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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Scotch Whisky Industry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-11787, in the name of Ivan McKee, on celebrating Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky industry. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask those members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the reported £7.1 billion each year that is contributed in added value to the UK economy by the Scotch whisky industry through the production of high-quality and internationally successful brands, which are sold to 180 markets around the world; understands that 75% of the Scotch whisky industry’s gross value added (GVA) is generated in Scotland, supporting 41,000 jobs and a further 25,000 across the UK; welcomes the over £2 billion of investments that have reportedly been made by the industry over the last five years; believes that the Scotch whisky industry plays a crucial role in Scotland’s ambition to grow its exports, in attracting visitors from overseas to its world-leading visitor experiences, and in decarbonising operations in order to achieve net zero by 2045, and wishes everyone involved in Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky industry continued success as, it considers, they continue to play an integral role in communities throughout Scotland, including in the Glasgow Provan constituency.


Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

I thank all the members who have turned up to the debate. It is an excellent turn-out, with members on all sides of the chamber and from around the country. They are going to tell us why their distillery is the best in the country, and speak to the spread of the Scotch whisky sector across the whole of Scotland. Of course, the Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade has a particular constituency interest; as I am sure that he will let us know, he has—I think—more distilleries in his constituency than any other member in the country.

Does the member accept that the volume and quantity of distilleries might differ from their value? I put in a pitch for my own constituency in the latter regard.

Ivan McKee

The member may say that; I could not possibly comment.

We are here to debate and celebrate Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky industry. I know that members will recycle a lot of facts and statistics throughout the debate, but I am speaking first, so I get to use them first and other members will have to follow along behind. However, members will be delighted to know that I shall use those statistics sparingly.

The debate allows us to highlight the most recent report on the economic impact of the sector, “Scotch Whisky’s Economic Impact 2022”, which shows that gross value added is up by 29 per cent, at £5.3 billion, since the previous report in 2018. That is a big number—I always try to put things like that in terms that are a bit more understandable, so I highlight that it is around £1,000 for every person who is living in Scotland.

Over that time, there has been investment in capital projects of more than £2 billion, much of it in the transition to net zero, which I will talk about shortly. There are 41,000 jobs across the sector, many of which are in our rural and island communities. When I worked in the sector for a couple of years, back in the 1990s, I counted myself as one of those employees. There is a big focus in the sector on local supply chains and local suppliers helping local economies around the country.

However, one of the most significant impacts of the sector is its international impact, which has been significant for the best part of 200 years, or perhaps more, since Johnnie Walker’s iconic brand was established—I note that other brands are, of course, available. That export market, in more than 180 countries, has now grown to more than £6 billion, and 43 bottles are exported per second. During the course of my brief remarks, the sector will have exported more than 18,000 bottles of Scotch.

The sector’s impact lies not only in the revenue that it generates, as it is also a critical part of Scotland’s international image and profile. It is a key attractor for other sectors, not least our tourism sector. I have seen at first hand how it works as a door opener. If you hold an event anywhere in the world on energy, technology or financial services, to promote Scottish businesses, and if you have the Scotch whisky sector in attendance, be it in Madrid, Warsaw, Stockholm or anywhere else that I have visited in that regard, you will see that it brings in people to have a dram and talk business across all those sectors in which Scotland is rightly able to export in great numbers.

As I indicated, I will comment on the sector’s commendable focus on the transition to net zero, and its intention to decarbonise its own operations by 2040 and those of its supply chains by 2045. There is a focus on sustainable water use, efficient and recyclable packaging, the conservation and regeneration of peatland, and much more besides.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

Does Ivan McKee recognise the huge advancements and amazing progress that a company in my constituency, Carbon Capture Scotland—which I believe that he has visited—has made in its efforts to decarbonise the whisky industry?

Ivan McKee

The member is absolutely correct—I was just about to mention that business in his constituency, which I have, indeed, visited. It is doing fabulous work on carbon capture, which I understand is being rolled out in distilleries across the country, and that is hugely welcome.

I will take a minute to mention an issue that may not usually be mentioned in this context. I have had correspondence on it and, as a member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, I think that it is important to raise it. It is the issue of responsible drinking, which has its own economic impact.

It is hugely important that an informed and evidence-based dialogue with the sector on that issue continues. I know that the sector takes it seriously, promoting, as it does, responsible consumption and tackling harmful drinking. Of course, the vast majority of people who enjoy the wonderful products of the Scotch whisky sector do so responsibly.

Harmful and hazardous drinking is down by around a third in the past 20 years, and there is a particularly marked reduction among those in younger age groups, so progress is being made. That is not a contradiction—the sector has moved to higher-value, higher-margin premium products, which is in its own economic interests and promotes the product as a premium product and not something to be abused.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

On the point about responsible drinking, would the member acknowledge the efforts that Diageo has made in that regard? In addition, as we are talking about facts and figures, would he acknowledge that whisky is produced not only in rural and island communities? There is more whisky production in my constituency than anywhere else in the world, and we had the first ever industrial-scale production of whisky in Scotland. The whisky industry stretches across the whole of Scotland.

Ivan McKee

I am well aware that the member has some significant supply-chain businesses, and businesses in the sector itself, in his constituency, and I am sure that they will be delighted that he has put that on the record.

I agree that the work that the sector strives to do with regard to responsible drinking is important. The made to be measured campaign, the “Code of Practice for the Responsible Marketing and Promotion of Scotch Whisky” and the work of Community Alcohol Partnerships and the Scottish Alcohol Industry Partnership are very important in that regard.

I think that we can look forward with confidence to the future of the sector—a sector that, depending on when we want to mark it as having started, has been around for many hundreds of years. I am sure that it will continue for many more hundreds of years into the future, creating those high-value jobs and continuing to drive Scottish exports.

It is important that the Scottish Government—I am sure that the minister will talk about this—continues to work closely with the sector to identify what it needs to grow with regard to skills, infrastructure or other support as it moves towards becoming a net-zero sustainable sector. I look forward to continuing to sample the products and celebrating the success of the sector for many years into the future.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am really pleased to speak in the debate, and I thank Ivan McKee for bringing it to the chamber. Before I begin, I declare that I, like Ivan McKee, am a member of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee. I also remind members that I am a registered nurse, and I fully support the health recommendations to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week.

Mr McKee laid out his points very well and affirmed that the Scotch whisky industry is vital for Scotland and for our future economy. It has been 200 years since the Customs and Excise Act 1823 sanctioned the distilling of whisky, so now is a good time to reflect on how the industry plans to take Scotch whisky forward for the next 200 years. For my contribution, I will highlight what I think is a key resource for the next 200 years: women in the whisky industry and marketplace.

