unpredictable weather, draws people from all over the world to enjoy the scenery, history and culture that Scotland offers. Since the years when the writings of Sir Walter Scott and the paintings of the artists of the early Victorian era first attracted English tourists to Scotland, an added attraction has been that Scotland is the home of the world’s finest whiskies.
Through the decades, Scotch whisky and its links to the economic benefits that tourism brings have grown and grown. More than half of Scotland’s distilleries now welcome visitors: as we have heard, in 2016, there were 1.7 million visits to distilleries. We could say that that means that Scotch whisky distilleries rank among many well-known UK attractions, including the Scottish national gallery and St Paul’s cathedral. In financial terms, visitors’ spend at distilleries was almost £53 million.
The popularity of Scotch whisky continues to take the name and reputation of Scotland to the four corners of the globe. Although people from the rest of the UK are vital to Scottish tourism, the largest numbers of visitors come from Germany, France and the United States, with the United States and France being two of the largest markets by value for Scotch. Scotch exports to many other mature and emerging markets have increased, and there has been a marked return to growth in the Chinese market and in exports to Japan.
Such is the popularity of whisky that about 20 per cent of tourists now include a distillery visit while they are in Scotland. About 30 new distilleries are either planned or are being built, and for many new-build distilleries a state-of-the-art visitor centre is front and centre of their plans. Visitors are spending more than ever at distilleries—the average spend is £31 per person.
Although distilleries are undoubtedly concentrated in some parts of the country, including the Highlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown, and do much to boost the economies of those areas, I want to highlight that there are also lowland distilleries, such as Glengoyne and Glenkinchie. Further, later this year, a new distillery will open in my region. It is many years since residents of Falkirk lost the distillery that produced Rosebank, which was known as the king of lowland malts, so I know that many of my constituents are looking forward to the Falkirk distillery opening near Polmont. It will recognise the importance of attracting visitors by offering retail and restaurant facilities as well as the whisky experience. Because it is in close proximity to attractions such as Blackness castle—which appears in “Outlander”—Callendar house, the Kelpies and the Falkirk wheel, the distillery and visitor centre will seek to attract up to 75,000 visitors a year.
Lowland malts are known for their malty, zesty flavours, with slightly fruity, citrusy and sometimes floral notes. I am sure that with a description like that for its product, the new Falkirk distillery will add to the existing tourist attractions in the Falkirk Council area.
It is difficult to overestimate whisky’s contribution to the Scottish tourism industry, or the potential that still exists for growth in the sector. As more distilleries open their doors and improve and expand their offering, I am confident that it is one industry that can look forward to a bright and glowing future.
Slàinte mhath, as they say.17:25
I, too, thank Rachael Hamilton for creating this opportunity to talk about the wonderful Scottish product that is whisky. It is almost impossible to imagine that, between 1837 and now, there was no informal production of whisky in Rachael Hamilton’s constituency, as there was right across Scotland. Indeed my father, as a GP in Fife, used to get the occasional informal bottle from one of his patients in the 1950s and 1960s.
I have an intern working with me at the moment—Chase, who is from the United States. He tells me that, prior to departing for Scotland, he received three questions: whether he would be buying a kilt, whether he would be trying haggis and how many whisky tours he would be tagging along for. Thus far, he has had no budget for a kilt, he has yet to try haggis and he has been on only one tour, so he still has a lot to do. That is testament to how much is known about whisky and how important it is as a symbol or emblem of Scotland and Scottish tourism.
Why does whisky account for such a large proportion of our food and drink exports? I suggest that it is because of its diversity. We have a whisky for every occasion and palate, with or without food. I have a pal who shared a tiny portion of whisky out of a bottle that cost £1,000. I will not buy such a bottle, and I noticed the care with which my friend resealed the bottle to ensure that there was no escape. There is a little bit of magic in every bottle of whisky.
There is also a bit of a gender issue around whisky. It is predominantly thought of as being a male drink, so I welcome the fact that, yesterday, Johnnie Walker produced a new bottle of whisky called the Jane Walker, which has a young lady on the label instead of the man in the top hat. That has not necessarily gone down terribly well. Maura Judkis wrote a long and amusing article for The Washington Post yesterday, at the end of which she says, “This article is satirical.” If we are to change the gender issue around whisky, we might need to be a little more cautious about how we do it.
