WHAT would independence mean for the Scottish food, drink and hospitality sectors and why have a debate?
Why indeed? Are we not debate weary by all we have heard, read and seen over the past 12 months? Let's put that into some context.
Hospitality UK-wide is the fifth largest industry, employing more than 2.4 million people and generating £34 billion in gross revenue and taxes. Responsible for 8% of total employment, it is bigger than financial services, transport, communications and construction sectors.
Scotland's contribution sees 220,000 people directly employed, with indirectly another 120,000 or, to put that into context, 8.6% of Scotland's jobs. An estimated £4bn is contributed to the Scottish economy in wages and profits, and by 2020 it is forecast that another 46,000 jobs can be created.
So what would independence mean for the Scottish food, drink and hospitality industry? Would it mean feast or famine, boom or bust?
The bottom line is we do not really know and there appears to be a dearth of both political and industry names willing to stand up and lead an honest and open debate on the issue.
This is where the Institute of Hospitality Scotland (IoHS), whose main remit is in educational development of the industry's future people and leaders, believes it has a role to facilitate such debate.
As chair of the IoHS, I've had a long career in food, from military catering and supply logistics to food development with global organisations.
I've also set up my own food consultancy and as a native of Cumnock have returned back to Scotland after 45 years of global travel.
I believe passionately that open debate is healthy and refreshing provided it is conducted in a background of acceptance that other people believe in the same thing but may view a different route in getting there.
In this spirit of openness, my colleagues and I at the IoHS have chosen today - with exactly a year to go to the referendum on Scottish independence - to kickstart the debate in our industry.
We believe there is a fear amongst industry leaders about raising their heads above the parapets about theirs and their employees' concerns and that politicians do not take them seriously, seeing them as a disparate industry lacking collective clout.
The debate is intended to bring industry leaders, movers and shakers together with politicians and it is refreshing that Andrew Fairley, probably one of the best known hospitality individuals in Scotland from his award-winning work at Gleneagles, and Beppo Buchanan-Smith, a well-known Highland hotelier, have chosen to go where few dare and say what they believe. They are also both very respectful of one another's viewpoints.
Today our debate will be held in the magnificent auditorium and surroundings of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and IoHS sees this as just the first step. We will be planning further debates over the coming year.
Mr Fairley will today be joined by Jim Mather and Jean Urquhart, representing a formidable team of Yes vote enthusiasts with past and present MSP status and also current commercial nous and clout in the restaurant, hotel and food manufacturing sectors.
Mr Buchanan-Smith is joined by Jackson Carlaw MSP, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and Tony Dumbreck of Innovate Foods which exports 80% of its produce south of the Border.
Like Mr Buchanan-Smith, they do not see the grass greener on the other side of an independent Scotland and Mr Dumbreck in particular has concerns about independence and its impact on his business.
There are six main questions affecting and impacting the industry in a Yes' scenario and we hope to discuss the issues surrounding them today. These are personal and industry taxes; salaries and pensions; alcohol and tobacco legislation; vocational education; renewables and currency.
All impact on the hospitality industry and we are confident the 200 or so delegates attending today's event, who are a good mix of industry leaders and hospitality students, will have an extremely fruitful debate.
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