HUMZA Yousaf will today challenge Rishi Sunak over an “unacceptable” and “blatantly unfair” rise in duty facing the whisky industry when the pair meet for the first time.

The First Minister is due to meet the Prime Minister in London this evening, having already spoken to him by phone shortly after he won the SNP leadership contest.

Mr Yousaf will call for the Scotch whisky industry to be treated “fairly” instead of suffering from the “disportionate” tax changes announced in last month’s budget and a lack of support with energy bills.

The First Minister said he would make his demand for change “crystal clear”.

The move is part of Mr Yousaf's efforts to rebuild relations with business after a series of unpopular policies initiated under Nicola Sturgeon.

Last week the FM announced a proposal to ban alcohol advertising - which was hated by the drinks industry - would go "back to the drawing board".

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt infuriated distillers when he hiked alcohol duty by 10.1 per cent in March's budget, a move the Scotch Whisky Association called an “historic blow”.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack admitted he had tried in vain to dissuade Mr Hunt, saying the rise was “not what I wanted for the Scottish industry”.

It means the tax burden on an average bottle of whisky in the UK is set to rise from 70% to 75% from August, with £11.40 of the £15.22 being tax and duty. 

The Scottish Government said the hike had been made without consultation, and appeared to breach a Tory manifesto vow at the 2019 general election.

With the Scotch whisky industry supporting 42,000 jobs, the Tories said they would “ensure that our tax system is supporting British drink producers”.

Mr Yousaf said the duty hike was compounded by the exclusion of distillers - uniquely in the drinks industry  - from energy bill relief offered by the UK Government. 

With whisky production energy-intensive, two-thirds of distillers have reported their costs will go up, leading to less investment.

Commenting ahead of meeting the Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf said: “Whisky has to pay its fair share of tax. Everyone, including distillers, agrees on that.

“The decision, however, to increase tax by more than 10%, at the same time as refusing to provide the energy-bill support the rest of the drinks industry receives, puts the industry - and Scotland - at a competitive disadvantage.

“That means less investment and puts jobs at risk here in Scotland. That is simply unacceptable.

“What’s more, this is a direct breach of the explicit pledge the Prime Minister was elected on as an MP in 2019. The Conservative manifesto was clear that they would review duty to help support the Scotch whisky industry.

“Instead, yet again, they are denying a key Scottish industry the support it needs – support the drinks industry in the rest of the UK receives – while hammering them with a tax increase at the same time. That’s blatantly unfair to whisky and blatantly unfair to Scotland.

“Inflation is now predicted to come down sharply. It’s time for the Prime Minister to bring fairness back to the way whisky is treated and I will make that crystal clear when we meet today.”

When Mr Yousaf asked Mr Sunak in their phone call for the power to hold a second independence referendum, the Prime Minister turned him down flat. 

Despite his unhappiness at the whisky tax rise, Mr Jack voted against a Liberal Democrat proposal to reverse it.

Appearing on BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show yesterday, Scottish Tory chair Craig Hoy was asked why Mr Jack wasn’t a friend to the whisky industry.

He said: “Alister Jack has been standing up for the Scotch whisky industry right through. Look at the work that Alister has undertaken in relation to the [SNP-Green] deposit return scheme, which would have been deeply damaging. Obviously whisky goes into bottles. 

“Alister is standing up for the Scotch whisky industry. 

“The Scotch whisky industry is very vulnerable to many of the SNP policies that they're seeking to push through here. And that's why Alister Jack and myself and the Scottish Conservative party will always stand up for the Scotch whisky industry.”