Yale University has found that women have more taste buds on their tongues than men do, and current studies suggest that women are far superior to men when it comes to tasting and smelling. I therefore suggest that the industry needs to mak siccar that it appeals and advertises to us lassies who have discovered the amazing variation of smells and flavours that Scotch whisky offers.

I am a relatively new convener of the cross-party group on whisky. I have Gordon MacDonald MSP to thank for asking me to join—it wasnae a hard decision to make. The passion for the history, stories and experiences of Scotland’s national drink have been with me since I lived in California after moving there in 1990. In the 90s, whisky as a product and whisky as an industry were both very male-dominated and male-focused. There were only a handful of women working in the Scotch whisky industry, and almost all the adverts and marketing were directed at an older male consumer. At times, those adverts were downright and blatantly misogynistic, which seemed to send the message to women that “Scotch whisky isnae for you.”

I am thankful that the industry has almost completely stopped that practice, and overtly sexist marketing is rare now. However, the sheer lack of representation of women in marketing and editorial imagery still feeds the insidious idea that Scotch whisky is not meant for women, and I appeal to the industry to change that.

In 2020, a non-profit organisation called OurWhisky Foundation conducted a survey of how the world’s largest whisky brands represented drinkers on social media, and it found that there were

“228% more images of men than women.”

In an effort to tackle that, OurWhisky Foundation has launched a new website called “The Modern Face of Whisky”. It is a free-to-use image library that depicts people of all genders, ages and races, with the intention that the whisky industry will start using more diversity in its adverts and appeal to a wider consumer base, including women and people under the age of 35. Statistics show that Scotch whisky drinkers discover that they like it before the age of 31.

I am very proud to say that, today, there are so many women who are working prominently in the whisky industry that there are far too many for me to mention them all, which is good news. However, I will mention a few trailblazing women in whisky. Susanne Cameron-Nielsen is head of engagement for the Scotch Whisky Association; she is in the cross-party group, and she helps to keep us right with the secretariat duties. Margaret Nicol is the hidden nose behind Dalmore’s success; Dr Rachel Barrie is master blender for the Brown-Forman Corporation group of distilleries; and Cara Laing is the managing director of Douglas Laing & Co. There are too many to mention. There is also Caitlin Heard, who is the team leader at the Borders Distillery in Hawick, in my South Scotland region.

I am sure that the minister will be happy that I am not going to give him any duties this evening, except simply in asking him to acknowledge that there are distilleries in the South Scotland region that produce gin, rum and whisky—including Bladnoch, which is the southernmost distillery in Scotland.

I end by quoting what Annabel Thomas, the founder of the Nc’nean distillery, said last year:

“My dream is that we get to a place where no-one finds it surprising if women drink whisky or, indeed, if women work in the whisky industry.”

Slàinte mhath, Presiding Officer.


Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Ivan McKee for bringing this important debate to the chamber, which allows us to celebrate Scotland’s national drink. The story of Scotch dates back to the 15th century, and such is our love for a dram that it has been immortalised in song, poetry, play and film. Our national bard Robbie Burns was so enamoured with Scotch that he wrote his ode to whisky, “Scotch Drink”.

Whisky is drunk right across the world, in many different ways. When I lived in London, I invited my neighbour Arthur Howard, an actor who was famous for his role alongside Jimmy Edwards in the sitcom “Whack-O!”—that ages me a bit—down for a drink. As I was a cash-strapped student, my partner and I speculated as to what Arthur’s tipple might be. Given that he was an actor, we duly went out to buy a bottle of gin. When Arthur arrived, we asked him what he would like to drink, steering him towards a gin and tonic. He politely informed us that his day drink was pink gin but that his evening tipple was firmly a straight whisky. When presented with a gin and tonic, he happily cupped the glass and told us this story.

Arthur was a great nephew to both the actress Fay Compton and the author of “Whisky Galore”, Compton Mackenzie. When Arthur arrived on Barra, his great-uncle having apparently rowed him ashore, Mackenzie asked him what he might like to drink. In his clipped tone, Arthur said, “A whisky and soda.” Apparently, Mackenzie loudly and angrily repeated the word “soda” before retiring to the kitchen to bring him back a large malt, without even the merest dash of tap water let alone a hint of soda. That proves that drinking whisky is done very much to our own tastes, as Emma Harper just said.

Regardless of how it is drunk, today, whisky is loved so much across the world that, as Ivan McKee mentioned, 1.3 billion 70cl bottles were exported last year, which equates to 43 bottles per second and accounts for 77 per cent of Scotland’s food and drink exports.

I am fortunate enough to live just a few miles away from Glenkinchie distillery, which makes one of six single malt whiskies that their producer, Diageo, markets as the classic malts of Scotland. Glenkinchie has a subtle floral flavour, and its distillery was a key beneficiary of Diageo’s £185 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism, which transformed it into a world-class attraction. The combination of its proximity to the capital and that recent investment in the visitor experience helped to attract more than 37,000 visitors in 2023, which has been critical to the local economy in East Lothian and across the south of Scotland. Collectively, Scotch whisky visitor centres are among the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland, drawing visitors who then go on to spend more money in local economies right across the country.

In March, the Parliament’s cross-party group on beer and pubs, which I chair, launched an inquiry that focused on brand Scotland and what it means for the beer and pub sector. It is important that we understand what that brand means to businesses with such interests in Scotland, including Diageo. Scotch whisky is a vital part of the Scottish economy and must be promoted responsibly, because it is a central pillar of brand Scotland.

In my view, the Scottish Government’s recent abortive consultation on restricting alcohol advertising, marketing and promotions would not have achieved the intended outcomes of reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol harm, to which we should all be committed. However, it would have caused economic harm to Scotland. I was therefore glad that the Scottish Government thought again, because it risked the future of attractions such as the Johnnie Walker experience in Edinburgh. I very much welcome the fact that the Scottish Government will hold further talks with the sector and public health stakeholders before examining the issue again. I take this opportunity to urge ministers that, when they are considering any further restrictions to marketing and advertising, they should work with the industry to ensure that a proportionate, evidence-based and workable solution is proposed and that it is cognisant of, for example, the huge amount of work that the Portman Group does on self-regulation.

In January, the Scotch Whisky Association published a report showing how the value of Scotland’s national drink drives economic growth. At that time, Neil Gray, who was then the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, said:

“The Scottish Whisky industry is extremely valuable to the economy in terms of production and exports, and increasingly for tourism and hospitality. It ... is a success story at home and internationally.”

I do not always agree with Mr Gray, but on that I agree with him whole-heartedly. We, in the Parliament, should work with the Government and the industry to ensure 500 more years of success for our iconic Scotch whisky industry.


Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I must start by offering an apology to the chamber, the Presiding Officer and the minister, as I need to leave before the conclusion of the debate. I have, of course, secured the Presiding Officer’s permission to do so.

