Scottish independence makes no difference to us, insists Diageo chief
THE CHIEF executive of drinks giant Diageo yesterday said independence would make “no difference” to plans for the company to invest in Scotland.
Paul Walsh suggested potential investments by the Johnnie Walker producer would be judged on economic rather than constitutional grounds.
Mr Walsh’s remarks were seized on by the SNP, which said they exposed the “hollowness” of anti-independence arguments.
Mr Walsh was asked if independence would make a difference to his company’s investment decisions. He replied: “No difference at all. Scotch has been around for hundreds of years, it has seen all kinds of political changes. We’ll weather anything. Our decision to invest is based on the economics that we think the category will continue to enjoy.”
He added: “We have a very good relationship with Holyrood and with Westminster. I don’t think that debate is one we wish to get into.”
Diageo has long sought to maintain a neutral position on the independence debate. The company’s commitment to Scotland, which recently saw it invest £1 billion in Scotch production over the next five years, also has a legal basis. By law, Scotch can only be produced in Scotland, where it must be distilled and matured for three years in oak casks.
Despite Mr Walsh’s insistence that he did not want to be dragged into a political debate, the SNP’s Treasury spokesman, Stewart Hosie, attacked the notion that independence would create economic uncertainty.
“Diageo’s commitment to the sector, under all constitutional circumstances, is very welcome,” Mr Hosie said.
“Paul Walsh’s comments echo the confidence of other business leaders who are investing in Scotland right now. They also expose the hollowness of the anti-independence arguments compared to the reality of where business leaders think the real threat of uncertainty comes from – the Westminster government’s failure to invest capital in infrastructure projects like schools, hospitals and roads.”
Mr Walsh was speaking as Diageo announced a 13 per cent rise in full-year profits, which he said had been helped by increasing business in areas such as Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Other business figures, meanwhile, said they believed that remaining within the UK helped business. David Lonsdale, assistant director of CBI Scotland, said: “Firms tell us that they benefit from the existing UK-wide single market and level playing field on the laws, regulations and taxes that apply to business, and that fragmentation would not be risk or cost-free.
“CBI Scotland’s collective position is that we are yet to be convinced that independence would be the best course for Scotland; however, we recognise that individual firms may have their own shades of opinion on the matter.”
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “The position of Scotch whisky is unique. By definition it emerges from Scotland, as opposed to international companies who might seek to relocate with products which could be made anywhere.”
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