13 September 2018

S5M-13876 Food and Drink

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13876, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on celebrating Scotland’s food and drink success story.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

It is interesting to hear a Tory member talk about the Chequers plan and demand that the SNP gets behind it. I will be interested to hear when the Conservative Party gets behind it—it has at least six different views on the Chequers plan. However, I am not going to waste time on the Conservative Party’s internal difficulties, which at every turn it tries to deflect on to others who are trying to do the right thing for Scotland.

Our food and drink fortnight is an excellent example of Scotland coming together—mostly, members have done that in this afternoon’s debate—to promote the great-quality food that we produce in our country. I agree with Mr Chapman about the importance of salmon farming, although it is by no means the only food and drink export that we have, as we have heard from others.

The vision of Scotland as a good food nation is one that, in this year of young people, we should relate to the contribution of future generations, in particular. James Withers, the chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said:

“Now is an exciting time to be involved in the sector in Scotland and the opportunity for the next generation to raise the bar even higher is hugely compelling.”

I absolutely agree.

On Tuesday this week, Austin Wilkins from the United States joined me as a new intern. He has told me that, at secondary school, he participated in the Future Farmers of America, which is an organisation that seeks to educate people on where their food comes from and to help them to value their food better. When it surveyed a group, one person asked whether only brown cows could make chocolate milk. That is a classic, albeit humorous, example of the disconnect between people’s understanding of food and the real importance of food.

Scotland has almost 20,000 food businesses that employ well over 100,000 people, but whatever the outcome of Brexit will be, it is currently overhanging our industry and its success. I need only cite the example of live langoustines, the premium product that comes largely from the north-east. They go on the buggy to Boulogne-sur-Mer market once a week. If they arrive at 8 o’clock in the morning, they get the price that they command by virtue of their quality, but if they are delayed only until 2 o’clock in the afternoon, they get half the price that they would have got at 8 o’clock in the morning. The challenge lies in how long they will have to wait in the queues to get into France and reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. That is an example of the practical risks that we face if we do not get Brexit right.

Geographical indication status is very important to many of our great Scottish products, particularly Scotch whisky, which has been well regarded around the world for more than a century. Since the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, for which my cousin was responsible in Parliament, the whisky has been kept in bond, which has improved its quality. Previously, I referred to the American whisky industry’s desire to have us abandon that three-year storage and go down to one year, to level the playing field.

Whisky has challenges around the world. Many years ago, when I first went to Nepal and walked down Khatmandu’s main street, the Durbar Marg, in the windows was something that looked superficially like Vat 69 whisky. However, it was Kat 69, with the “K” carefully drawn to obscure the fact that it was Nepalese whisky. We are copied all over the place: India has a huge second-hand market in Johnnie Walker bottles; and when I asked for whisky in Burma 40 years ago, what I received was purported to be Scotch whisky but had the faint flavour of paraffin—it had been made out the back the night before.

A great industry in my constituency that sounds as if it is simple is seed potatoes, but it is an eight-figure-a-year industry. It is one of many. Let us support them all.


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