The liquor and its marketing have resulted in a booming business. When I toured more than a dozen Scotch whisky facilities in June, meeting with distillers and other industry folk, they were effervescent and confident. Scotch whisky sales have been soaring around the world, almost doubling in the past decade to $7 billion — a huge sum for a country of just 5.3 million people. In fact, Scotch is Scotland’s second-biggest export after oil.
Which explains why so many people I spoke to didn’t just think independence, which Scotland will vote on this week, was risky; they thought, in the words of one distiller as we sipped his whiskey drawn straight from the barrel, that it’s “baloney.” (More than two dozen Scotch industry workers — from executives to coopers who make the barrels — didn’t want to weigh in by name because their companies are playing neutral in the political battle.) Everyone I chatted with had a sophisticated sense of currency issues and trade policy, and most thought it crazy to risk killing their profit machine. Rather than join the chaotic Eurozone, independence supporters, despite their break-from-Britain rhetoric, still want a currency union with the mother ship. But it’s not at all clear that Scotland could remain part of the pound sterling.
And then there’s the problem of exporting their Scotch. A new Scotland would probably have to reapply to the European Union to get coveted, duty-free membership access to 27 countries. Scotch whisky’s status under British bilateral trade accords would be uncertain at best. Plus, whisky makers import barrels that have been used by bourbon distillers in the United States and sherry producers in Spain. Would they still get access to those as easily? The cooperages I visited are machine-assisted, but they still forge barrels much as they would have done 200 years ago. Like automotive manufacturing, it’s a delicate symphony of global suppliers and markets
What’s more, distilleries are part of multinational enterprises that crave a free flow of goods and predictable laws. Dewar’s is part of Bacardi. Glenmorangie is part of the Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy empire. Johnny [sic] Walker is part of Diageo.
Earlier coverage of this issue can be found here. Along with others, I worry that even if the “No” side prevails, the damage to the United Kingdom will have been done by a spirited “Yes” campaign that is entirely ignorant of the deleterious economic consequences of secession, but also has been entirely masterful in campaigning for Scottish independence.