Scotsman Obituaries: Martin Bell, Scotch Whisky Association Deputy Director of Trade

Martin Bell, Scotch Whisky Association Deputy Director of Trade. Born: 6 February 1970. Died: 2 February 2024, aged 53
Martin Bell's motto, 'Plant trees you’ll never see', spoke to his commitment to passing on knowledgeMartin Bell's motto, 'Plant trees you’ll never see', spoke to his commitment to passing on knowledge
Martin Bell's motto, 'Plant trees you’ll never see', spoke to his commitment to passing on knowledge

Martin Bell, Scotch Whisky Association Deputy Director of Trade, has died following a brief illness. Martin was the son of Patricia and the late Isdale Bell, and brother of Penelope. After starting working life as a solicitor in private practice, and a subsequent spell with the European Commission's DG Environment in Brussels, Martin joined the Scottish Office in 1997. 

He worked there for seven years in a range of fields, latterly on a three-year secondment to the Policy Unit of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Martin held an LLB Honours Degree in Scots Law from the University of Edinburgh and an LLM in European and International Trade Law from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He tutored European Law at the University of Edinburgh and regularly spoke on trade policy.

Martin joined the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in 2004, in what he described as his “dream job” – combining a passion for trade law and for Scotland’s heritage and its national drink. From very early childhood through to his teenage years, Martin remembered fondly spending many a happy school holiday with his grandparents in Brora, a village in the east of Sutherland. It was here that he developed a passion for the outdoors, for nature, and for Scotch whisky.

He saw first hand the importance of distilleries to rural and island communities, and in adult life, working in the industry, he was a tireless champion of rural communities. Martin had the ability to connect the sometimes remote world of external trade policy back to where it matters the most, to the communities close to his heart in the north of Scotland.

Specialising in trade policy throughout his 20 years at the SWA, with a particular geographic focus on the Asia-Pacific region, Martin led the trade body’s engagement with the World Trade Organisation and had extensive experience of its standing mechanisms, up to and including dispute settlements – a rarity even in the world of trade policy, and rarer still in Scotland.

As such, Martin’s experience, knowledge and wisdom was sought after. He chaired the External Trade Committee of spiritsEUROPE for more than ten years and sat on a wide range of broader groups on behalf of the SWA, including the International Chambers of Commerce UK's Trade and Investment Committee, the Law Society of Scotland's Trade Policy Working Group, the International Policy Committee of Prosper, the Partnership Board of Scotland Food and Drink and the Board of the World Spirits Alliance.

At work, Martin’s knowledge, passion, humour and kindness was always on offer, but for Martin, family came first. His eldest, Andrew, recalled how Martin would share his love of nature with his sons, organising regular trips into Scotland’s wilderness, which they remember as some of their happiest times.

As we come to terms with Martin’s absence, we know words, a short recitation of achievements, cannot begin to encapsulate the impact Martin had on us all and the contribution he made to so much and so many. Perhaps the best way to remember Martin is by his own words. “Plant trees you’ll never see.” A favoured phrase of his. It spoke to his commitment to pass on knowledge, share his lifelong passions with the next generation, and steer the industry he loved, all rooted by his fundamental belief that he had a responsibility to shape a better future. Martin leaves behind a forest.

The thoughts of the SWA, and the whole Scotch Whisky family, are with Martin’s wife Emma, sons Andrew, Daniel and Malcolm, and wider family. He leaves an impressive legacy, across his concentric circles of Scotch Whisky, Scotland, and the international community.


If you would like to submit an obituary (800-1000 words preferred, with jpeg image), contact [email protected]

Related topics: