Scotch Whisky Association

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Alcohol badge.jpg This article is part of the Spinwatch public health oriented Alcohol Portal project.

Scotch Whisky is a leading Scottish export, worth over £2bn annually to the UK economy. To qualify as Scotch, whisky must be distilled in Scotland, though bottling can take place anywhere. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is a licensed trade association representing 56 whisky producers who account for 95 per cent of Scotch whisky producers.

The association is headed by an annually elected council of 12-16 members who establish committees to focus on areas of action to strengthen the position of association members. With offices in Edinburgh and London the SWA aim to: "protect and promote the integrity of Scotch Whisky worldwide, promote responsible attitudes to alcohol consumption, fight for fair tax and access to international markets, and to represent the industry's interests at governmental level both at home and abroad". [1]

On the voluntary European Commission register of interests SWA list their fields of interest as agriculture competition, consumer affairs, customs, enlargement, enterprise, environment, external relations, external trade, food safety, internal market, public health and taxation. [2] This extensive list of interests gives some insight into the extent to which the organisation is involved in key public debates within European policy circles.

Twenty-pound-notes.jpg This article is part of the Lobbying Portal, a sunlight project from Spinwatch.


Whisky Distillery [3]

2012 marks the SWA's centenary year. In 1912 the Wine and Spirit Brand Association was established, renamed the Whisky Association in 1917 and then the Scotch Whisky Association in 1942. The association's origins lie in the defence of the industry from what were seen as excessive and unfair taxes imposed by the temperance friendly chancellor Lloyd George. According to the SWA in 1909 the duty on whisky rose by 30% to pay for social reforms. [4] It is in this context that one of Scotland's and the UK's most powerful trade associations came into being.

The Contemporary SWA prides itself on its international work to eradicate barriers to trade, initially within Europe, and more recently internationally (particularly in India). The SWA describes claims to be "a pioneer of using GATT rules with its work on tax in Japan, South Korea and Chile in the 1980s and 1990s. This did much to put into practice the principle that imported and domestic spirits should be taxed and treated in a similar way." [5]

The SWA also works hard to protect status of Scotch Whisky recognised. This is often done by using intellectual property right regulations. Geographic protection is important to the SWA who have taken legal action against over 1000 brands and 3000 trade marks that they felt infringed the identity of scotch. In UK law scotch is protected "The first definition of Scotch in UK law was secured by 1933, with a dedicated Scotch Whisky Act in 1988 and new Scotch Whisky Regulations in 2009. It took 97 of the SWA's 100 years but there are now comprehensive rules in place." [6]

Lobbying to reduce the duty paid on whisky to the exchequer is another priority for the SWA they boast that it is down to their hard work and dedication that has resulted in favourable duty rates. "Only five years ago, a tax rise was reduced by 4% in less than 24 hours. Ken Clarke as Chancellor cut duty twice in a row and spirits duty has been frozen in 15 of the last 30 years. That was only possible through a concerted effort across Westminster and Whitehall over many years." [7]

Policy Positions

Lobbying Against Minimum Pricing The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is fiercely opposed to the introduction of minimum pricing per unit of alcohol which is supported by the public health community and the Scottish Government. SWA have been at the forefront of challenging the proposed legislation in Scotland. They claim that under European Law imposing a minimum price is against economic competition law and use the example of the European Court's rejection of the implementation of a minimum price for tobacco in France, Austria and Ireland. [8] As the SWA will know the European Court is not bound by previous rulings and therefore if it can be convinced that the measure is a step towards improving public health it may well rule in favour of minimum pricing. The Scottish Labour Party echoed the calls of the SWA and asked the Scottish Government to state the legal basis for their plans to protect public health. Then shadow health spokesperson for Labour Cathy Jamieson said: "We have always said that the legal basis for the SNP's minimum pricing policy needed clarification." [9]

The Scotch Whisky Association has been one of the key alcohol industry organisations lobbying against the introduction of a minimum pricing for alcohol, together with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the British Retail Consortium. The Scottish Government published a bill in November 2009 that contained plans to reduce overall consumption of alcohol in Scotland by a range of measures including the proposed minimum price per unit of alcohol. Weeks before the bill was published the SWA invited public affairs and lobbying companies to support their opposition to the inclusion of minimum pricing. An internal SWA document voiced concerns that the step to improve public health in Scotland would have a negative impact on international sales. [10] According to Bryan Christie, writing in the BMJ:

The Scotch Whisky Association’s document says that “a more assertive and populist message is now thought to be necessary with the clear objective of securing the absence of minimum pricing in the Bill and from the final Act.” It says that the key audiences are the media, consumers, and trade, “with the objective of removing any popular and political support for minimum pricing.” [11]

Campaigning against the alcohol duty escalator The SWA have joined others within the alcohol industry to campaign against the alcohol duty escalator. The alcohol dusty escalator was introduced in 2008 and increases the duty paid on alcohol by 2% over inflation each year. The SWA argue that this increase in duty is damaging the whisky industry and the rest alcohol industry and are members of the "Call Time on Duty" campaign. The campaign directly targets the Chancellor, George Osborne and urges consumers to lobby MPs with a letter template to demand a freeze on alcohol duty and the end of the alcohol duty escalator.

Alcohol Gets in a (legal) fight

The Association has brought in Scotland's largest law firm, Brodies LLP to help buttress their argument that a minimum pricing on alcohol is contrary to EU law.

The Association also has the backing of alcohol big-hitter Diageo in its crusade on minimum prices. Diageo offers financial backing, has a number of seats on the Council and Paul Walsh, former CEO of the company, recently served as the Association's Chair. The SWA is even sometimes referred to as Diageo's 'lobbying proxy' [12], although Diageo in itself is one of the largest players in the Scottish lobbying landscape.

EU lobbying

SWA were among the top spending British based trade-organisations on EU lobbying in Brussels in 2014, spending between €700,000 and €800,000.[13]



Current Directors

Past Board Members


Circa 2012

Aceo Limited | Adelphi Distillery | Balblair Distillery Co Ltd | Beam Inc | Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William) Ltd | Berry Bros & Rudd | Blairmhor Distillers Ltd | Blairmhor Ltd | Buchanan, James & Co Ltd | Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd | Catto, James & Co Ltd | Chivas Brothers Ltd | Dewar Rattray, A. Ltd | Dewar, John & Sons Ltd | Diageo Great Britian Ltd | Diageo plc | Diageo Scotland Ltd | Edrington Group | Glen Grant Ltd | Glenglassaugh Distillery Company Ltd | Glenmorangie Company Ltd, | Gordon & MacPhail (proprietors Speymalt Whisky Distributors Ltd) | J&G Grant | William Grant and Sons Ltd | John Haig and Co Ltd | J and W Hardie Ltd | Harvey's of Edinburgh International Ltd | Highland Distillers | International Whisky Co Ltd | Inver House Distillers Ltd | D. Johnston, D and Co (Laphroig) Ltd | Justerini & Brooks Ltd | Kilchoman Distillery Co Ltd | Knockdhu Distillery Co Ltd | Douglas Laing and Co Ltd |Last Drop Distillers Ltd | London and Scottish International Ltd | Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd | Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd | North British Distillery Co Ltd | Old St Andrews Ltd | Pulteney Distillery Co Ltd | Peter J Russell and Co Ltd | William Sanderson and Son Ltd | Scotch Malt Whisky Society | Speyburn-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd | William Teacher and Sons Ltd | Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd | United Distillers UK plc | John Walker and Sons Ltd [30]

