Stephen Jardine: Clear your plate and take a stand

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage
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A year today we will know the outcome. On one side of the independence debate, they will still be celebrating with champagne and smoked salmon. On the other side the porridge will be getting decidedly lumpy.

In the food and drink sector it’s been a phony war for the past year with few industry leaders putting their heads above the parapet to declare a position.

Last week the subject finally fizzled to the surface at an Institute of Hospitality debate in Edinburgh. On one side, Scotland’s only Michelin two-starred chef Andrew Fairlie stepped forward for the Yes campaign. In the opposite corner, hotelier Beppo Buchanan-Smith represented Better Together’s view.

It was a refreshing clear-the-air session in a debate that has been far too low-key over the past year in the industry. Which is really odd.

As a key economic driver in the Scottish economy it’s only right, and important, that the big players take a view on our future. I spoke to the chief executive of one major company who was happy to share his views in private but laughed loudly when I suggested they deserved a wider audience.

For big firms, taking a position potentially risks alienating some customers and why on earth would they want to do that? Most of them are convinced there is only a downside to declaring a stance.

There is also a fear that joining the No camp could impact on relations with the SNP-led Scottish Government. Alternatively, a strong Yes position could come back to haunt them if other parties take government in the years ahead. The preferred option from most is to say nothing, but dig below the surface and the battle lines are drawn.

Some believe Scotland’s booming food and drink exports, now worth more than £5 billion a year, have been built on the back of a UK Government trade strategy and we break from that at our peril. Opponents of independence say why mess with a system that is working so well for us in terms of selling Scottish produce abroad?

Others argue we are only scratching the surface of Scotland’s export potential at the moment and all that holds us back is a union we have to share the rewards with.

If independence delivered cuts in corporation tax and restaurant VAT, Scotland could actually become an international hot house for the food and drink sector.

Both views have their supporters but what’s needed is more debate. This is the most important political decision that will take place in Scotland in our lifetime.

If the big food and drink companies have views on plastic waste, you can be sure they have them on independence.

As we move closer to the vote more of these firms need to speak out to ensure the voters have the views and information they need to take the big decision.