Stephen Jardine: Much at stake for food & drink

The industry has been surprisingly quiet, says Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
The industry has been surprisingly quiet, says Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
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BY THE time the next Food for Thought column appears, it will all be over and Scotland’s future will be decided. Given so much is at stake for the food and drink sector, Scotland’s biggest growth industry has been surprisingly quiet on the subject of independence.

The standard response from larger companies when asked their opinion is a simple “no comment’” or an even less believable “we don’t have a view”.

Of course, the leaders of every food and drink business do have a view. They just may not believe it is in the best interests of their business to say what it is. Yet so much is at stake here.

Just this week, 40 leading figures from the food and drink sector wrote an open letter claiming independence will be the key to unlocking Scotland’s food and drink potential.

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The letter detailed five new opportunities that would arise from a Yes vote, ranging from the higher profile given to Brand Scotland to the ability to cut VAT and to use levy revenue to promote produce.

With signatories including chef Andrew Fairlie, hotel boss Paddy Crerar and Fife Diet director Mike Small, it was a persuasive call to action for the industry undecided.

But then you noticed the names not on the letter.

Where were Scotland’s biggest food and drink employers and the salmon and whisky companies that produce the lion’s share of revenue?

The truth is many of them are on the sidelines, worried about currency, investment and taxation and not at all sure how to react to the whirlwind ripping through British politics.

Business doesn’t like uncertainty and that is all we have at the moment. At last week’s Scotsman Food and Drink Conference, the strongest sentiment was a desire to get a decision made.

Several business leaders admitted they’d stalled key decisions until the outcome of the referendum is clear.

Of course, it’s not up to industry bosses to tell their employees how to vote any more than it is up to me to suggest which side you should back.

Everyone has individual circumstances and considerations that are every bit as important as the views of a corporation or a columnist.

On top of that, when you cast your vote, it is unlikely to be governed by food and drink considerations. It’s more likely to come down to a combination of the head and the heart.

But it’s been a long campaign.

While we’ve been waiting for the outcome, our competitors in the rest of the UK and beyond have been developing new products, looking for new opportunities and selling all the way to the bank. Too many jobs and too much revenue depends on the food and drink sector to allow the uncertainty to continue past this week.

Whatever the outcome, Friday is the day we all need to move on and get back to business as usual.