I thank Ivan McKee for securing this members’ business debate on Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky industry and for allowing us all to brag about our constituencies. The industry’s impact on Scotland’s economy, our culture and our communities is truly incredible. Few enterprises are so distinctly rooted in local communities that they give back in such an enormous way. I speak of that from experience, because—yes, here it comes—in my constituency, the Loch Lomond distillery and Chivas are two of the most significant employers in the local area.

The Loch Lomond distillery is one of only four in Scotland to have its own on-site cooperage and four-year training programme. Thanks to the Scotch whisky industry, across Scotland there are now more than 300 skilled coopers who are trained in the craft of repairing and rebuilding whisky barrels. I cannot mention the Loch Lomond distillery without exercising my constituency bragging rights, as the Whisky Exchange chose Loch Lomond’s 18-year-old malt as its whisky of the year for 2024. I will bring in samples for those colleagues who wish them.

I am also immensely proud that the Chivas bottling plant is in my constituency. Its contribution to the local and Scottish economies is huge, and it has a very positive relationship with the local community in Dumbarton. Chivas Brothers is best known for Chivas Regal and for one of the world’s best-selling Scotch whiskies, Ballantine’s blended scotch. It also has gin and various other spirits for those who like them. Chivas Brothers has a track record of expansion in my constituency, and its continued employment of local people—increasingly now on permanent contracts—is a real vote of confidence in our area. Towards the end of last year, Chivas Brothers proposed plans to invest in the expansion of the Kilmalid bottling site to improve site safety, protect community walkways and ensure easy access around the site for Dumbarton residents. That is on top of a £60 million development in the form of a new state-of-the-art bottling hall, which I commend to those who have not already seen it. That development cements the company’s commitment to the local economy, which will benefit us all for decades to come.

If the Scotch whisky industry is to thrive, though, it will need our support. It needs safe, efficient, reliable infrastructure networks to ensure the sustainable movement of workers, goods and visitors. For example, that means that the Scottish Government must take the action that is required to ensure that the ferry network is fit for purpose, given the number of distilleries that are on our islands. It should also support the industry by taking steps to dual the A9 and the A96 and, in my constituency, to make crucial improvements to the Rest and Be Thankful. The Government has taken its time over progress with the Rest and Be Thankful for quite a number of years now. Local residents and businesses need decisive action and answers about what will happen to that much-needed project. As we have already heard, there are 41,000 Scotch whisky jobs across Scotland, many of which are in rural communities. Getting the infrastructure right is therefore crucial.

Scotch whisky is our number 1 export. From Dumbarton to Dalwhinnie, and from Skye to Stirling, our 140 distilleries put Scotland on the map around the world. This is, indeed, brand Scotland, so we have to properly support the industry and its employees if it is to continue to thrive globally and at home. It is not enough for us just to celebrate it. The Scottish Government must support the housing, training and community infrastructure that the industry needs to then support sustainable growth for the long term. Only then will Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky sector continue to grow and thrive as we would want it to do, and as the economic and cultural asset that we know that it is.


Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

When I was first elected, 25 years ago, I discovered that the value to the UK Treasury of the whisky in the Tomatin distillery alone was more than sufficient to dual the A9 at the time. That indicates the enormous value of the whisky industry to Scotland, and we see manifestations of that all over the country.

I should declare a potential interest in that I have purchased two casks for private consumption and gifting—not for commercial sale, which is illegal according to the terms of my contracts with the Isle of Harris Distillery and another distillery.

I will focus on a very serious issue, of which I have given the minister notice: the alarming growth in fraud in the sale of whisky casks. In that respect, I am indebted to the serious work that has been done by a number of individuals—I will name them now, in case I forget later—including Blair Bowman, a well-known writer and consultant, and Vikki Bruce, who has produced an excellent white paper setting out the risks and the solution. Just yesterday, Mark Littler and Felipe Schrieberg wrote in The Scotsman about, which provides an educational tool.

The fraud, I am afraid, is growing. It is a serious problem, and there are red flags all over the place. I will give some examples. In 2011, 2,000 investors paid £4 million for non-existent casks. In April last year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested a United Kingdom man for a scam worth £10.3 million. Many companies that are notionally based in London but are actually registered in countries where it would be impossible to seek redress—tax havens and so on—promise returns of 582 per cent over 10 years and bonds guaranteed at 9.5 per cent per annum. If it is too good to be true, it is not true. They are scam merchants. I will not name any individuals—I have the names, and Blair has tracked them—but this is a very serious matter indeed. There are many pitfalls; I have given just a few of the more colourful examples. Many of those who were involved in the Australian wine index fraud back in 2000, when 8,700 people lost £87 million, have moved on to the whisky business.

What is to be done about that, and who should do it? Blair and others have been trying to persuade the Scotch Whisky Association to take on the issue. I have great admiration for the SWA’s work, but it has not taken this on yet. It might be helpful if it did, because the UK Government, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority all say that it is somebody else’s problem. There is a real opportunity here for the Scottish Government. Although we do not have consumer protection powers to intervene—

Will the member take an intervention?

Fergus Ewing

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

This is why I informed the minister of my intention to raise the matter. If the Scottish Government were to take the initiative and push for a solution, it would give it the impetus that it needs.

Others have suggested solutions. For example, Vikki Bruce has suggested a Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency-type register of casks, where someone could readily find out who has previously owned a cask, what its contents are, where it is, where the paperwork is, what the history is, and so on. Others have made other proposals. The SWA has done good work, but it could do more.

The risk is that, unless this scandal is dealt with, it could seriously damage the reputation of Scotch whisky worldwide, which none of us would want to see happen.

I will use the brief time remaining to me to impress on members the importance of action being taken. I hope that, in his closing remarks, the minister will set out whether he sees that there is a role for the Scottish Government to take the lead and do something that would potentially be of huge value to the Scottish whisky industry.


Tim Eagle (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I, too, congratulate Ivan McKee on securing this debate on what is a very important issue for Scotland. Let us not forget that, as has been pointed out, many of our distilleries are in rural communities and provide jobs in those areas.

In a debate such as this, it is easy to focus purely on the facts and figures, important though they are, especially when we consider how much the Scotch whisky industry contributes not only to the region that I represent but to Scotland and the whole of the UK. However, we must also recognise that Scotch whisky is a key part of our culture and our identity as a nation: it is woven into Scotland’s fabric.

As we have heard, different parts of Scotland are renowned for their unique perspectives on whisky, from Islay and its famously peated whiskies through to Speyside with its mix of delicate and honeyed whiskies, and its fruitier varieties as a result of the use of sherry cask maturation.