Circa 2007

Adelphi Distillery | Balblair Distillery, part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc Owned by Fortune Brands| Ben Nevis Distillery (Fort William) Ltd Owned by Asahi| Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd | Blairmhor Distillers, part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Blairmhor, part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Buchanan, James & Co Ltd owned by Diageo| Burn Stewart Distillers Ltd Owned by CL Worldwide Brands, Trinidad| Catto, James & Co part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Chivas Brothers Ltd| Dewar, John & Sons Ltd Owned by Bacardi Ltd| Dewar Rattray Ltd | Diageo plc | Diageo Great Britain Ltd | Diageo Distilling Ltd | Diageo Scotland Ltd| The Edrington Group Ltd| Fisher, Donald Ltd owned by Diageo| Glen Grant Distillery Co Ltd owned by Chivas Bros | Glenmorangie Majority owner Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey minority owner Diageo | Glenglassaugh Owned by Edrington Group| Gordon & Macphail | J&G Grant | William Grant & Sons Ltd| John Haig & Co Ltd owned by Diageo| J&W Hardie Ltd, Owned by Takara Shuzo Co.Ltd. Japan| Harvies of Edinburgh (UK) Ltd | Harvies of Edinburgh International Ltd | Highland Distillers Ltd | International Whisky Co Ltd | Inver House Distillers Ltd part of InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | D. Johnston & Co (Laphroaig) Ltd | Justerini & Brooks Ltd owned by Diageo| Kilchoman Distillery Co Ltd | Knockdhu Distillery Co Ltd part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Laing, Douglas & Co Ltd | WM Lawson Distillers Ltd | London & Scottish International Ltd| Macdonald Greenlees Ltd owned by Diageo | Macleod, Ian Distillers Ltd | Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd Owned by Japanese conglomerate Suntay | North British Distillery Co Ltd| Old St Andrews Limited | Pulteney Distillery Co Ltd part of Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Russell, Peter J & Co Ltd| Sanderson, Wm & Son Ltd owned by Diageo | Scotch Malt Whisky Society | Speyburn Distillery Co Ltd Owned by Inverhouse within InterBev owned by Thai Beverages Plc | Wm Teacher & Sons Ltd Since 2006 owned in partnership by Pernod Ricard and Fortune Brands| Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd Owned by Japanese firm Takora Shuzo | United Distillers plc owned by Diageo| John Walker & Sons Ltd owned by Diageo| White Horse Distillers Ltd owned by Diageo | Whyte & Mackay Group Ltd| [31]


Address: 20 Atholl Cres, Edinburgh EH3 8HF


  1. SWA Website About SWA Last Accessed 2nd July 2007
  2. European Commission Register of Interest Representatives Scotch Whisky Association accessed 25th November 2009
  3. Scottish ParliamentWhisky Distillery accessed 12th June 2012
  4. Scotch Whisky Association Our History accessed 12th June 2012
  5. Scotch Whisky Association Our History accessed 12th June 2012
  6. Scotch Whisky Association Our History accessed 12th June 2012
  7. Scotch Whisky Association Our History accessed 12th June 2012
  8. Scotch Whisky Association 22nd October 2009 Minimum Pricing Illegal Under European Rules accessed 23rd February 2010
  9. BBC News Scotland 22nd October 2009 Court ruling on minimum pricing accessed 23rd February 2010
  10. Bryan Christie 2009, Fear of minimum alcohol pricing spreading to other countries led to opposition in Scotland BMJ 2009;339:b5339 accessed 17th March 2010
  11. Bryan Christie 2009, Fear of minimum alcohol pricing spreading to other countries led to opposition in Scotland BMJ 2009;339:b5339 accessed 17th March 2010
  12. Holyrood Exposed: A Guide to Lobbying in, 12 October 2015, accessed 12 October 2015
  13. Finance industry is UK's biggest lobbyist in Brussels Lobby Facts, 26 January 2015, accessed 3 February 2015
  14. Federation Against Software Theft Lobbying & Liaising accessed 2nd February 2010
  15. FASTIS Archive, History of FASTIS accessed 27th February 2014
  16. Scottish Parliament, Cross-Party Groups in the Scottish Parliament- Registration Form, no date given, accessed 5th October 2011
  17. Edelman clients, Register Dec15-Feb16, APPC, accessed 15 April 2016
  18. Scotch Whisky Association, New Chairman for Scotch Whisky as exports break records 2nd December Press Release, accessed 5th December 2011
  19. Whisky News, June 26 2007 Global Market Review of Blended Whisky – Forecasts to 2012 accessed 9th October 2009
  20. Inverhouse History accessed 9th October 2009
  21. Scotsman Business 24th August 2009 Diageo set to report slide in sales after downturn kicks in accessed 9th October2009
  22. Beam Global Wine and Spirits, Who We Are accessed 9th October
  23. Scotsman Business 13th July 2008 Dewar's whisky boss Gray set to go accessed 9th October 2009
  24. Whisky Pages Whisky News, August 2009 accessed 9th October
  25. Equinet The Bowmore Blair Castle International Horse Trials and Country Fair accessed 9th October 2009
  26. Pernod Ricard Pierre Pringuet accessed 9th October 2009
  27. Campden FB Tuesday 13th May 2008 Whisky company toasts fifth-generation chairman accessed 9th October 2009
  28. FAME Business Database Subscription Required
  29. FAME Business Database Subscription Required
  30. The Scotch Whisky Association, Members and Brands accessed 12th June 2012
  31. SWA Website Members Directory Last Accessed 2nd July 2007