Huge numbers of people visit distilleries. My constituency has four, and I hope to get Chase up to visit some of them, to multiply his one visit to a distillery. The Isle of Arran distillery had more than 100,000 visitors in 2017. The numbers keep going up, and most distillers have found it useful to have a visitor centre to increase knowledge of whisky and to let people see the skills involved and the setting for this wonderful drink that goes across the world.
I often make personal references in my speeches, so I cannot let pass the opportunity to mention my father’s cousin, James Stevenson, later Lord Stevenson, who was the managing director of Johnnie Walker when the symbol that is currently on the label was introduced. As part of Lloyd George’s Government, he was responsible for the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, which meant that whisky was kept in bond for three years, which improved its quality and marketability. He was also responsible for the fact that the English got a football stadium: Wembley.
I am stunned. I call Colin Smyth, to be followed by Sandra White.17:29
As we always say after Stewart Stevenson has spoken, that is a difficult act to follow.
As other members have done, I thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing to the chamber today’s motion, which has provided us with the opportunity to celebrate the significant contribution that whisky makes to Scottish tourism. I am particularly delighted that the motion comes from a fellow member who represents the south of Scotland. It is all part of our long-term plan for the south of Scotland to take over from the Highlands and Islands as Scotland’s whisky capital. Joking aside, the Lowlands, where we have Scotland’s most accessible distilleries, have always played an important role in Scotland’s whisky heritage. After a decline in Lowland distilleries in the 18th and 19th centuries, that contribution is growing once again—and not just in the production of traditional Lowland light, unpeated whiskies. Rachael Hamilton highlighted the really exciting plans for Hawick, where the Three Stills Company is constructing the first whisky distillery in the Scottish Borders—having listened to Stewart Stevenson, I should say the first legal one—since 1837.
I would like to take members on a Lowland whisky trail slightly further west, into my home region of Dumfries and Galloway, where tourism is crucial to the local economy, attracting £300 million a year in visitor spend and supporting over 7,000 local jobs. It is an inspiring region whose unique towns and villages, unspoiled beauty, truly contrasting landscapes and mesmerising history offer visitors so much. We have an abundance of rare wildlife in our stunning forests, fantastic sandy beaches along our coastline and some of the clearest skies in Europe to gaze up to from the dark skies park in Galloway. We also boast the highest village in Britain in Wanlockhead, the food town in Castle Douglas, the artists’ town in Kirkcudbright, Scotland’s national book town in Wigtown, the marriage capital in Gretna Green and, of course, the football capital of the world in Palmerston Park, where Queen of the South play. Okay—maybe the final one of those is not true. However, whether visitors are into ice cream, mountain biking through a forest or flying along one of Europe’s longest zip wires, Dumfries and Galloway has a wonderful and growing tapestry of attractions, which I am delighted to say now includes Scotland’s first whisky distillery across the border: the Annandale distillery.
The rebirth of the Annandale distillery is a wonderful story that deserves to be shared. It was originally established in 1836 and its doors were closed by the then owner, Johnnie Walker, in 1918, seemingly forever—until Professor David Thomson and his wife Teresa Church happened across the derelict distillery when they were walking in the Annandale countryside. Fascinated by the history and potential of the distillery, David and Teresa rescued the ruins in 2007. After a significant investment of nearly £11 million, the distillery sprang back into life on 3 November 2014, complete with visitor shop and cafe. I had the pleasure of meeting David and Teresa for the first time around five years ago, when I was the chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s economy committee and the council was supporting the rebirth of the distillery, recognising the huge contribution that it could make to the local economy. Since then, I have followed closely the fascinating story of Annandale, including the careful development of its distinctive logo: a ship’s sail, which pays tribute to Annan’s rich maritime history and shipbuilding heritage.