Countries around the world value Scotch whisky, which is evidenced by the fact that the Scotch Whisky Association’s most recent economic impact assessment report showed that exports increased by 31 per cent between 2018 and 2022 to a record £6.2 billion. That is a massive figure. The sector is not standing still: it continues to reinvest in its sites, and new distilleries are opening and new whiskies are being released.

I want to focus on just a couple of examples, which is difficult to do when representing the Highlands and Islands, because there are so many to choose from. I highlight the Isle of Harris Distillery, which has been producing its famous sugar kelp gin since 2015. I bought some when I was on holiday there last year and it is wonderful. Members should try it if they have not done so already. It also recently released the first batch of its whisky, the Hearach.

The founders of the Isle of Harris Distillery set out to create sustainable local jobs, given that the population of the Isle of Harris has declined by 50 per cent over the past 50 years. The distillery, which started with 10 permanent employees, now has around 50. It has become a top tourist destination in the Outer Hebrides, attracting more visitors not only to Tarbert but more widely around Lewis and Harris.

We also have more established distilleries such as Bruichladdich Distillery, on Islay, which has placed a strong focus on driving towards net zero. It has redesigned its famous Classic Laddie bottle to allow for 19 per cent more glass per pallet into the distillery and 60 per cent more product per pallet out of the distillery, resulting in a 65 per cent reduction in its CO2 packaging emissions. That shows its commitment towards delivering net zero.

The industry has more than shown its flexibility and ability to adapt to changing circumstances, but it can do that only when both Scotland’s Governments supports it. Like the Scotch Whisky Association, I welcome the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer froze all types of alcohol duty until at least February 2025.

The Scottish Government has a role to play, too. Like my colleague Craig Hoy, I ask it to think about its plans to restrict advertising on alcohol, which I am aware many in the industry have concerns about, as well as those in the hospitality, tourism and sport sectors.

The deposit return scheme has rightly been delayed until a UK-wide roll-out is deliverable. Businesses such as Chivas Brothers, which is headquartered in and employs around 1,600 people in Scotland, has said that

“diverging from”

a UK-wide approach

“risks adding considerable cost to businesses and consumers”.

Scotch whisky is moving from strength to strength, and the latest figures point to a sector that is not only growing at home and abroad but reinvesting into its sites and into local communities across Scotland. There are undoubtedly challenges ahead, including the cost of living and rising fuel costs, but the industry has shown time and time again that it can adapt and absorb to meet such challenges.

I wish all those involved in the sector well for the years ahead, and I commit to doing all that I can to support them.


Marie McNair (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Ivan McKee for bringing the debate to the chamber. I also thank the Scotch Whisky Association and the whisky companies in my constituency for the helpful briefings that they provided ahead of tonight’s debate.

Scotch whisky is more than just a drink; it is a manifestation of Scotland’s rich cultural heritage and commitment to quality production. It is a symbol of national pride and delivers for our national and local economies. In 2022, the whisky industry in Scotland generated £7.1 billion in GVA and supported 66,000 jobs, and since 2018 it has invested more than £2 billion. That massive investment in our national economy should rightly be celebrated.

I am proud to represent a constituency that holds the significant Auchintoshan distillery, which is just off the A82 in Clydebank and literally five minutes away from my front door, and the Chivas Brothers warehouse in Dalmuir. I had the opportunity to visit that spirit processing and maturation site, which contains filling, disgorging and blending facilities. It has 56 employees and a combined 700 years of experience.

Legal whisky making started on the banks of the Clyde in 1817, when the Duntocher distillery was built by John Bulloch. His grandson co-founded one of the 19th century’s most famous blending and broking firms, Bulloch Lade. It was then bought in 1834 by John Hart and Alexander Filshie, who changed its name to Auchentoshan. The Filshies sold up in 1875 to a local grain merchant, and again, like so many stills, Auchie spent almost a century being passed from one owner to another. The distillery was sold to Stanley P Morrison in 1984, before being acquired by Suntory in 1994, beginning a successful era in which the whisky won many awards. The new visitor centre was built in 2004, and Auchentoshan remains a very popular Scotch whisky tourist destination.

Today, Auchentoshan is the only single malt Scotch whisky that is triple distilled and, unusually, all its production is for single malt rather than going to make blended Scotch whisky. Auchentoshan has a large market in the United Kingdom and the US but, interestingly, its popularity is also fast growing in Taiwan and Singapore.

Our whisky distilleries are so much more than just whisky producers. Auchentoshan, for example, does a lot of work in my community, which includes providing on-going support for Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels by donating food and supplies—but not whisky, I think—to help that organisation’s efforts to support those in need. Auchentoshan also supports other charities in my constituency such as Clyde Shopmobility and Golden Friendships, to name just a few.

As times change, it is important that our whisky industry moves with us. Sustainable and ethical production is more important than ever, and several distilleries are on their way to achieving greater decarbonisation. Although it is still subject to planning consent, the Auchentoshan HyClyde project, run by Marubeni Europower, would use proven technology to deliver green hydrogen to power the whole distilleryI It is expected that the project would create up to 130 jobs in construction, in addition to another four to five jobs once it is in operation.

Of course, while we champion our whisky industries, we must do much to acknowledge the importance of responsible drinking. I was glad to see, therefore, that in September 2023 the Scottish Government and the Scotch whisky industry agreed to work together to promote the made to be measured campaign as part of the Government’s wider efforts to reduce alcohol misuse in Scotland. Likewise, the whisky industries in my constituency, such as Auchentoshan, support the campaign. Auchentoshan’s owner is Suntory, which is a founding member of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking.

Let us all, therefore, raise a glass to our excellent Scotch whisky industry and the generations of distillers who have dedicated their lives to perfecting the craft. I thank Ivan McKee once again for securing the debate, which has been very worth while.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before calling the next speaker, I advise that, because of the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Ivan McKee to move the motion without notice.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Ivan McKee]

Motion agreed to.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I am grateful to members for allowing the extension of this important debate. I thank Ivan McKee and congratulate him on obtaining this slot for one of the most important debates that takes place in the chamber, given the importance—as we have heard—of our whisky in Scotland.

Speaking at this point in the debate allows me to skip the statistics, which is always good, because it enables me to talk instead about the importance of South Scotland in the whisky industry. That includes the Bladnoch distillery, which resumed production in 2017; the Lochlea distillery, which was commissioned in 2018; the Borders distillery, which opened in 2018; St Boswells, which will be the next distillery in South Scotland; and the Moffat distillery, which opened in 2020. It also allows me to talk about the Annandale distillery, which was established in 1836 and reborn in 2014, and—of course—the great Glenkinchie distillery in my area, which started in 1825. That is important because for so many years—almost a century—Glenkinchie as a product was almost unknown because, from 1894, the John Walker & Sons family regularly purchased virtually all of the product from Glenkinchie to use it as the base in the blend of the world’s most popular whisky, Johnnie Walker Black Label.

