By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by a Scotch Whisky executive that pressure was put on the industry by an SNP MP in order to keep it out of the independence debate, have been called into question after comments Gavin Hewitt made in a national newspaper appeared to contradict his accusation.
A documentary broadcast on Channel 4’s Dispatches on Tuesday contained allegations from the former chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association. 

The programme featured Gavin Hewitt, who accused SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson of seeking to ensure the Whisky industry did not enter the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future.

Viewers heard Mr Hewitt say: “He [Mr Robertson] and the SNP have regularly tried to get the message to the Scotch Whisky Association that the Scotch whisky industry should stay out of the independence debate.

“He was, I think, trying to neuter business comment. There was a genuine fear that in fact if we were seen to scupper by coming out publicly against independence, there would be retribution down the track.”

However Mr Hewitt’s claims have been called into question by statements he himself gave to a national newspaper last month.

Speaking to the Herald on June 13th, the former Scotch Whisky boss told the newspaper that none of the so-called ‘intimidation’ he himself experienced was in the context of the independence referendum.

According to the newspaper, Hewitt ‘stressed the intimidation directed at him by Nationalists had not been in the context of the independence referendum,’

He reportedly told the Herald: “I do know people who have had calls in the context of the independence debate.  But for obvious reasons I’m not going to indicate who.”

Hewitt’s allegations were dismissed by SNP MP Angus Robertson who said:

“I totally refute the allegations, especially given that both Gavin Hewitt and his successor Peter Frost have both said to me that they don’t take a position on constitutional issues.  Mr Hewitt publicly endorsed the case for a No vote last month, which of course he is perfectly entitled to do.”

Today Mr Hewitt has an article in the Scotsman newspaper in which he endorses many of the arguments put forward by the anti-independence campaign.

Mr Robertson added: “As the MP representing more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries I work hard to promote the industry and its heartland producing region Speyside, as well as liaising with the Scotch Whisky Association on industry regulation and taxation.

“I met Gavin Hewitt and other Scotch Whisky Association colleagues regularly at meetings of the Westminster Parliamentary Whisky Industry Group, SWA Receptions at the Annual SNP Conference and Dover House, and the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. I have never had a private unaccompanied meeting with Gavin Hewitt. These meetings all happened in the company of colleagues.

“It is also the case that Mr Hewitt stressed to the Herald newspaper’s UK Political Editor last month that his claims of intimidation had not been in the context of the independence referendum – which is the opposite of what is being reported now.  That is not a matter for me.

“What is a matter for me, and what I am very clear about, is that there is nothing in my conduct which answers to Mr Hewitt’s description.”

The SNP MP concluded his statement by highlighting the recent row between the UK Treasury and a leading academic who had accused officials of deliberately misrepresenting his research in order to produce an inflated estimate of the cost of independence.

Professor Dunleavy has described UK Government figures as a ‘dodgy dossier’.

Mr Robertson said: “As the Dispatches programme also reports, it has been proven beyond doubt that the UK government distorted and misrepresented the work of Professor Dunleavy of the London School of Economics, who has called what the Treasury produced to attack independence a ‘dodgy dossier’.

“It is high time the UK Government retracted their bogus claims on the establishment of an independent Scotland, and apologised for their ‘dodgy dossier’.”


2014-07-08 00:04

Project Smear having replaced Project Fear are not adding anything to our debate.
2014-07-08 03:17

This Dispatches TV programme was as comprehensive a hatchet job on the SNP leadership as you could get dressed up as “even handed” because of the token reference to the misrepresentati  on of Professor Dunleavy’s work by the Treasury.

Judging by the unusually strong language he is using Angus Robertson is incensed by the uncorroborated allegation about him made by a man who formerly represented an industry challenging the Scottish Government’s minimum pricing for alcohol policy.

It would be interesting to find out more about Blakeway Productions who made the Dispatches Programme as it says on Wikipedia that the company has made numerous programmes for British public service radio and television including many documentaries about the British royal family, the Second World War, and several series with historians Christopher Clark, Max Hastings, Niall Ferguson and David Reynolds, and the BBC’s 90 minute documentary to Thatcher after her death.
2014-07-08 03:25

So the industry allegedly under pressure to stay out of the debate now can’t resist pressure to enter it. Strange that, and what curious timing.
2014-07-08 04:57

Contrary to what Marian says about last night’s Dispatches program I was pleasantly surprised by it and found it reasonably even handed. It also managed to cover a lot of ground.

The later BBC 2 program with Robert Peston came as an even greater surprise.I was expecting it to be a typical BBC Unionist anti Independence lie fest but found it to be surprisingly fair with the exception of the bits about the oil running out and the tax revenues falling year by year.

All in all I reckon that after the 2 programs viewers south of the border will now be far better informed regarding
Scottish Independence and the arguments for and against than they were yesterday.

Regarding Hewitt his line of reasoning should have brought terrible retribution by New Labour in 1997 against any business/businessman who had supported the Tories and would suggest that Ed Milliband plans to punish any business supporting Cameron should Labour win the 2015 GE.
2014-07-08 09:05

gus1940 – I watched Robert Peston and as Independence programs it did seem relatively fair. Here’s the however the £1200 mentioned that Westminster sends to Scotland for every person should have mentioned that Scotland sends £1700 per person south. It still read as Scotland receives more than we send to London. Craig

2014-07-08 07:00

The whisky industry equates to 1/3 of all UK exports, none of that revenue goes directly to Scotland, is it any wonder the Brit government has it run by their own people?
2014-07-08 08:32

Any ill-informed individual watching Hewitt articulate his ‘concern’ at intimidation would realise that this was a stitch up.
The opportunities for the Whisky industry that comes with independence are legion. Quite apart from a more benign tax regeime Scotland would support his industry to the hilt rather than charge him 3000 quid every time he wanted to use a UK Embassy to promote his product.
Myopic and negative but then again that’s what Better Together – No Thanks is all about, isn’t it ?.
2014-07-08 20:34

Do the maths.
Whiskage + establishment + tory = ?

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