On 15 November 2017, I had the pleasure of attending the breaching of the first barrel at the restored Annandale distillery, and I can tell members that the 99-year wait since Johnnie Walker closed the doors was very much worth it. Annandale distils two whiskies, whose names derive from two famous Roberts. Man o’ Swords is a smoky, peated whisky that is named after the seventh Earl of Annandale, Robert the Bruce. The mellow, fruity, unpeated Man o’ Words celebrates Scotland’s national bard and local hero Robert Burns, who famously penned “The De’il’s awa wi’ th’ Exciseman” while he lodged in Annan. Indeed, given that Annandale was probably an illegal distillery at the time that Burns was a local exciseman, Professor Thomson speculates, in conducting his owner’s tours, that he might well have visited the distillery. Of course, there is no guarantee that he did, but it is a cracking story nonetheless.
That is what makes Annandale distillery the perfect example of why distillery visits are so popular. Each is distinctive, with its own fascinating history and stories. They often display stunning craftsmanship. Annandale has been painstakingly restored, with many unique features that have been crafted locally to the highest standards, blending tradition with the demands of a modern distillery. It is little wonder that it is attracting visitors from right across the world, including from Annandale in Virginia, while making a major contribution to the local economy of a relatively small rural town in a highly competitive tourism market.
Annandale joins Dumfries and Galloway’s other distillery, Bladnoch, the history of which dates back to 1817. After a recent period of closure, it is once again producing whisky, is undergoing significant investment and will soon reopen to visitors. Together, Annandale and Bladnoch continue the fine tradition of producing delightful traditional whiskies in the Lowlands. I highly recommend both to all members.17:34
I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing this important debate. It is certainly important with regard to the uniqueness of whisky and what it means to Scotland in exports and people visiting Scotland. They do not come here just for the whisky, but that is part of the experience. When I go home tonight, I will have a wee hot toddy, which might help my cold, and that is part of it, too.
Members have mentioned whisky from various areas. Once I have mentioned my experience, I will give a history lesson.
We now have the Clydeside distillery in Glasgow, which is a £10.5 million project in the iconic pump house between the Riverside museum and the Hydro arena. I am very proud of the fact that Tim Morrison and his family got together, recognising the potential, and built the distillery and visitor centre there. It opened just before Christmas 2017, and I have had the pleasure of going there. There are 25 employees and the distillery is advertising for more. There is a great video display that tells people all about the whisky experience.
The reason why I want to talk about history is that Tim Morrison’s great-grandfather built the pump house in 1877, so building the distillery on that iconic site is like coming home for Mr Morrison and his family. However, it is not just about that. There is a fantastic history of distillers in Glasgow and the Clydeside, and, with the boats coming in and out, whisky was exported from there. I will give members a wee bit of history so that they will thank Glasgow for the fact that whisky is made here in Scotland.
I do not want to be political about it, but the story starts way back in 1707, when Glaswegians were not very happy with the situation between England and Scotland. To stop any riots in the streets, they were not allowed to have gatherings of more than three people in the street. People were incensed about various things so there was rioting, which started when the British Government decided to start collecting the first malt tax, in 1725.
Glaswegians rose to oppose the tax, and they attacked the property of Daniel Campbell of Shawfield. They rioted, plundered his house, which was on Glassford Street and the Trongate, and caused a lot of damage. Some were jailed and some were not, but, in the end, the city of Glasgow had to pay Daniel Campbell the sum of £6,080 in compensation for the damage that had been done. He sold his house and moved to the islands of Islay and Jura. They were his private property, so he looked at malt whisky production, which is where the connection between Glasgow and whisky comes to the fore. He decided to introduce new crops such as barley and, because he owned the islands, nobody visited to ask for tax. Basically, he started the whisky industry in Islay and Jura. Bowmore, the first planned village in Scotland, was created on Islay in 1760, and the Bowmore distillery, as it is now known, has been there ever since.
It seems right that the industry that produces Scotland’s national drink and that employs 10,000 people directly and another 30,000 people indirectly can trace part of its growth back to the bubbling sense of injustice of Glaswegians. The riots stemmed from the most Glaswegian of desires—the desire to chart our own path and destiny as a city and to enjoy a few swallies without being sold up the river.17:39
I thank Rachael Hamilton for, and congratulate her on, bringing this fantastic debate to the chamber.
Members know that I seize every opportunity to talk about my magnificent Stirling constituency. It is a hugely attractive area for year-round visitors due to our unsurpassed historical heritage and spectacular natural settings. The Stirling area is also home to the creation of wonderful whiskies, with excellent events and attractions for locals and visitors alike to enjoy.
