Scottish food and drink too weak to withstand independence, claims ice cream chief


  By G.A.Ponsonby
The owner of a Scottish Ice Cream family business has launched an astonishing attack on the Scottish food and drink industry, claiming that most Scottish food and drink brands are not good enough to withstand independence.
In a circular sent to Scottish food and drink businesses, Maitland Mackie attacked what he called the “destruction of the united kingdom” and claimed that buyers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would refuse to buy Scottish produce because Scotland’s businesses would be viewed as “foreign”.

Head of the ‘Mackies of Scotland’ ice cream company, Mr Mackie was responding to a survey he himself organised that saw over eighty per cent of those receiving the questionnaire refuse to respond.

In an extraordinary letter to recipients, the Ice Cream Chief had urged them to “circulate this among the owners and/or senior executives of your business – and feel free to forward to other Scottish Food and Drink businesses.”

The question asked: “Recognising that given independence, buyers in the rest of the United Kingdom would consider all Scottish businesses to be foreign, the overall impact of an independent Scotland for Scottish food businesses will be”, and offered respondents several response options.

The survey, sent to 500 Scottish businesses was ignored by over 400 of the recipients.  However Mackie claimed that the response was “very high indeed” and that the results were “highly significant”.

According to Mr Mackie, his poll showed that “8% thought that becoming foreigners in 90% of our current market could be advantageous, 20% took a neutral position, and 71.5% expressed deep concern at the possibility of such a situation becoming a reality.”

Circulating the results to the press and the Better Together campaign, Mackie admitted that his poll was biased and wrote: “A couple pointed out that the question asked was biased!  Of course it was!  My covering letter, overtly conveyed my own views on the independence issue,”

He also claimed independence would lead to “colossal statehood responsibilities” and “uncertainty in all walks of life” and would lead to “20 years of political and bureaucratic hassle” and that there was “clear nervousness” amongst all businesses to put their heads above the parapet.

However, Mr Mackie’s claims regarding Scottish food and drink businesses is at odds with comments from Paul Walsh, Chief Executive of Diageo, who said on 23 August 2012 on the Radio 4 Today Programme that Scottish Independence would make no difference to the company’s investment decisions:

“No difference at all.  Scotch has been around for hundreds of years, it has seen all kinds of political changes.  We’ll weather anything.  Our decision to invest is based on the economics that we think the category will continue to enjoy.  We have a very good relationship with Holyrood and with Westminster.  I don’t think that debate is one we wish to get into.”

The ice cream chief, who stood against Alex Salmond as a Lib Dem candidate in the 1999 Scottish elections, also claimed he has yet to find any businesses who are supportive of Scottish independence. 

“There are/must be some, but I have not yet found a business person supportive of full independence for Scotland.”

Mr Mackie’s attack on the strength of the Scottish Food and Drink brand will cause amazement within an industry that has thrived since the SNP took office in 2007.  The then new Scottish government’s target of £5 billion industry exports by 2017 was achieved six years early and new targets of over £7 billion by 2017 will see food and drink match the revenue achieved by the lucrative oil and gas exports

First Minister Alex Salmond has been central to opening up the Chinese markets to whisky, winning the iconic drink geographic location status.  The Chinese market has also been opened up to Scottish salmon.


Scottish Food and Drink facts:

1. Food and drink exports overseas and to the rest of the UK are at an all time high

  • Total food and drink exports to the rest of UK increased by £1.6bn over the period 2007 to 2010, to reach £5.9bn – an increase of 36%.  Food exports to the rest of UK increased by £1.1bn (32%) and drink exports by £510m (49%).
  • Total food and drink exports overseas from Scotland reached an all-time-high of £5.4 billion 2011, up 19% from 2010 and up 52% from 2007.  This included an increase of £438m (63%) for food exports and an increase of £1,401m (50%) in drink exports. 
  • The export target of £5bn by 2017 has been smashed and Industry (Scotland Food and Drink) announced yesterday that it has set a new export target of £7bn by 2017.  If achieved – this would provide for a 90% increase in 10 years.

2. Overall the food and drink sector remains successful

  • Turnover figures published on 12 September 2012 showed that the sector at £12.4bn – and it has achieved 99% of the 2017 target it set itself (£12.5bn) 6 years early
  • Results published on Monday (10 September) show that the value of Scottish farmed salmon was at record levels of £584.7m – showing a year-on-year increase of 5.6% (taking account of inflation).

3. Food and Drink is a strong performing Scottish industry

  • Scottish Enterprise survey of account managed companies (of which 250 are in the food and drink industry) showed that 50% of food and drink companies reported an increase in growth against a company average  of 47%; and an increase in export turnover of 44% against an average of 37%;
  • Republic of Ireland is the 4th most significant importer of food and drink into the UK, with 41% of its exports (total value £8.85bn) arriving here – demonstrating that the UK public are happy to consume products from other countries;
  • The world’s biggest farm Salmon Producer, Marine Harvest, announced on 16 May 2012 that it intends to invest £80m in its Scottish operations over the next 5 years; 
  • On 6 June 2012 Diageo set out a £1bn investment plan in Scotch whisky over the next 5 years creating around 500 jobs and taking on 100 Modern Apprentices and Graduate trainees.