Why we should be raising a glass to the Scotch whisky industry - Karen Betts

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Tonight, Scotland will celebrate Hogmanay. We’ll ring in the New Year with fireworks, parties and Auld Lang Syne. You might be first-footed with gifts of coal, herring or – if you’re really lucky – whisky. And if you’re Scottish but not in Scotland, you’ll be gratified to see how far and wide our New Year traditions have been exported – many people from Hanoi to Santo Domingo will be singing Rabbie Burns’ lines and enjoying a Scotch at the stroke of midnight.

And the Scotch consumed on New Year’s Eve across the UK and the industry’s export markets will mark the end of a good year for us. Scotland’s national drink, carefully created in distilleries across Scotland, then matured, bottled, boxed and packed, remains a global export superstar. The industry, and the companies that support and supply it, have worked hard to meet global demand, and as a result we have seen a steady rise in the volume of exports. Last year exports grew by nearly 9 per cent, with £4.37 billion of Scotch shipped to 180 countries. That means that 39 bottles of Scotch were shipped every second. Alongside the growth in exports, we have seen tremendous growth in tourism to Scotch Whisky distilleries across Scotland too. Visits to distilleries have grown 45 per cent since 2010, something that is not necessarily surprising given the superb visitor experiences that the industry is creating and the friendliness of the welcome. This boom in tourism reflects the industry’s pride in showing guests around the sites in which Scotch has been made for, often hundreds of, years. More than half of our 128 operating distilleries, across Scotland’s five whisky producing regions, are now open to visitors. More than £500m has been invested by the industry in recent years to create these world-class-visitor experiences and to expand production to ensure the industry can meet future demand. For our industry, today’s investment is tomorrow’s growth. These investments safeguard the futures of the thousands of people employed by Scotch Whisky producers, many of them in rural communities, and those who work alongside the industry farming barley, manufacturing bottles, hand-crafting packaging and so on.

Dependent as the industry is on the environment in which we are based, the growth of Scotch needs to be carefully balanced against our environmental impact. Our traditional industry has progressive form in this: we have become a quiet environmental leader. This year, the industry hit its ambitious targets to reduce our use of non-fossil fuel four years ahead of schedule. And so, finally, to Brexit. The Scotch Whisky industry will first-foot MPs across the political spectrum when the UK parliament returns next week. We will be wishing them well for the coming year, alongside impressing on government ministers and parliamentarians that they must work quickly to resolve the Brexit impasse and avoid a “no deal”. A “no deal” Brexit would cause very real difficulties for the Scotch Whisky industry, and would force cost and complexity into both production and exports. Early compromises within and between political parties will be necessary to find a constructive way forward that protects jobs, businesses and our economy.

Tonight I will raise a dram to a peaceful and prosperous New Year, and I hope you will too. The choices our political leaders make in 2019 will impact us all, and the Scotch we savour. Here’s to those choices being wise ones!

Karen Betts is CEO of the Scotch Whisky 
Association