Our first stop on the Stirling whisky tour is Deanston distillery. Operating as a cotton mill into the 20th century, Deanston housed the largest water wheel in Europe at the time, which was used to power the machinery of the spinning mill and weaving shed. To this day, hydropower produces much of the energy that the distillery needs. Following the decline of the cotton industry, Deanston mill closed its doors in 1965, but all was not lost. The mill was converted into a distillery and the first-ever bottle of Deanston Highland single malt—very creamy it is, indeed—was produced in 1974.
In 2012, I was privileged to attend the official opening of the magnificent new Deanston distillery visitor centre. That opening signalled the beginning of a new era for the old mill, not just as a popular producer of whisky, but as a popular tourist destination in its own right. Deanston’s unique story is carried across the globe and whisky lovers can share in the experience of its production at its highly recommendable facility.
The Stirling constituency is also home to the incomparable Glengoyne distillery. Located on Burnfoot farm, Glengoyne distillery operates in the area where George Connell began secretly distilling, out of sight of the exciseman—he probably supplied half of Glasgow at the same time, if Sandra White is right. As an aside, in 1899, the distillery manager, Cochrane Cartwright—what a wonderful name—drowned in the distillery, having sampled much of its product, or so it is alleged.
In 1903, Glenguin of Burnfoot changed its name to Glengoyne distillery, and there was a production boom in the 20th century as the local product gained increasing international appeal. The distillery’s building and remarkable setting are must-sees. Less than 40 minutes from Glasgow, it is often dubbed as Scotland’s most beautiful distillery.
I can personally testify that those two distilleries—Deanston and Glengoyne—produce outstanding whisky and also provide superb visitor attractions in the Stirling area. Perhaps we cannot compete with Richard Lochhead and Speyside, in terms of the number of distilleries, but I am sure that we can compete as far as quality is concerned.
The Stirling area’s relationship with the water of life has inspired the Stirling whisky festival, which is returning for its seventh year and is now held in the Stirling Highland hotel, right in the centre of the old town. The festival has been hugely popular and has helped to support the many tourism-related businesses that Stirling has to offer, resulting in an increased visitor footfall to the city, which appears to be on the up. Last year’s visitor figures show that Stirling castle had an 18 per cent increase in visitors, based on figures from 2016. Similarly, 8 per cent more people visited the battle of Bannockburn visitor centre and the Smith art gallery and museum also had an increase in visitor footfall.
It is clear that the Stirling area has much to offer in terms of tourism and visitor activities. Showcasing our proud whisky heritage is an excellent opportunity not just to promote our local whisky products, but to support local businesses, such as those in the hospitality industry that rely on the footfall of tourists and visitors alike.
I, again, congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing tonight’s debate.17:43
I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing the debate. As a whisky drinker with more than 60 bottles of malt at home, I can confirm to Stewart Stevenson that there is, indeed, a little bit of magic in every bottle.
Whisky and whisky tourism is one of the success stories of 21st century Scotland. Ninety-nine million cases of whisky are exported each year and, if every bottle was laid end to end, the bottles would stretch from this Parliament to New York six times over. Visitors to distilleries come from some of the largest markets for whisky—mainly Germany, Scotland, the United States of America, France and other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Scotch whisky industry, through the establishment of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in my constituency some 40 years ago, aims to safeguard consumer confidence in Scotch whisky and, as a result, will protect whisky tourism. Research is carried out by the institute to ensure that flavour, quality, consumer safety and authenticity are maintained to protect Scotland’s whisky as a premium global brand.
One of the research institute’s first key achievements was the establishment of the compositional database to protect Scotch whisky from counterfeiting. At any moment, there can be around 70 court cases being fought and hundreds of investigations under way in order to protect the industry against fakes. Yet the industry allows whisky to be exported in bulk to places where it can be blended with other whiskies and locally branded, and it then competes with our own whisky, or that same local whisky can be deliberately labelled wrongly and sold as Scotch whisky at a premium price, despite being a counterfeit product.
