Brian Monteith: Diageo deserves to be a lost cause

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THERE'S nothing like a factory closure to get the blood of politicians boiling. Add a highly marginal constituency seat and the fact that after months of embarrassing revelations about MPs' expenses this particular political cause might help justify their exotic existence in the public's eyes – and you suddenly have a potent blend that politicians are queuing up for.

The devastating news for Kilmarnock, that Johnnie Walker is to stride off up the high road to newer, better facilities in Fife, promises to be this summer's futile exercise in political grandstanding.

I can fully appreciate local politicians representing as best they can the interests of their electorate – but when Alex Salmond, John Swinney and Jim Murphy start claiming to talk for the whole of Scotland I say "not in my name".

The first mistake the politicians have made is to see Diageo's plans as only about whisky. It's not. It's about a whole range of spirits and the consolidation by Diageo of the packaging of whisky, gin, vodka and ready-mixed drinks such as Smirnoff Ice, from its three packaging plants into two.

Few in Scotland seem to know, never mind be proud of the fact, that nearly 80 per cent of the UK's gin and vodka is distilled or bottled in Scotland – with Diageo's Smirnoff vodka and the Gordon's and Tanqueray gins being produced at Cameronbridge and bottled at Leven, both in Fife.

With whisky handled there too and an investment of 40 million at Leven in the last two years, it is the scale and efficiency of the Fife and Glasgow plants that spells doom for Kilmarnock.

When Diageo bought Captain Morgan rum and brought the production to Scotland politicians raised their glasses. When Diageo closed the English distillery of Gordon's London Dry Gin and started making all of its Gordon's and Tanqueray gins at Cameronbridge it was seen as a coup for Scotland. There were no tears for the workers down south.

The proud town of Kilmarnock has a long association with Johnnie Walker dating back to 1820, when the 15-year-old John Walker opened a grocer's shop selling his own blend of whisky. Made from various Highland malt and grain whiskies, the brand has grown to become the number one selling premium Scotch in the world.

Those protesting against the packaging hall's closure should remember it is Scotch whisky that the world is buying, not Kilmarnock whisky. While the association with the town is strong it is not a significant enough component of what makes the Johnnie Walker brand so appealing for it to convince Diageo's management to keep its operation in Kilmarnock alive – at a cost of 20m to its bottom line.

Hints that the Scottish taxpayer might give Diageo 20m to stay in Kilmarnock, the protest marches, the haranguing of business leaders through megaphone diplomacy and the engagement of expensive consultants only serves to prolong the pain. Politicians have no compunction about cruelly raising the hopes of people only for them to be inevitably dashed. Labour and SNP leaders will both try to outbid each other while the Tories and Lib Dems don't have the courage to say it's all a sham.

For Scotland to prosper in the future, to give hope to the rising number of unemployed that there will be new jobs for them, we have to attract greater investment at home and abroad. Giving one of Scotland's largest investors and largest employers a media kicking tells other companies to stay away.

Scotland's interest is in seeing Diageo prosper and showing other spirits producers that being in Scotland adds value to their brands.

The loss of 700 jobs in a town the size of Kilmarnock is a serious economic shock that will bring painful social repercussions, but politicians would be better considering how to alleviate the pain and give Killie fresh hope for new investment than telling Diageo how to run its spirits business.

Kilmarnock's best interest is not Fife's best interest and not necessarily even Scotland's best interest. It's time our national politicians were honest with us and faced up to this.

SO Tony Blair could yet become the President of the united states of Europe? Spare us please! The UK's Europe minister, Glenys Kinnock, has shown her hand and admitted what we suspected all along – that Gordon Brown will nominate Tony Blair.

If Ireland decides to back the Lisbon Treaty in a fresh referendum expected in the autumn – the only country to ask its people what they think – then the European elite will soon after get together and choose their man or woman. Apparently it will need to be a big beast to impress other world leaders and who's bigger than Tony?

The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, will not want Jacques Chirac to steal his thunder and there's no one else that passes muster. An unknown shrinking violet from Luxembourg won't do, seemingly.

Not that we'll have a say in it. Denied a vote by Brown in agreeing to the Lisbon Treaty, denied a choice in the European leadership and denied a general election that would undoubtedly end this hijacking of democracy, one can't help thinking Gordon Brown doesn't like elections.

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