As we heard, Glenkinchie distillery celebrated welcoming 37,000 visitors in 2023. The funding that has led to the distillery’s redevelopment is truly extraordinary. That is because the product that comes from Glenkinchie, charmed because of its lowland single malt background and built from the water around the distillery, is such a pleasurable base for the world’s most-drunk whisky.

Although the whisky industry in East Lothian and the south of Scotland employs only dozens of people, the financial import to the area is enormous. When we look at our distilleries, we see only one part of the manufacturing process. Even the biggest distilleries employ only dozens of people—obviously more on the tourism side—as we have heard. However, if we follow the chain back to the bottling plants, we find that many hundreds of employees have had lifelong earnings.

As we have heard in a number of speeches, we need to cherish the product, which means that protections are needed throughout the manufacturing chain. I ask the minister to comment on that. We need to protect whisky as a product, even down to protecting the shape of the glass bottles. We heard worrying comments from Fergus Ewing about the growth in fraud in the trading of barrels. Opening up access to barrels to the general public is a relatively new element, although, of course, the trading of barrels has gone on for ages.

Glenkinchie is known as the garden distillery, partly because of its beautiful location but also because of its efforts to improve the sustainability of the distillation process, for which it has received the gold award for green tourism. That and the imagination that is being shown by all distilleries in Scotland is to be commended. Glenkinchie operates a zero waste to landfill policy and has worked to have a positive impact on nature and sustainability. It encourages pollination and the protection of wildlife in the local area, which justifies its reputation as the garden distillery. The product is one of the “four corners of Scotland”, which, as we heard, are of so much importance to the Diageo brand and the Johnnie Walker experience.

I will finish with two comments about Glenkinchie. First, I thank John, who has taken me round the distillery on three occasions and has always found something new to tell me about its history. I would also like to talk about one of the members of staff I met there, who, as a young man, started working there in the summers, on his first holiday job, welcoming tourists through the distillery entrance, which then included a bowling pitch. He decided that he liked the people he worked with, and he kept applying for jobs until he moved on to work in the distillery. He is now a highly skilled technician who is able to stay in the village—the area of his birth—and raise a family, all because of the strength that whisky gives us. It is almost a unique product in Scotland in that it allows for investment in some of our most vulnerable areas and enables distilleries in those areas to turn into tourist attractions and manufacture one of the finest products in the world.


Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Ivan McKee for securing this debate to celebrate Scotland’s iconic Scotch whisky industry—an internationally renowned success story that is deeply rooted in our Scottish heritage and communities. I am proud to contribute to the debate.

The very meaning of whisky—water of life—not only encapsulates those cherished moments when we raise our whisky glasses and cheer “slàinte mhath”, marking celebrations and milestones in our life, but serves as a reminder of the authenticity and years of delicate craftsmanship that define our cherished Scotch whisky industry. With more than 500 years of production history, Scottish whisky has rightfully claimed its place as the world’s foremost internationally traded spirit, boasting an export value of more than £6 billion in 2023 alone—a statistic that is well worth repeating.

As we have heard, the Scottish Whisky Association has found that, on average, 43 bottles are exported every second, which means that if Ivan McKee is keeping a running total he can add another 10,000 bottles to it by the end of my speech. That figure is truly impressive in such a volatile environment.

Although my constituency of Uddingston and Bellshill may not be renowned for its prominence in the whisky industry, we harbour success stories that I am proud to share—or to brag about. For instance, we have William Grant & Sons, the largest independently owned Scotch whisky company, which originated in the Highlands and established its state-of-the-art bottling and packaging facility—which marked its 30th anniversary last year—in Bellshill’s Strathclyde business park. That is where you will find iconic Scotch whisky brands such as Glenfiddich, the Balvenie, Grant’s and Monkey Shoulder being meticulously bottled.

The bottling plant boasts significant employment opportunities, with around 750 workers on site. Furthermore, William Grant & Sons plays a key role in equipping students to be the next generation of leaders in the industry, offering an exceptional 12-week summer internship programme and a three-year graduate development programme. I was thrilled to hear about the experiences that Robyn, one of the students, had in those programmes. She said:

“I’m having the most amazing experience and I’ve been given opportunities to make a real difference in the business.”

I encourage students in my constituency who may share a passion for whisky to look out for upcoming opportunities at Grant’s Bellshill site.

As we have heard today, the whisky industry is a cornerstone of Scotland’s economy. Production on that scale comes with significant responsibility for tackling climate change. The very essence of whisky is heavily reliant on preservation of the environment, with factors such as water and peat quality influencing its distinct flavour, so it is really encouraging to see the whisky industry committing to decarbonising its operations by 2040. I hope that the minister will be able to outline how the Scottish Government is supporting the sector to successfully meet that critical target.

We are seeing bold initiatives unfold on that journey to decarbonisation. In central Scotland, Falkirk distillery has partnered with the biotechnology company MiAlgae to repurpose whisky byproducts for animal feed, which is an example of furthering the circular economy. At a local level, the Artisanal Spirits Company opened its Masterton Bond bottling plant in Uddingston in March last year. That facility has eliminated the group’s reliance on third-party bottling, substantially reducing its road miles and carbon footprint. Those local initiatives play a pivotal role in the industry’s journey to decarbonisation, which is immensely gratifying and worth celebrating.

I continue to be struck by the resilience and innovation demonstrated by our whisky industry. It is impossible to overstate the industry’s profound impact on our economy, employment and growth. I truly believe that there are absolutely no limits to what our whisky sector can achieve. After all, who disnae like a wee dram?


Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I commend Ivan McKee on his motion and congratulate him on securing this debate.

I begin my short contribution by declaring my interest as co-convener of the parliamentary cross-party group on Scotch whisky. If members are interested in reading my entry in the register of members’ interests, they will see that, last August—along with Gordon MacDonald and Colin Smyth, who are also members of that cross-party group—I was a recipient of Scottish Whisky Association hospitality during a trip to the island of Islay. That could best be described as an important fact-finding mission, and members of the cross-party group take our responsibilities on behalf of the wider Parliament extremely seriously, so we devoted a lot of time and attention to the two days that we spent on Islay. I reassure those members who raised the topic of responsible drinking that the drinking that took place was, indeed, responsible, at least on my part—I cannot speak for the others who were there.

We have heard a lot about the success story and the growth of Scotch whisky. In 2023, exports topped £5.6 billion. Scotch whisky now represents 77 per cent of Scottish food and drink exports, 26 per cent of UK food and drink exports and 2 per cent of all UK exports, so it is of considerable value to Scotland and the wider UK economy.