Blended whisky accounts for 70 per cent by value and 90 per cent by volume of all whisky exported. Malt whisky accounts for only 9 per cent by volume and 24 per cent by value, yet only the premium product, malt whisky, is required under the UK Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 to be bottled in the country of origin. At the time of the regulations being passed, requiring that malt whisky be bottled in Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association stated that the export
“of Scotch Whisky in bulk has led to adulteration and contamination when it is bottled abroad. This risks damaging the reputation of Scotch Whisky and leaves consumers vulnerable to counterfeit products which could also have public health implications”.
Given the number of on-going cases and investigations into counterfeit whisky, is it not time that the subject was re-examined? After all, Spain insists that Rioja wine is bottled before export and France has similar regulations in place for cognac.
My Scottish National Party colleague at Westminster, Martin Docherty-Hughes, submitted an early-day motion in December supporting the Unite union campaign, save our Scotch. In recent years, there have been the closures of Port Dundas and Kilmarnock, plus concerns that were raised by the union regarding Leven and Shieldhall. Since 1980, 12,000 directly employed jobs in whisky have been lost in Scotland. Jobs are still under threat at a time when the SWA estimates that Scotland is home to more than 20 million casks of maturing whisky—almost four for every person living here. The concern is not just over-outsourcing of whisky, but other white spirits currently bottled in Scotland and the potential impact that that could have on the supply chain, including bottling plants, labelling and packaging manufacturers, warehousing and distribution.
Each year, £1.7 billion is spent on the whisky supply chain, but not all of it is spent in Scotland. It is estimated that more than £340 million is spent elsewhere, to our detriment. We know that Scotch whisky must be produced in Scotland, made from mostly malted barley and aged in oak barrels for three years or more. However, most of the jobs associated with the industry are not in distilling but in bottling and throughout the supply chain, which we must ensure remains in Scotland.
I will leave members with this thought. Back in 1979, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry discussion paper “Should Scotland Export Bulk Whisky?” concluded that
“Scotland would economically benefit in the long-term if the bulk export of all whisky was banned.”
Given the industry’s importance to Scotland, and to tourism, is it not time that the issue was re-examined?17:48
I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing the debate and for her speech. She made a point about the French consuming more whisky than cognac, and it is worth noting that they consume more whisky in one month than they do cognac in a whole year. I thank all members who have contributed to what has been a very interesting debate on Scotland’s national drink.
We heard from Richard Lochhead, who has been and continues to be a great champion of whisky. An important point that he made was about how whisky opens the door to other products in terms of exports. He also spoke about the sheer dynamism of the sector. Colin Smyth referred to the mission creep of the south of Scotland, and I was also pleased to hear about the Annandale constituency. Stewart Stevenson introduced us to Jane Walker.
There are not many constituencies in Scotland that do not have a link to the Scotch whisky industry in some form or another. Indeed, I recall that, when I visited the Pixar studios in Los Angeles on a Government visit, I was served a St Magdalene whisky from Linlithgow, which is in my constituency. That extensive reach of whisky demonstrates the foundations that that fantastic industry has across Scotland and its importance to the economy, people and communities of our land.
Alison Harris mentioned the opening of the Rosebank distillery, which sits on the edge of my constituency, but is in the Central Scotland region.
Many of the distilleries lie in the heart of our rural and island communities right across Scotland, from the Highlands and Islands to the Lowlands. The role of those businesses in supporting communities in remote areas and providing jobs cannot be overstated .
We can celebrate another success story in the Lowlands: the Three Stills Company, which is investing £10 million in its distillery and visitor centre and is the subject of Rachael Hamilton’s motion. Together with the planned £40 million Mossburn distillery near Jedburgh, it will open up the Borders to new tourism opportunities. Those investments will provide firm foundations for the success of our iconic Scotch whisky in future years.
The whisky sector continuously builds on its success, its brands are increasingly recognised internationally and its distilleries are must-see destinations for our tourists. The Scotch Whisky Association’s latest annual survey found that visits have increased by around a quarter since 2010 and that more than half of Scotland’s 123 distilleries now welcome members of the public. An example of that success is the Tomatin distillery visitor centre near Inverness, which experienced its most successful year in 2017; its visitors exceeded 49,000 and it had record sales of 1 million. According to Diageo, its 12 malt distilleries have seen a 96 per cent rise in visitor numbers over the past five years.
