By Dave Broom

On the home front

Dave looks at the recent goings on in the industry and Scotland.
I Unicorn,” he declaims. That’s a phrase you don’t hear often, but there again one doesn’t often stumble across the creation of Finlaggan Pursuivant. If you said you did, you’d be lying because the last time it took place was 400 year ago. As Unicorn reads a long citation, a tabard, resplendent with rising phoenix, is placed over Finlaggan’s head. We applaud.Afterwards I speak to “Unicorn”, wondering how they knew the intricacies of a long-dead ceremony. “Oh we made it up, but don’t you agree that tradition’s vitally important?” All this flummery is taking place at The Gathering, the centrepiece of this year’s Homecoming celebrations in which the Scottish Diaspora has been encouraged to... come home.47,000 people do just that over the two days, most clad in plaid, celebrating their roots; listening to pipe bands, watching men throw telegraph poles around, buying sporrans made from ducks, seeking out ancestors, drinking whisky and marching in procession up the Royal Mile. It’s a classy event that fills even the most cynical heart with a feeling that being Scottish matters, though it leaves as many questions unanswered: questions of relevancy, of what Scotland means in the 21st century, of home itself.At the same time as Unicorn is speaking, 60 or so miles to the west in Kilmarnock another group of 20,000 people are also marching, this time to complain of the closure of the Johnnie Walker plant. Two weeks later, Whyte & Mackay announces it’s laying off 100 (and it’s worth pointing out that two jobs going on Jura and 33 at Invergordon is every bit as serious for small communities as the redundancies are for Kilmarnock).Though it pains me to say it, I wasn’t surprised at the closure of the Kilmarnock site which has had the axe hanging over it for years. These days bottling lines are highly-automated, high-tech affairs and for at least two decades the industry has been over capacity. Kilmarnock no longer fitted. It’s a business decision. Sorry folks, that’s how capitalism works. You think we’d have realised that by now.What surprises me more is the closure of the Port Dundas distillery. Surely another major blend owner would like to control its own supply of grain? That there was no sale is baffling.Equally baffling is the reaction of politicians. I can understand the anger of the workforce, but where was the political rage when Glenmorangie laid off a third of its workforce and closed its bottling plant at Broxburn, or when Chivas closed Paisley? Where was it when the banks laid off even more Scottish workers?There again, these redundancies didn’t happen in the run up to an election. This is as much to do with politicians keeping their jobs as it is saving those in Kilmarnock, resulting in them suddenly becoming interested in an industry which until then had simply been a cash machine.The issue for me is a moral one. Does Diageo, or indeed any other company, have the sole moral imperative to look after its workforce or should that be the role of politicians? I believe it should be a shared responsibility. Clearly something has to be done to help alleviate the problems which will arise in Kilmarnock (and on Jura, or in Invergordon etc etc.) So, where were the MPs and MSPs, where was the local council or Scottish Enterprise in trying to bring investment into a town precariously exposed to one firm’s agenda? What was the fallback position in case Johnnie Walker closed?There wasn’t one. It’s a Scottish thing.At primary school we were taught that Glasgow made ships, Motherwell made steel, Kilmarnock made carpets, Kirkcaldy made linoleum, Edinburgh made money and if we forgot any of that we were reminded that Lochgelly made belts for hitting children. It’s all gone: shipbuilding, mining, steel, even banking.There has been a systemic failure to plan for Scotland’s future, so when the tartan hordes do come home, what is left? Countryside, nostalgia..and whisky to fuel the dreams of the past.Only now are questions being asked that should have been debated years ago. Should all Scotch whisky be bottled in Scotland? Yes. If the industry cares, rightly, about provenance (which is another word for home) then of course it should be. Would that save Kilmarnock? No.What would have? A home maybe. While a single malt’s home is part of its DNA, the relationship between blends and their place of birth has been sundered.Things might have been different if Diageo had built the ‘home’ of Walker in Kilmarnock, but it’s at Cardhu.It’s not alone. The ‘homes’ of Dewar’s, Bell’s and Grouse are not in Perth, but at Aberfeldy, Blair Atholl and Glenturret, the ‘home’ of Chivas Regal isn’t in Aberdeen, but at Strathisla. None of this makes historical sense, but it’s more comfortable for brand owners.Home, tradition, they are powerful forces which can be made relevant for today.Sadly, we only seem to realise this too late.