One of the interesting developments that we are seeing is the opportunity to open new markets for whisky. The Scotch Whisky Association, which does such important work in representing the industry, has a team that works continually to reduce tariff barriers and to allow access for whisky. It is focused, in particular, on India, which represents a great opportunity. There are 1 billion people in India, and it is a country with a very dynamic and growing economy and an expanding middle class. People have a lot of money to spend, and whisky is seen as a premium and attractive product, but it currently suffers from very high tariff barriers. Therefore, if there is an opportunity for the UK to do a trade deal with India, that would be very much to the benefit of the whisky industry and Scotland more generally. The UK Government has been working to develop such a deal, and we should encourage it in its efforts.

Another development that we have seen in recent years, which is very encouraging, has been the opening of a large number of new distilleries. Tim Eagle referred to that in his speech, as did others. Some of us who are old enough might remember that, back in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a trend of distilleries closing and being mothballed. The fact that that trend is now being reversed is very encouraging.

I can give a couple of examples of that from my region of Mid Scotland and Fife. There is Lindores Abbey distillery at Newburgh, which is a very exciting new development. It is not just a whisky distillery but a visitor attraction that is bringing people to the local area in large numbers. There is also the Eden Mill St Andrews distillery at Guardbridge, which is part of the new University of St Andrews campus. As well as producing gin and whisky, it provides a new visitor experience with a shop and cafe. There are many other examples that I could give. It is so encouraging to see the growth of new distilleries in parts of Scotland outwith areas such as the Highlands and Islands and in areas where there was not a tradition of whisky distillation. It is good that other parts of Scotland are now benefiting.

I will mention briefly the question of progress towards net zero. As other members have mentioned, the industry is doing tremendous work in reducing carbon emissions. There are initiatives at Blair Athol distillery to encourage recycling and at Glengoyne distillery in Stirlingshire to preserve water.

All those things are a good-news story. The cross-party group welcomes new members, and it welcomes the opportunity to visit any of the distilleries that we have discussed. We are open to invitations, and I am sure that members will enjoy responsible drinking along with us if the opportunity arises.

I again thank Ivan McKee for giving us the chance to discuss these important matters.


Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Ivan McKee for bringing the story of Scotch whisky to the chamber once again.

Of course, the story of Scotch whisky and its current status as a world-class product cannot be told without telling the story of John Walker, who, in around 1820, set up his grocer’s shop in Kilmarnock with the legacy of £417 that he received from the sale of his father’s farm. He soon began selling his blended malt, Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky. As everybody will probably know, that led to what was for many years—and still is—the number 1 selling whisky in the world. Johnnie Walker, which was established in Kilmarnock in 1820, is still going strong, but, sadly, it is no longer being made in Kilmarnock.

It was John Walker’s son, Alex, then his son, Alexander, who made the breakthrough with the brand. By 1860, the famous square bottle had been introduced and sales of around 100,000 gallons per year were recorded. Look at it now—more than 125 million 1 litre bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label are sold each year, making it a clear world leader.

The revenue for Johnnie Walker’s current custodian, Diageo, is huge, and for the UK Treasury it is probably even bigger. However, my speech tonight is not about money. It is about something else: it is about history, pride and loyalty, and it is about recognising and valuing the incredible contribution that a small number of entrepreneurs made and the contribution of townspeople who made Johnnie Walker the success that it has become. My speech is also about the abandonment of all of that in the pursuit of profit, and about the nameless and faceless shareholders whose only goal is even more profit.

The bottling plant in my town—which was the biggest in the world at one point—was unceremoniously shut in 2012. The whole enterprise, which had thrived in Kilmarnock for more than 190 years, was hijacked lock, stock and barrel, and the 700 jobs were taken, too. There was no transition fund, then, to deal with the massive impact that that had on local families and the local economy. We just got on with it.

I will never understand why so much value can be placed on continuing to exploit the rich historical origin of something such as Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky—by telling its story and providing it with provenance as a world-class product—while severing the link with the living origins of the product. That is utterly beyond me.

I am prepared to bet that the profits of more than £4 billion that have been reported by Diageo for 2023 would probably be around the same had Johnnie Walker stayed in Kilmarnock—its spiritual home. The closure was pointless and damaging and did nothing positive that I can think of. Do not get me wrong—I want to see the Walker brand succeeding and going from strength to strength, filling the coffers of the company, the Exchequer and whoever makes their living from that wonderful and iconic Scottish product. Perhaps I still hope, in vain, that true enlightenment will return—that we will see loyalty, respect and recognition return to business planning and the corporates of the future, that they will place economic value on the historical origins of a product, and that they will involve local people and protect and cherish that for the future.

Too often, the corporates know the cost of everything but the value of nothing that really matters. Local people brought that iconic product to life. The success of Scotch whisky, and of Johnnie Walker in particular, is down to the people who founded the product and nurtured it and whose labour brought it to an eager world population to enjoy.

The people of Kilmarnock are still proud of their part in the Johnnie Walker story and would welcome some semblance of that connection being re-established, if at all possible, by more enlightened corporates in the present day. Johnnie Walker still belongs to Kilmarnock: his resting place is there, he still belongs to us and he always will.


Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I, too, congratulate Ivan McKee on securing tonight’s debate. The level of interest in the debate is a reflection of how important the industry is to Scotland and to individual constituencies and regions across the country. I declare an interest as the member of the United Kingdom Parliament for its Moray constituency. Given that its boundaries make it slightly bigger than the Scottish Parliament’s Moray constituency, I can officially say that I represent the constituency that has more Scotch whisky distilleries than any other in the country.

The success of the industry in Moray, in the Highlands and Islands and around the country goes back, with great interest and great history, to the efforts of individuals throughout many generations. Every speaker in the debate will be able to mention people from their area who have made a massive contribution locally, nationally and internationally.

On that point, I take the opportunity to remember one of those great champions from Moray—Ian Urquhart, who sadly died just last month. Ian dedicated his career to the family firm of Gordon & MacPhail Ltd. He is well remembered for his four decades with Gordon & MacPhail and for the work that he did after that with Johnstons of Elgin Ltd woollen mill and as a deputy lord-lieutenant in Moray. Our thoughts are very much with his children, Neil and Jenny, his wife Nichola and his family and many friends who remember Ian’s huge contribution. His work is why, in 2022, he and his brother Michael were awarded CBEs for their contribution to the Scotch whisky industry. Ian was a recipient of the award of keeper of the quaich and of a lifetime achievement award from Spirit of Speyside’s whisky festival. I put on record that the Parliament’s thoughts are with Ian’s friends and family, following their sad loss last month.

The whisky industry has a great history in Moray and, more recently, new distilleries have been appearing. This year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Glenlivet and the Macallan whiskies, the Miltonduff and Cardhu distilleries, but we are also at the point when the first distillation in almost 170 years is taking place at the Cabrach distillery. Tomorrow night I will be at an event welcoming the start of distillation in the Cabrach distillery again after many years.