It is interesting that 43 per cent of German visitors visited a distillery on their visit. That is the second biggest activity for visitors from that market. On average, 20 per cent of all visitors to Scotland visit a distillery.
Collectively, Scotch whisky distilleries rank among the most popular Scottish and UK attractions. When visitors step into a distillery, the passion, knowledge and enthusiasm of those who work in them is evident from the outset, and there are high-quality presentations and exhibitions. The visitor sees the striking contrast of traditional whisky making combined with modern technology, high-quality attractions and gift shops. The timeless and unmistakeable smells nod to days gone by and give tourists an evocative sense of Scotland’s rich heritage.
Every distillery has its own heritage and story. The point about the folklore, the story and the heritage is very important. I have visited a number of distilleries on Islay, and every one of them had its own story. The social, economic and cultural heritage must not be underestimated. Richard Lochhead referred to Speyside smuggling. There are different aspects to those stories.
When a visitor visits a distillery and walks into the cold, dark rackhouse, they step back in time. The muffling silence and the years of dust on the barrels emphasise the rich and historic tradition that we have in Scotland. It is difficult for anyone not to feel a sense of awe when they are surrounded by the work of a previous generation that has yet to be enjoyed. Then, of course, there is the taste. That is why it is easy to see why visitors spent a total of £53 million on whisky in 2016. The average spend per person has increased by 13 per cent to £31 from £27.
The high standards that those attractions offer is more than ably illustrated by Oban distillery’s winning the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions best visitor experience award in 2017, against very stiff competition.
There are new developments, of course. In a fascinating speech, Sandra White told us about the Clydeside distillery and the great opportunities there for Glasgow to tell its story, which is a distinct one.
I am sure that the cabinet secretary would not want to let my good friend Sandra White get away with the claim that Glasgow in 1707 was the birthplace of Scottish whisky as we know it today, given the reference in the fantastic book “Scotland’s secret history: the illicit distilling and smuggling of whisky”, by Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell and edited by Marc Ellington, which states:
“As late as the end of the reign of James VI and I, who died in 1625, whisky as we know it was made in the Highlands only.”
Perhaps that is a matter that falls under your responsibilities to decide on, Presiding Officer. Much in the world of whisky is contested, but I cannot contest the role of Speyside and the Highlands in the development of Scotch whisky.
The importance to tourism is evident, but we can do more to promote whisky trails, such as through local marketing and hospitality opportunities. We see that happening with the north coast 500, and more can be done for whisky. Bruce Crawford referred to whisky festivals. We have seen such festivals in Stirling, Speyside and Islay, and interest in them is growing.
We face challenges, one of which is leaving the EU. Many distilleries rely on EU nationals not least to understand the different EU markets and for their language skills. I visited Deanston distillery on the banks of the River Teith, which Bruce Crawford mentioned, where I heard first hand about the impact of Brexit on the tourism sector. All the senior staff whom I met were from EU countries. They had come to work here and were committed to delivering a fantastic visitor experience.
We cannot rest on our laurels. We want to drive forward our tourism sector and make sure that we promote the combination of food and drink and tourism. The “Ambition 2030” strategy on food and drink is reaching out on tourism, and I inform the chamber that, under my portfolio, the first national food tourism strategy is being developed to take forward those links between the tourism and food and drink sectors.
Gordon MacDonald is right to make what is an important point about the integrity and the reputation of the product, and how we must promote that internationally. It is important that we recognise the interdependence between food tourism, Scotland’s reputation and the hospitality sector, and the integrity of experience and the integrity of product are very much at the heart of that. Skills will be an important aspect of that, so I was very pleased to hear Rachael Hamilton talk about the events that took place in the Borders, because we must all take responsibility to encourage more youngsters in particular into the sector.
There are plans to build more than 30 distilleries over the next five years, from the Borders to the Highlands and across our islands. Tourism can work with whisky and whisky can work with tourism to help to promote our fantastic product and to make sure that the unique and authentic experience of drinking whisky in the place of its birth is the one thing that tourists can do in Scotland that they can do nowhere else on the earth.Meeting closed at 17:57.