Skip to the content

03 May 2017

Growing Scotch Whisky in a time of change

whisky conference panel

Industry gathers in Edinburgh

How Scotch Whisky will continue to grow in a time of change was discussed today at a gathering of the iconic industry in Edinburgh.

The challenges and opportunities of Brexit were the subject of a panel discussion at the Scotch Whisky Association's Members' Day.  The meeting comes just days after the SWA issued figures showing Scotch Whisky exports returned to growth last year following a short period of decline, with value up 4% to just over £4 billion. Exports were partly boosted by weak sterling following the Brexit vote, but the trade body is calling on the Government to support the industry through the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of this seismic change.

SWA acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird opened the day by telling delegates of recent developments impacting the Scotch Whisky industry. As well as the vote to leave the EU last year and exports growing, the industry cemented its contribution to the UK economy and society. It adds £5bn of value annually and supports more than 40,000 jobs.

Our growth is vital to the prosperity of Scotland and the UK

Julie Hesketh-Laird said: "The performance of the Scotch Whisky industry over the last 12 months has been positive and I'm optimistic this will continue. Demand for Scotch increased and there has been an unprecedented investment in the industry. 

In the last few years, some 14 new distilleries have opened and we know of more than 30 projects at various stages of planning and development.

"But this is a time of change so we need government support now more than ever before to continue to succeed. Our growth is vital to the prosperity of Scotland and the UK."

Also speaking on the day at the Assembly Rooms, Pierre Pringuet, SWA chairman and vice president of Pernod Ricard, told delegates of the contribution the trade body is making to ensure that Scotch Whisky industry's voice is heard by the government as it negotiates the position of the UK after Brexit.

He said: "The SWA has risen to the challenge, establishing itself as a thought-leader on Brexit-related issues. It is making it clear to the government at all levels that Scotch Whisky is of great strategic importance to the economy."

The keynote external speaker the event Keith Brown, MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, said: "There can be no doubt about the importance of the whisky industry to Scotland.  Many of the distilleries lie in the heart of our rural communities, where every job counts, and through the creation of employment and input into local economies, we can see these communities thrive.

"Being part of the European Union and the single market has brought great benefits to Scotland, with exports to the EU now worth more than £12.3 billion a year and within that Scotch whisky accounts for over £1.2 billion. 

the European Union and the single market has brought great benefits to Scotland

"Our single, over-riding concern, is to protect Scotland's national interests and we look forward to working with the Scotch Whisky Association on the priorities needed to achieve that.   Scotch Whisky is special and an industry steeped in tradition, but it is not afraid to be new, innovative and dynamic.  That is why it has been and will continue to be, so successful."

The SWA also welcomed the announcement from the Cabinet Secretary that the Association's incoming chief executive Karen Betts has been invited to join the Trade Board established by the Scottish Government to encourage more businesses to internationalise and grow Scotland's exports. 

The Cabinet Secretary said this "reflects not only the wealth of international experience that Karen brings personally but also the importance the Scottish Government places on the role of the whisky industry in the Scottish economy - especially the positive impact it has on our exporting performance."

On Brexit, the SWA has clearly set out its priorities:

  • A gold standard trade deal with the EU
  • As open a trade policy as possible, securing existing EU trade deal benefits and developing an ambitious agenda of new and refreshed Free Trade Agreements
  • Robust legal protection of Scotch Whisky in the UK, EU, and global markets  
  • Business certainty and consistency through the Great Repeal Bill and other means
  • Frictionless and efficient customs procedures, minimising cost and complexity for exports to the EU
  • Pursuing reform opportunities to boost domestic industry after leaving the EU
  • A domestic tax and regulatory agenda that delivers a platform for international growth.

Taking part in the Brexit panel session were Ian Duncan MEP, Professor Susan Deacon CBE, chair of IOD Scotland and assistant principal for external relations at the University of Edinburgh, Alan Butler, Diageo global policy and public affairs director, and David Williamson, SWA public affairs and communications director.

In the session chaired by professional facilitator David Lee, Ian Duncan MEP said he feels optimistic about a deal after Brexit and the EU needs a strong UK.

Professor Susan Deacon said those in leadership roles need to step up to help business navigate its way through the current uncertainty.

Alan Butler said businesses have to be 'confident' and 'assertive' in engagement with the government so that industry can thrive.

David Williamson added that as a major exporter and manufacturer, Scotch Whisky's continued success will be a litmus test of Brexit. The government must recognise Scotch's strategic importance and work with us to deliver the industry's Brexit priorities.

With media enquiries and to request interviews, please contact: Rosemary Gallagher, SWA head of communications
0131 222 9230 or 07432 605 385 or

Related Documents