Tavish Scott: New measures are bar to our food and drink
LAST weekend a fellow Liverpool fan and I toasted the new regime at Anfield. A dram accompanied Shetland salmon as we discussed the sheer excitement of Sunday’s game against the reigning champions, Manchester City.
Later I came across some encouraging statistics. Food and drink is a Scottish success story. We export £5.4 billion worth of whisky, salmon and the rest. A total of 55,000 businesses are involved in Scottish food and drink. Whisky employs 10,300 people across the country and the salmon industry another 6,200 in outlying and remote areas where jobs are harder to come by. In the current economic climate these jobs are very welcome. Together with oil and gas, this is about the only part of our economy that is growing.
So well done to the Scottish Government for making food and drink a priority. Ministers are right to man trade stands, strike government-to-government deals that help in export markets and generally talk up Scotland’s produce. Some quieter and effective advocacy happened in previous governments but the current inhabitants of the corridors of Scottish power have taken that to a new level. I applaud that work.
It is therefore bemusing to see the other side of the food and drink coin. The whisky industry faces trade barriers across the globe. India, for example, puts a whacking 150 per cent tariff on a bottle of Scotch. Our export success therefore does not need measures at home that allow other countries to point a finger at trade-distorting laws being put in place. That is the principal objection the industry has to minimum pricing. They get the health point and it is wrong to suggest they do not. But for an industry to initiate legal action against its own government is a major step.
Similarly the Scottish salmon industry faces a “Made in Scotland” hammer. A new law will be promoted next week as part of the Scottish Government’s new legislative programme. This Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill is all about regulation and penalties and is being pushed by the “wild fish” lobby. Well done to them. They have got civil servants and some ministers bending over backwards. But if the government wants to keep growing an industry that exports to 64 countries around the globe and whose export tonnage has doubled in a decade, passing punitive laws will not help.
Most, if not all, the measures in this proposed law could be achieved in other ways. So it looks like a law for the sake of a law. The SNP used to criticise the number of new laws that the 1999-2007 Scottish coalition government introduced. It had a point. But now, with a healthy majority and no effective parliamentary mechanisms for slowing bad legislative proposals, the government should be careful. It is a curious sense of political priorities that adds millions of pounds of costs and erects internal barriers with two successful Scottish export industries. Time to wash down some salmon with a decent dram Mr Salmond.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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