Scotch Whisky (Contribution to Tourism)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th February 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate so that we can celebrate the Scotch whisky industry and everything that it contributes to Scotland. I expect that we will all be in the mood for a dram after we have listened to the various speeches. I am, already.

Scotch whisky is a global and Scottish phenomenon. It is the most successful food or drink export from Scotland and the whole UK. It sustains tens of thousands of jobs throughout Scotland—in particular, in more rural areas. Therefore, it is important to recognise that its economic contribution relates not just to manufacturing, but to the fact that it invites many people to visit our country, the distilleries and the visitor centres, and to see where the whisky is produced.

Whisky is a phenomenal success story and we should make as much as possible of the fact that it has contributed so much to the Scottish brand throughout the world. Around the world, people associate Scotland with quality products that they can trust, uniqueness and, of course, fantastic landscapes. Scotch whisky has opened doors throughout the world for other products, which is why it is so important to the country.

The fact that, as the Scotch Whisky Association says, 30 new distilleries are being planned or built at the moment is a sign of fantastic confidence in the sector. My constituency includes Speyside, where 50 per cent of Scotch whisky is produced. I am lucky enough to represent something like 45 to 50 distilleries.

A number of distilleries have been newly built in Speyside in the past few years, on top of the enormous number that we already have. Some of the bigger distilleries, including Glenlivet or Macallan, have in the past few years expanded even more or are being expanded at the moment. Macallan is investing more than £100 million in building at Craigellachie a new distillery that will be a visitor attraction in its own right. Its architects are world famous and reckon that the number who will visit the new distillery will be double the number who visited the old one.

The industry is going from strength to strength in Speyside and throughout the country but, as Rachael Hamilton said, the tourism is not just about people visiting distilleries. In Speyside, for example, we have the Keith and Dufftown railway. At one end of the railway line, we have the picturesque Strathisla distillery, which many people visit. At the other end of that heritage railway we have the Glenfiddich distillery, which is also a major tourist attraction in its own right and produces a very successful Scotch whisky. Talks are going on about expanding the role of that whisky line in Speyside in order to attract even more visitors to Scotland.

I want to make the point that whisky is not just about the magic of the malted barley, the spring water, the yeast, the casks and the nose; it is also about its folklore and its place in Scottish history. That is why I very much welcome the current efforts to recognise the role of smuggling in Speyside in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, which of course forms the bedrock of the Scotch whisky industry that we have today. George Smith, the founder of the Glenlivet distillery, was a smuggler before he opened the first licensed distillery in Speyside in 1824. That folklore is important and can play a huge role in attracting even more tourists to Speyside and, indeed, to other parts of Scotland.

The Cabrach Trust is talking about building a new historical distillery in the Cabrach, where there have been many illicit stills over the centuries, and it also wants to open a heritage centre in order to tell more of the story of the role of the Cabrach in illicit distilling. It is reckoned that between Glenrinnes, Glenlivet and the Cabrach, there were 400 illicit stills in the 16th and 17th centuries. As I said, that is the bedrock of the Scotch whisky industry that we have today. I hope that the distilleries, the whisky companies and the communities can get together and celebrate the social history as well as the economic history, in order to ensure that we attract more people to Scotland.

There is much more that can be done to attract whisky tourists to Scotland. I hope that the companies can work more closely together with local authorities, VisitScotland and the Scottish Government, and I hope that the minister will give some thought to how that can be achieved in the next few years—provided, of course, that we get through Brexit and maintain the current protection for Scotch whisky, which is an important political priority for the Scottish Government.