Comment: SWA awaits independence answers

THE silly season hasn’t kicked in yet, so there’s no lack of news about, but just in case you missed the story in February (The Scotsman and Herald), in April (Sky News), on Sunday (Sunday Times) and yesterday (Daily Express and Times), the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is concerned that the industry could suffer if Scotland votes for independence.

Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The warning comes from David Frost, who took over as chief executive of the industry body in January and has been repeating the message since being pressed into providing his thoughts on the issue at his first media briefing in Edinburgh a month later.

As with many business leaders, he claimed he was not taking sides but then launched into a list of concerns, chief of which were currency, European Union membership and – speaking as a former ambassador – the potential denial of access to the global network of embassies and other sources of distribution provided by the UK.

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Giving a new meaning to Whisky Galore!, his comments appeared again on Friday in the SWA’s annual review (his first foray into the debate, according to the Sunday Times).

Of course, the SWA will be delighted at the media’s repetition of the story (and I’m doing it now). If this helps hammer home its campaign and prompts a positive response, then it will feel it is doing its job in much the same way it has been repeatedly challenging the minimum pricing of alcohol.

But therein lies the problem. Three months after first making his comments on independence, Frost’s concerns remain unanswered. In the absence of clarity, the best we can hope is that an independent Scotland would do nothing to undermine its biggest assets – Scotch whisky, financial services, food & drink, and the oil industry – and that many of the “concerns” will prove groundless as solutions are found.

However, there have been only vague promises to make Scotland a “better” place in which to do business. Until such time as more detail emerges, this pledge is being taken on trust, and trust has to be earned. We still do not know what currency would operate, how exports would flourish and how the tax system would work.

It is now only four months before the voters go to the polls. Will the SWA get the answers and reassurances it demands? Probably not until it has issued another round of reminders.

Message is getting lost in complicated jargon

IN THE old days, we used to build ships, make steel, work on lathes and write insurance policies. What is it about modern business and industry that makes it so complicated to understand? Yesterday we had a deal involving “low latency cloud provision for algorithmic trading”. Eh?

After a lot of head-scratching, my colleague Gareth Mackie explains it as simply as possible elsewhere on these pages.

It’s hardly unusual to be sent information about the latest company providing a “solution”, often to a problem that no-one knew existed.

The language of business is important because communication helps not only to deliver the message but also to get the product to market. If no-one understands the proposition, it will have zero impact on the bottom line.

The public relations industry is a guilty party by lazily trotting out this gobbledegook that only finds its way on to the spike (sorry, that’s jargon for making its way into the bin).

Twitter: @TerryMurden1