To go back to the point that Murdo Fraser, Tim Eagle and others made, I say that that is taking jobs and investment into communities that have not seen that level of investment for a very long time. The impact on our local communities of both of the distilleries that have been well established over centuries, and those that are just getting back up and running again, is significant and immense.

We have heard about the input and positive nature of whisky tourism. We, in Moray, welcome to our region every year hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists who are looking to visit the distilleries of their favourite brands of whisky. This year is the 25th anniversary of Spirit of Speyside’s whisky festival. I know that the chairman George McNeil and his team have organised an outstanding programme of events over six days at the beginning of May. There are, in more than 85 venues across 19 villages, 650 events taking people into our area to learn more about the whisky industry and the heritage of whisky in our part of the country and, of course, to spend money in our local communities, which is so important.

Another area that we have not touched on much tonight is the raw ingredients of whisky, and what a job our farmers do in creating the outstanding malting barley to be put into the whisky that, in years to come, is enjoyed by people across the country. I know that many of our farmers in Moray, across the Highlands and Islands and right across the country will, at the moment, be worried about sowing because of the wet weather that we have been having, but their produce is at the start of the journey to create Scotch whisky and is vitally important.

Finally, given the time constraints, we also have to look at investment. Members—Ivan McKee and others—were right to highlight the money that is raised and the gross value that is added by the Scotch whisky industry from sales and exports of whisky, but we also have to look at the amount that is spent in local communities, such as through investment in visitor centres. I was at the Aberlour distillery recently to see its plans to increase production and to offer a new visitor experience, which I know will be enjoyed by many people who come to the area.

Once again, I congratulate Ivan McKee on securing the debate. The interest in it shows how important the Scotch whisky industry is to all of us in the Scottish Parliament. I commend everyone involved in the industry for their successes.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

I, too, congratulate Ivan McKee on bringing the debate to the chamber. I declare an interest as a member of the cross-party group on Scotch whisky; indeed, I admit that my interest is far more than an interest—it is a love for our national tipple.

As many members who have already spoken do, I believe that it is important that we celebrate the incredible success story that is the Scotch whisky industry. We have already heard that it contributes more than £7.1 billion to the UK economy and plays a crucial and critical role in Scotland’s ambition to grow its export market.

I am delighted to highlight two distilleries in my constituency of Galloway and West Dumfries and the part that they are playing in contributing to that global sales drive. The Crafty Scottish Distillers Ltd distillery in Newton Stewart has made outstanding gains since its establishment seven years ago by Graham Taylor, who is its founder and owner. With its 12 employees, the distillery is looking to release its first single malt Scotch whisky next year, in 2025.

I am proud to be a member of the founders club, through which founders helped to refine the signature distilling formula for Billy&Co, which is a new whisky that has been named after the father of the founder who built the distillery. That foundation will allow Graham and his colleagues to create a unique whisky that will offer a new level of quality, aroma and taste in the years to come. Such is the confidence surrounding the move that Graham Taylor is planning to build a new facility to increase Scotch whisky production 20-fold. I am sure that all members wish him every success.

Many members might be more familiar with the distillery’s offering of Hills & Harbour gin and 24Seven vodka—both of which slip down a treat in the drinking markets in eight countries around the world, including Germany, Italy, Australia, Poland, Canada and China, to name but a handful. Importantly, its products are also about to be offered to spirits lovers across the United States. All that has resulted in the Crafty distillery having enjoyed a 280 per cent growth in exports last year, which also resulted in an increase in turnover of 20 per cent. The distillery provides a major tourist attraction, with nearly 20,000 visitors from across the UK and around the globe taking time out to stop there. Members will agree that those are quite remarkable achievements in such a short space of time.

I am thankful that there is a similar success story, albeit over a longer timescale, at Bladnoch Distillery Ltd, which is the most southerly distillery and the oldest independently owned distillery in Scotland. It is fair to say that Bladnoch has endured something of a chequered past since it was originally founded, in 1817, although it is now enjoying a bold, powerful and exciting revival after being mothballed—one of many such revivals that we hear about across the country. The brand was purchased in 2015 by Australian yoghurt entrepreneur David Prior, who is a man with a real passion for Scotch whisky that was built over years sitting on his father’s knee while his father enjoyed a Scotch. He has embarked on a new chapter in the history of what is the oldest privately owned distillery.

That Lowlands distillery’s products are now sold in almost all its export markets, with the markets in Germany, China and the United States all growing by more than 100 per cent in both volume and value. Under the leadership of Dr Nick Savage, who joined as a master distiller in 2019, Bladnoch is currently releasing limited edition whiskies using old casks that were filled before the distillery was mothballed. Such are demand and interest that the distillery has reported a turnover of just over £20 million.

In addition to the flagship Bladnoch single malt, the company also creates Pure Scot, which is an award-winning blended Scotch whisky. The company has said that the brand has found success in traditional markets as well as in developing export markets including Israel, Nigeria and Indonesia. None of that has gone unnoticed, with Bladnoch having been recognised nationally in 2022 when it received the Queen’s award for enterprise. The number of people passing through its excellent visitor centre remains at a record high and provides a welcome boost to the economy in Newton Stewart. Employing 50 people, Bladnoch takes great pride in its local origins, which is why it uses the marketing phrase “bold Galloway spirit”. It is promoting not only the whisky, but the local area.

There is, of course, a broader point to be made about the importance of Scotch whisky to rural communities, with industry body SWA calculating that some 11,000 people are directly employed by the industry with, crucially, 7,000 of them being in rural communities. In fact, Scotch whisky is one of the very few industries that can thrive in remote locations, which is welcome news in my constituency.

I will finish on that note. I look forward to raising a glass and toasting Scotch whisky in the coming days.

I call Richard Lochhead to respond to the debate.


The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, Tourism and Trade (Richard Lochhead)

Like others, I will start by thanking my colleague Ivan McKee for securing this chamber debate, and I also offer my thanks to members for their valued contributions. Of course, Mr McKee is a long-standing champion of Scotland’s Scotch whisky sector. I think that I have tasted most of the whiskies that have been mentioned in the debate, although by no means all of them. First, though, I must take this opportunity to welcome Tim Eagle formally to the Parliament, as this is my first opportunity to speak in the same debate as him.

One of the whiskies that I have not had the opportunity to taste as yet—the day will come—is Isle of Harris whisky. In one of my previous ministerial roles, I included whisky in the food and marketing processing grant scheme—I think that that was the title—back in 2013. Under that scheme, we gave a £1.9 million grant to the Isle of Harris distillery—indeed, I attended the ceremony to cut the turf—and it is fantastic to hear, all these years later, that 50 jobs have been created at that distillery. That is good news.

