Douglas Ross accused of 'taking to the hills' over Scottish whisky duty

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has been accused of “taking to the hills” after a pledge to freeze alcohol duty was scrapped.

The Liberal Democrats said he had either abandoned Scotland’s whisky industry or he was being “completely ignored” by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Ross previously welcomed a move by short-lived chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng to freeze alcohol duty, insisting it was “extremely welcome for such an important industry” in his Moray constituency.

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But Mr Hunt scrapped this pledge after he took office, with a decision on duty now deferred to next year.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: “Promises to freeze duty on Scotch whisky have now been taken back by the new Chancellor.

“It must be excruciatingly embarrassing to be Douglas Ross. Either he has abandoned the biggest industry in his own constituency or he has been completely ignored by Jeremy Hunt.

“The result is yet another tax rise for one of Scotland’s most iconic products and Douglas Ross taking to the hills to avoid having to talk about it. I can understand why his Scottish Conservative colleagues keep plotting against him. They can see that no one in Cabinet listens to him and he’s not confident enough to speak out.

“I understand that the Conservatives are desperately casting around for ways to fill the economic black hole that they have created, but additional taxes on Scotland’s national drink will not help our economy to flourish. We should be looking at ways to make Scottish produce more attractive, not hammering customers and leaving whisky producing areas with a colossal hangover.”

But Mr Ross hit back, saying: “I raised this directly with the Chancellor immediately before the Autumn Statement, and as a result no rise was introduced while the issue is being examined. That was welcomed by Mark Kent of the SWA [Scotch Whisky Association], who said Jeremy Hunt ‘was true to his word and listened to the industry over the past month as we made the case for reinstatement of duty freeze’.

“I’ve also held a series of meetings with local and national companies about this. Alistair Carmichael seems confused about what the Chancellor announced at the Autumn Statement and I will listen to the industry rather than opposition MPs on this.”

Mark Kent, chief executive of the SWA, had said last month in the wake of the Autumn Statement: “Over the next few months, we look forward to working with the Chancellor, who was true to his word and listened to the industry over the past month as we made the case for reinstatement of duty freeze.

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“Previous freezes have consistently delivered more revenue for the Exchequer, and have enabled the industry to invest in our supply chain, create jobs, support hospitality – boosting the UK economy.”

But Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, had said: “We have no further information other than that the Chancellor has not yet decided by how much, or when, alcohol duty will be increased.

“We will continue to ask to meet with Treasury ministers as a matter of urgency. We want to see support for businesses in our sector, including as small and as few increases to duty as possible in 2023. And to ensure that changes to the UK alcohol taxation system are fairer, simpler and are delivered with less red tape.”

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