Scottish Government challenged Marks & Spencer's British branding for whisky

The Scottish Government has contacted Marks & Spencer to ask why Scottish food and drink had been branded as being from Great Britain rather than Scotland, it has emerged.

Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing was briefed on the interaction between a civil servant and the retailer after the M&S website suggested the country of origin for whisky and Scottish gin was Great Britain.

Documents released to the Scottish Conservatives under Freedom of Information legislation reveal the government took the step when a row erupted in November last year. Last night the Scottish Conservatives said the Scottish Government would rather “berate” retailers for “daring to refer to the UK” than creating jobs and growing the economy.

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The row erupted when a reader contacted independence-supporting newspaper The National to complain about M&S’s website and asked why Scotland “only merits a listing under Great Britain”.

Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy & Connectivity Fergus Ewing. Picture: TSPL

He also pointed out that whisky was not referred to as “British whisky”. The reader was reportedly told by M&S that customers were happy with how whisky was categorised.

The FoI documents showed that a Scottish Government official contacted the company on 1 November last year and asked to speak on the phone to get “some info on press reports circulating around”.

The following day, M&S replied, confirming that a telephone conversation had taken place.

The company said the website listing was an “unfortunate mistake” which had been rectified.

The civil servant went back to M&S asking if it intended to “send any tweets (or something) to clarify the situation”.

The documents then showed that Mr Ewing was updated on the official’s dealings with M&S at a briefing in January this year.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser accused the Scottish Government of wasting public resources on the controversy.

He said: “There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t know whisky is Scottish.

“But for the SNP to actively pressure a leading retailer in this way is petty and, frankly, a waste of public resources.

“It shows just how parochial the SNP government is, that it would sooner berate businesses for daring to refer to the UK, than actually help them create jobs and grow the economy. Instead of obsessing about Saltires and pandering to the extreme elements of the Yes movement, the SNP government should be getting on with representing the whole country.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We appreciate the commitment that M&S and many other major retailers make to Scottish high quality food and drink.

“These documents show we raised concerns with the company in a constructive manner.

“Scotland’s food and drink sector is a huge international success story and it’s vital it’s promoted appropriately.”