Published on September 7th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Decisions Decisions

Our neighbours across the border are being asked to vote on independence, but what’s the opinion from our beer industry, asks Alastair Gilmour

Detective inspector John Rebus is about to put a cross in the box marked No. His colleague, detective sergeant Siobhan Clarke, swings her pencil towards the Yes section. That’s the considered opinion of Edinburgh-based crime writer Ian Rankin – and he should know, he invented the pair of them.

But, as he told Cheers North East: “They would dodge discussing politics altogether while enjoying a beer in the pub.”

Despite the reluctance of Rankin’s detectives to talk politics over a pint, this month’s referendum on Scottish independence will be decided by debates in the nation’s pubs and clubs and not on who came out best in bad-tempered exchanges between two politicians with dodgy haircuts.

The referendum is on September 18, the question to be answered is: Should Scotland be an independent country? It seems we in the North East are waiting for the result to be declared before we commit ourselves to answering questions concerning a different tax system and a different currency, and if they’ll be allowed to retain BBC services, let alone what difficulties might arise by trading with a foreign country.

Most of the breweries we contacted adopted a “wait and see” approach to independence, preferring not to take a stance either way.

Cullercoats Brewery’s Bill Scantlebury is one of those who is sensibly sitting on his hands. He says: “We try to deliver to Edinburgh every couple of months. I’ve no idea how the independence vote may affect sales. If the currency changes and makes it more complicated, then I suppose we’re more likely to push further south rather than into Scotland.”

Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, which owns Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar, has said the pubs and brewing giant is committed to Scotland whatever the outcome of the referendum. Anand said the company plans to continue to invest in growth in Scotland.

Suffolk-based Greene King, which has around 250 pubs in Scotland, expects to open new outlets in the country this year. It has been pleased with the response to a range of new beers it has started producing at Dunbar, including Belhaven Black Stout.

Asked if Belhaven might put investment on hold until the outcome and implications of the referendum were clear, Anand said: “You can’t put a business on hold because it goes backward if you do that. We’re opening pubs, we’re launching beer brands, we are investing in our infrastructure, we’re hiring people.”

The referendum may be a serious subject but some folks have been having a bit of fun with it. The Twa Dugs pub in Ayr invited the Ayr Brewing Company to create a couple of referendum ales – Yes is an IPA while No is a classic bitter, affectionately known as Bitter Together.

Bar owner Bob Shields said: “People get involved in some serious debates at the bar over politics and this lightens it up and adds a bit of froth to a dry subject.”

The final words go not to detective inspector Rebus, but to Inveralmond Brewery, based in Perth which was until 1437 the capital of Scotland. It has long produced Independence Ale (3.8% abv) which comes with a description that includes: “Independence is a state of mind. We stick passionately to what we believe in – brewing the finest beer we can to the best of our ability.”

Fine words and amirable sentiments, so really we’re all in the same boat – waiting to see.

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Alastair Gilmour

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