As you’d expect from an industry where the core product takes years to make, they plan ahead.

According to the most recent register of interests in the Commons, Diageo held a dinner and a whisky tasting “for Labour MPs to showcase the importance of Scotch whisky.”

A few days before, according to the Scottish Lobbying register, the Scotch Whisky Association held a roundtable with Labour MSPs, including Anas Sarwar and Dame Jackie Baillie.

There they wanted to stress “the importance of Scotland being a competitive business environment where businesses can grow and develop commercial opportunities so the industry can be confident in revitalising investments that had been hampered by the pandemic and subsequent economic challenges.”

With polls suggesting Sir Keir Starmer will soon move into No 10, the sector is preparing. 

And it looks as if they will have an ally. When the Labour leader visited the InchDairnie Distillery in Glenrothes, he said his government would "back Scotch producers to the hilt."

What will that mean in practice? 

The industry has long felt that its drinkers are asked to pay too much, of the £15.63 average price of a bottle of whisky, £11.40 is collected in taxation through duty and VAT, a higher rate per unit of alcohol than wine, beer and cider.

This is a system the industry says is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how people consume alcohol and modern drinking trends.”

The industry had been angling for a cut to alcohol duty in Jeremy Hunt's Springe Budget, but instead, they got a freeze.

That may have been a negotiating tactic, asking for more out of hope than expectation, but there’s no doubt the Chancellor was well aware of their demands.

Douglas Ross, whose Moray constituency has the greatest concentration of distilleries anywhere in the world had lobbied Mr Hunt in the run-up to the budget.

While his lobbying skills made not a jot of difference when it came to the oil and gas windfall tax, the Chancellor seemed more willing to listen when it came to Scotch.

Mr Ross wasn’t the only politician to put pressure on No 11. While in his speech Mr Hunt mentioned all the Tories who had asked for help, there had been cross-party calls for the duty freeze.

The Scotch Whisky Association’s campaign for a cut, for example, had the vocal support of the SNP’s Richard Thomson, and Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael.

It's worth pointing out that at the same time as the SWA met with Labour MSPs, they also met some Tories MSPs too.

A month or so before they’d met with Humza Yousaf “to engage with the First Minister on his government's re-set with business, welcoming its focus on early engagement and working in partnership.”

It’s easy to understand why Scotland’s national drink has such political influence and access.

In 2022, the Scotch Whisky industry - all those involved in its production, the sale and distribution - generated £7.1 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) in the UK.

Of this total, £5.3 billion was generated in Scotland.

The industry itself supports 66,000 jobs across the UK, with 41,000 north of the border.

The Scotch Whisky industry is now responsible for generating £3 in every £100 of Scotland’s total GVA, and is the second most productive sector in Scotland, ranked just behind energy.

The Herald:

It’s become something of a rite of passage for senior politicians to visit a distillery. Even Liz Truss managed it during the Tory leadership contest. In fact, it was, in part, thanks to her that export figures were so good.

After she crashed the economy and sunk the pound, the drink became more affordable for buyers outside of Britain.

In the US, where roughly £1 billion of whisky is exported to every year, it helped too that President Biden suspended Trump-era tariffs.

According to the most recent figures, over 1.35bn bottles of Scotch Whisky are shipped from Scotland to over 160 markets around the world every year.

They accounted for 77% of Scottish food and drink exports and 26% of all UK food and drink exports in 2022.

In total, they made up 2% of all UK goods exports.

It is too big an industry to say no to.

The Lobbying Register also reveals the extent of industry’s lobbying of the government on policies like the deposit return scheme (DRS).

According to research by The Ferret, they met with the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, three other ministers, two political advisers and the government’s most senior civil servant. They also lobbied 25 MSPs from the SNP and opposition parties.

We should be careful too to not overstate their influence. DRS didn't fail just because the industry pointed out that it'd be a disaster.