By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by a Scotch Whisky executive that pressure was put on the industry by an SNP MP in order to keep it out of the independence debate, have been called into question after comments Gavin Hewitt made in a national newspaper appeared to contradict his accusation.
A documentary broadcast on Channel 4’s Dispatches on Tuesday contained allegations from the former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association.
The programme featured Gavin Hewitt, who accused SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson of seeking to ensure the Whisky industry did not enter the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future.
Viewers heard Mr Hewitt say: “He [Mr Robertson] and the SNP have regularly tried to get the message to the Scotch Whisky Association that the Scotch whisky industry should stay out of the independence debate.
“He was, I think, trying to neuter business comment. There was a genuine fear that in fact if we were seen to scupper by coming out publicly against independence, there would be retribution down the track.”
However Mr Hewitt’s claims have been called into question by statements he himself gave to a national newspaper last month.
Speaking to the Herald on June 13th, the former Scotch Whisky boss told the newspaper that none of the so-called ‘intimidation’ he himself experienced was in the context of the independence referendum.
According to the newspaper, Hewitt ‘stressed the intimidation directed at him by Nationalists had not been in the context of the independence referendum,’
He reportedly told the Herald: “I do know people who have had calls in the context of the independence debate. But for obvious reasons I’m not going to indicate who.”
Hewitt’s allegations were dismissed by SNP MP Angus Robertson who said:
“I totally refute the allegations, especially given that both Gavin Hewitt and his successor Peter Frost have both said to me that they don’t take a position on constitutional issues. Mr Hewitt publicly endorsed the case for a No vote last month, which of course he is perfectly entitled to do.”
Today Mr Hewitt has an article in the Scotsman newspaper in which he endorses many of the arguments put forward by the anti-independence campaign.
Mr Robertson added: “As the MP representing more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries I work hard to promote the industry and its heartland producing region Speyside, as well as liaising with the Scotch Whisky Association on industry regulation and taxation.
“I met Gavin Hewitt and other Scotch Whisky Association colleagues regularly at meetings of the Westminster Parliamentary Whisky Industry Group, SWA Receptions at the Annual SNP Conference and Dover House, and the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. I have never had a private unaccompanied meeting with Gavin Hewitt. These meetings all happened in the company of colleagues.
“It is also the case that Mr Hewitt stressed to the Herald newspaper’s UK Political Editor last month that his claims of intimidation had not been in the context of the independence referendum – which is the opposite of what is being reported now. That is not a matter for me.
“What is a matter for me, and what I am very clear about, is that there is nothing in my conduct which answers to Mr Hewitt’s description.”
The SNP MP concluded his statement by highlighting the recent row between the UK Treasury and a leading academic who had accused officials of deliberately misrepresenting his research in order to produce an inflated estimate of the cost of independence.
Professor Dunleavy has described UK Government figures as a ‘dodgy dossier’.
Mr Robertson said: “As the Dispatches programme also reports, it has been proven beyond doubt that the UK government distorted and misrepresented the work of Professor Dunleavy of the London School of Economics, who has called what the Treasury produced to attack independence a ‘dodgy dossier’.
“It is high time the UK Government retracted their bogus claims on the establishment of an independent Scotland, and apologised for their ‘dodgy dossier’.”