I welcome the level of interest that has been shown in this issue both across the chamber and from all parts of our country. People have a lot of love for our iconic, world-class whisky industry. It is a global Scottish success story that represents the best of Scotland. Some members will have bottling plants, warehouses, distilleries or hauliers in their constituencies, or other connections with the industry, but I expect that every single member of the Parliament will have some connection with whisky. The industry underpins our economy, and it is a major pillar of our country’s reputation for quality, excellence, entrepreneurialism and internationalism and of our rich culture and heritage.

Indeed, many members have mentioned heritage, and I was taken by Willie Coffey’s comments about links, long-standing heritage and the origins of Johnnie Walker. In fact, I was gifted the book “A Long Stride” by Diageo. Published in 2020, on the 200th anniversary of Johnnie Walker, it is a fascinating read and touches on the long association with Kilmarnock and the rest of the country. Of course, Johnnie Walker is part of Kilmarnock’s story, and is part of our industrial history at the same time.

People are a big part of the industry. I am pleased that Douglas Ross mentioned Ian Urquhart, whom I wanted to mention, too. I worked with and knew Ian for many years, both as his MSP and as a minister. He was involved in Scotland Food & Drink and in the family business Gordon & MacPhail, which owns the two distilleries of Benromach and the Cairn. He was a fantastic ambassador and champion for Scotch whisky and, indeed, for food and drink in Scotland overall. I benefited greatly from his wise advice over the years, and he will be sorely missed.

Ivan McKee said at the beginning of the debate that every member claims to have the most distilleries. I cannot fail to mention that, as the MSP for Moray, I represent the biggest concentration of distilleries in Scotland. I recently asked the SWA to calculate the level of production in Speyside compared with the rest of the country, and it estimated that up to 60 per cent of Scotch whisky is distilled there. In response to Kate Forbes’s point, I think that Speyside perhaps wins out in terms of volume, value and the number of distilleries, but we do have fantastic distilleries the length and breadth of Scotland.

I started drinking whisky at university, before going out on a Friday evening. I would sit down and have a dram with my friends and listen to “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. It was a fantastic start to the evening. Since then, I have graduated to Islay whiskies, lighter Speyside whiskies and many others from around the country.

The Scottish Government recognises and will continue to support at every opportunity our whisky industry and its positive and significant contribution to both the Scottish economy and Scotland’s international reputation. We have all spoken about the transformation of the industry over the past couple of decades, which has been phenomenal to witness, to be part of and to support.

Emma Harper made some powerful points about the number of women now involved in the whisky industry in Scotland, and it is striking to note the number of master blenders and other senior members of the industry who are female. It is a great step forward for the whisky industry, and I am glad that Emma Harper raised the issue.

Another trend has been the private trade in casks. As Martin Whitfield and others have said, since the start of the whisky industry, distilleries have traditionally traded casks between themselves, but the private trading of casks is a relatively recent trend, what with the increasing value of whisky, particularly from some distilleries. Fergus Ewing raised the important issue of maintaining the authenticity and providence of casks that are privately traded—and I thank him for doing so and for giving me some prior notice of that. I also pay tribute to Blair Bowman and others, who have raised the issue, too. The Scotch Whisky Association’s view is that it represents a very small part of the whisky industry, but nonetheless the issue that Fergus Ewing raises is important. Given today’s technology, I would hope that there is something that we can do about that, but I would be happy to discuss the issues further with the Scotch Whisky Association in due course.

The Scotch Whisky Association, as the industry’s representation body, takes its responsibilities to protect the industry very seriously, including in respect of authenticity, and also takes very seriously its responsibility to society as a whole. Ivan McKee, Keith Brown and others mentioned the good work that the industry is undertaking to promote responsible drinking; indeed, it is working with Government to highlight the made to be measured campaign, and it funds initiatives to tackle underage drinking, in partnership with community alcohol partnerships across the country. There is a lot of good work taking place as part of that agenda.

As I have said, the industry has grown significantly in recent years and is attracting many people from around the world to our shores, and to our rural and island communities in particular. The 2022 whisky tourism figures are a real indication of the industry’s growing appeal and role in our tourism sector. The tourism and hospitality sector benefits hugely from whisky, creating jobs, as many members have said, and enabling visitors and residents to experience the incredible offer that we have here in Scotland. The more than 2 million visits to Scotch whisky visitor centres demonstrate the successful efforts that are being made by the sector as well as the allure of world-class and award-winning Scotch whisky visitor attractions.

I do not want to rattle through too many statistics but, as others have said, the value of Scotch whisky exports in 2023 was more than £5.6 billion. That success contributes to Scotland’s fantastic exports record and is a testament to everyone who works in the sector, from distillers to maltsters to visitor centre staff and those who work right across the supply chains. Everyone involved deserves our tributes today for their role in that success.

Finally, I should mention the decarbonisation of our distilleries and the sector. It represents another serious commitment from the industry and a lot is happening in that area. For example, I read in the SWA report that Bunnahabhain distillery in Islay invested £6.5 million in a new biomass facility to save more than 3,500 tonnes of CO2 per year. Other members, including Finlay Carson, have mentioned Carbon Capture Scotland; I have met that company and have heard about the good work that it is doing to decarbonise distilleries in Scotland. Moreover, Chivas is making a massive investment in its distilleries both in my constituency and across the country to achieve its ambitious net zero targets.

Stephanie Callaghan asked what the Scottish Government is doing to support that agenda. We have the Scottish industrial energy transformation fund—a £34 million fund over five years—and six distilleries have received match funding for their decarbonisation plans from that fund alone. Therefore, there is Scottish Government support for a number of distilleries in Scotland to support that agenda.

To pick up on Murdo Fraser’s point about my interaction with the UK Government, I discuss with it trade negotiations and the progress of trade deals. Whisky is always Scotland’s number 1 priority in those discussions. We have highlighted the importance of reducing the 150 per cent tariff that applies to Scotch whisky in India. If we can tackle that in the coming years, it will be a major breakthrough for Scotland. Even a tiny percentage increase in sales in India would be massive for the Scottish whisky industry; it would be very valuable, and we are continually urging the UK Government to do all that it can to bring that to a successful conclusion.

A lot of exciting things are happening in the whisky industry—it is exciting to see them. Indeed, when I was in Falkirk last week, I passed the new Rosebank distillery, which will open on 4 June, and it looks spectacular. We are all seeing those kinds of investments being made right across our constituencies and across Scotland.

Tonight is a great opportunity to raise a glass to the success of Scotland’s Scotch whisky industry—it is a global success story. Slàinte mhath!

Meeting closed at 18:57.