Paul's latest Journal column

22 June 2016

Whisky galore! 

Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK with a turnover of £96 billion. There are over 7,000 companies in this industry and they employ about 400,000 people.

Scotch whisky accounts for almost 5% of this annual turnover and whisky exemplifies the benefits we gain from our European Union membership. 

In Scotland, whisky is the third biggest industry, behind oil and financial services, employing 10,000 people directly and 30,000 people indirectly i.e. arable farmers in Northumberland supply cereal crops into the whisky industry in Scotland.  There are 113 distilleries, with 30 more planned and whisky is one of Britain’s biggest exports.

Of 1.2 billion bottles of whisky produced each year only one bottle in every 50 produced in Scotland is consumed in Scotland and less than one bottle in every ten is consumed in Britain.

There is a long-held myth that most of Scotland’s whisky sales are to America, China and Japan.  In reality less than 10% goes to the USA, China is way down the league and Japan drinks the same amount as Scotland. 

Where then is the biggest export market for whisky to be found?  The biggest market is the European Union and the biggest consumer of whisky is France, where they consume 183 million bottles a year – almost double the UK’s consumption.  More Scotch whisky sells in one month in France than cognac sells in a whole year.  Exports to France are worth nearly half a billion pounds a year.

Whisky is one example of where European sales thrive because there are no tariff and few non-tariff barriers to access the world’s largest trading bloc of 500 million people, the EU.  In this way jobs are created and our country makes money to fund health, education, welfare, the emergency services etc.

If we in the North East substitute cars from Nissan for whisky from Scotland, the picture is even starker.  80% of the cars manufactured at Nissan are exported, making the 6,700 direct jobs and the 27,000 indirect jobs heavily dependent on this market remaining accessible and stable.

But it’s not just cars.  More than 95% of the lamb and mutton we export goes into the EU market, which is why the National Farmers Union have cited access to the EU market as one of their top three reasons for farmers being better off inside the EU.

In total 3 million British and Northern Irish jobs depend on demand from our EU neighbours.  Our economic interests are therefore tied up with Europe hence it is simply not in our economic interests to walk away, to leave. Conversely if we remain a bright future awaits. 

It is estimated that half a million new British jobs can be created in the next ten years from reforms of the Single Market including opening up the digital economy, the energy market and the service sector. 

Whose future are we talking about?  It has to be our children’s future, not ours.  The referendum is about the long term, not the short term.  With the polls showing support for remaining in the EU at its highest amongst 18-25 years olds, we, the older generation, should take note, it’s one thing to take a risk with ones own future, it’s quite another thing to take a risk with our children’s future.

A remain vote will protect our children’s freedom of movement throughout the 27 other member states, defend their chances of working, studying and retiring abroad, promote the sectors that still offer meaningful prospects rather than sub-minimum-wage service-industry work, and place them in what will be the largest country within the EU in 35 years time (our birthrate is upward, Germany’s is falling).

As a result the next generation of British politicians will find themselves representing the biggest, hopefully richest and most powerful country in the EU.  In this position they will be well placed to make the UK the leading country in the EU - captain of the team – but the real strength comes from being in a team.  As it says on the back of my Labour Party membership card, “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”.  Maybe, if Remain wins tomorrow, we should make it the motto of the European Union.

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