No post last week due to the fact that my colleagues and I were all up to our eyes in the preparation for (and subsequent execution of ) the Herculean task that is the TWE stockcount.
In the meantime, a blizzard of whisky news has been pinging into my inbox. Back at my desk, I find myself with an incredible amount of press releases, some with good news, some bad. The whisky blogs have certainly been buzzing, and I’m coming late to the party (as usual), but I’ll throw my tuppence-worth in anyway.
We’ll deal with the bad stuff first, and then have some fun tomorrow. Anyone with even the faintest interest in whisky will already know that the industry (and Scotland in general) has been reeling from Diageo’s announcement of the forthcoming closure of a cooperage, Port Dundas grain distillery and the bottling plant at Kilmarnock, home of Johnnie Walker, with the loss of 900 jobs.
Unfortunately, as is usual when anything adverse happens in Scotland, this unfortunate event has been met with mass hysteria in the press and has subsequently been hijacked by Scotland’s petty, pathetic Parliamentarians who have kicked up an almighty shitstorm in the hope of scoring political points against each other.
The result has been a fortnight of highly unedifying backbiting, mudslinging, paranoid rhetoric and macho posturing from the politicians in an attempt to save face, plus the usual bullshit articles in the media about how this is the end of the Scotch whisky industry, with dire forecasts of a dystopian future in which all Scotch is made in India and bottled in plastic bottles in Taiwan. This will continue until the silly season is over or something else more newsworthy happens.
The upshot of all this has been that Diageo have had to agree to a dead duck consultation and a transcendently pointless external independent review to look for alternatives to the closure of the plant in Kilmarnock - which will drag the whole thing on for another few months.
This total waste of time has been hailed as a triumph by the cross-party coalition of MPs who don’t want to look useless with an election coming next year. The fact that the time, effort and money that goes into this cosmetic exercise could be better spent reaching out to other businesses in an attempt to find new sustainable industries for Kilmarnock will not, of course, be mentioned by anyone involved.
In due course, the Scottish government will have stumped up for a totally futile study suggesting the same alternatives to the closures that Diageo will already have considered and rejected before they made the initial decision. Diageo representatives will attend the consultation, nod politely, make sympathetic noises and then go ahead with what they were going to do in the first place and close down the plants. The politicians, honour satisfied, will talk about a sad day for Scottish industry, make conciliatory noises to the people of Kilmarnock and wash their hands of the whole affair.
I expect I’ll get slaughtered for putting my take on this so bluntly, but I have to call it as I see it. I’m not belittling the human cost of these cuts or dismissing the misery and suffering they will cause. But to suggest that Diageo will have run into this decision with their eyes closed and without full consideration of the consequences is at best naive and at worst paranoid. They must have agonised over whether they were doing the right thing, and I’m sure that whoever had to make the call suffered some sleepness nights as a consequence and will have to live with their decision. That decision, though, will have been made with Diageo’s and the Scotch whisky industry’s best interests at heart.
The real worry, though, is this: if the demise of Kilmarnock and Port Dundas is, as has been suggested, the first evidence of Roseisle’s influence, what’s going to happen when the inefficient malt distilleries start shutting down??