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Nicola Sturgeon’s alcohol crackdown enrages Scotch whisky industry

A row has erupted between the Scotch whisky industry and the Scottish government after a report claimed all alcohol products were “variations of the same thing”, with vendors calling it a “slap in the face” to traditional distilleries.

Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has come under fire for the remarks, which were published as part of a consultation on restricting alcohol advertising and promotion.

The consultation said: “Without branding and other marketing strategies, alcohol products in each beverage sub-sector are essentially variations of the same thing.”

Vendors of Scotch whisky, one of the country’s most famous exports, have hit back at the claim, saying that the comments showed “no regard for the history” of the famous tipple.

Mike Stuart, of Inverurie Whisky Shop, a premium whisky retailer in Aberdeenshire, said distilleries in Scotland “all do something unique and the Government has just thrown them all in together”.

He said: “There is no regard for the history, the time, the dedication and patience that the distilleries have. I wonder what Ralph Lauren would say if you said that his aftershave smelt the same as a supermarket own brand?”

Mr Stuart, who is also a founder of Foghouse Gin, described the comments as “a slap in the face” to distillers across the nation. He said: “Not only is it a slap in the face to them, but it’s a slap in the face to the consumers as well, the customers, who actively pursue distillery bottles or brand bottles and will pay quite a pretty sum to complete collections.”

Scotch whisky, which by law can only be made in Scotland, is exported at a rate of 44 bottles per second, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, the industry trade body. In 2021, Scotch whisky exports were worth £4.5bn.

Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy criticised the SNP government for the comments, describing it an “extraordinary admission”.

“The SNP needs to stop talking down Scottish industries and Scottish exports like Scotch whisky.”

The Scottish Whisky Association said it had “deep concerns” about the government consultation, which was launched in November.

“We share many of the same goals, including reducing harmful consumption and protecting children from alcohol advertising. But we do have deep concerns regarding the sweeping proposals set out in the consultation.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Alcohol-related harm is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland. An average of 700 people are hospitalised and 24 people die each week from illnesses caused by drinking alcohol.

“This is a first wide ranging consultation on this issue and any proposals we take forward into legislation are subject to the consultation responses. We are not introducing legislation at this stage.”

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