As the campaign for an independent Scotland nears its end and voters prepare to make the momentous decision on whether or not the UK is better together, industry experts have forecast the potential damage to both Scotland and the UK if four centuries of the union are broken up. I firmly believe that Scotland can remain a strong and proud nation whilst benefiting from the opportunities of being part of a greater United Kingdom.
During my tenure at DEFRA I was fortunate to deal with a great number of excellent Scottish producers. In 2013 UK food and drink exports reached their highest level ever at £18.9 billion.
Scotch whisky makes up nearly a quarter of this, with £4.4 billion of Scotch whisky exported last year. This is a Scottish product of such quality and prestige that it enhances the reputation of all UK food and drink, which together supports 3.6 million jobs, adds nearly £100 billion to the economy and is our largest manufacturing sector.
The UK government has helped UK companies to double international food and drink trade in the past decade. That’s not just because we produce the world’s best products. It’s because we have the trade networks, the embassies and an exceptional diplomatic service; this is what wins trade deals. Last year alone we were able to open up 112 additional export markets for food and drink. That’s good for Scotland’s producers and good for tax revenues too.
I have seen how well our embassies work. In January I enjoyed telling several hundred politicians, industrialists and opinion-formers at the British embassy in Berlin that the French drink more Scotch whisky in a month than the French drink French cognac in a year! As the UK Minister, I worked closely with our diplomatic networks negotiating geographical indicators and getting illegal stills successfully closed down in countries such as China.
Alex Salmond’s independent Scotland only plans to open between 70 and 90 embassies, a far cry from our established worldwide network of 270. Without this support I fear independence will do to Scotch whisky exactly what Independence did to Irish whiskey a century ago. At the time of Irish Independence Irish whiskey had a larger market share than Scotch whisky.
It is for these reasons and many others that the case for staying a part of the UK is a compelling one. I hope that Scots will vote “No” today.