Whisky expert Dr David Wishart, a fellow from the School of Management at the University of St Andrews said that, as one of the great survivors of the world recession, a Scotch industry worth £3.5bn (€4.17bn) in export terms should be protected.
He told this publication that if the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill were passed at Holyrood this session, then – upon the basis that the bill might set a price per alcohol unit of 40p – a 70cl bottle of blended Scotch could cost consumers £3.50 more (£12.50-£13) in the country this summer.
Wishart told BeverageDaily.com: “The only thing that’s going to be affected really are the value bottlings, own labels and cheap blends, and other drinks like vodka. It’s a risk, put it that way, given that the Scotch whisky industry is booming.
He agreed that the Scottish Government’s policy objectives sought to curb alcoholism (a serious problem in Scotland), anti-social behaviour and health problems:“It’s kind of social engineering, that’s the objective. It’s the second time the Scottish government tried to introduce this: it was part of bill before the parliament in December 2010. But minimum pricing was voted out of that bill.”
The latest figures show that Scotch whisky exports rose 22% to £3.5bn in 2011, with Singapore (a hub within South-East Asia) up 64%, Brazil (+56%) and Taiwan (+45%) particularly lucrative markets.
But minimum pricing legislation would only encourage increased taxation in importing countries, Wishart warned, since it would allow these nations to review their import tariffs on Scotch.
He said: “For example India, the world's largest whisky market, adds a surcharge of 150% on all Scotch whisky imports. At a time when the EU is trying to re-negotiate this tariff, the Indian line is, if your Government can surcharge your whisky, then so can we.”
With business booming abroad, Wishart questioned the wisdom of “inviting swingeing taxes abroad”, and said that an industry employing 40,000 people (both directly and indirectly) “could be set for a serious downturn”.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) was unavailable to comment on Wishart’s concerns; the academic himself will launch a new edition of his book ‘Whisky Classified’ (a guide to tasting malt whisky that has been translated into eight languages) next month.