Whisky tourism at odds with Scottish health agenda
The research, conducted by Karl Spracklen, Professor of Leisure Studies at Leeds Met, argues that the whisky industry has worked hard to convince its supporters that drinking single malt whiskies in distillery visitor centres is harmless, while signing up to campaigns to moderate drinking in the wider Scottish public.
The research paper, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events explores how policy-makers in Scotland have ensured that both whisky production and whisky tourism is supported, running contrary to the public-health agenda policies by the Scottish government to make Scottish people healthier.
Professor Karl Spracklen explains: "Single-malt whisky is the product of over one hundred distilleries across Scotland, and is the subject of a number of claims about its status as an 'authentic' Scottish drink. The whisky industry in Scotland argues that it creates significant amounts of revenue for Scotland and the UK - not just in sales of single-malt whiskies and blended whiskies, but also from the contribution of whisky tourism. As such, Scottish policy-makers in tourism and local regeneration have used whisky both as an attraction to market to visitors to the country and as a vehicle for creating jobs. This is contrasted with Scottish government policies on leisure that identify alcohol drinking as problematic, and support campaigns to moderate drinking in the wider Scottish public."
In the research paper, Professor Spracklen outlines how the Scottish Government and other policy-making organisations in Scotland have ensured that both whisky production and whisky tourism is supported - through encouragement, partnerships, marketing campaigns and possible future tax cuts. He argues that the whisky industry is careful to encourage 'responsible' drinking and makes people aware of the dangers of 'irresponsible' drinking, while also arguing strongly that drinking alcohol is a normal part of society and many cultures, and as such it should be protected from further restrictions and prohibition.
The Scottish Government wants potential voters for independence to know that it takes alcohol 'misuse' seriously, and in its white paper, 'Scotland's Future', it sets out a range of policy commitments that it says will reduce alcohol misuse. In its policies for health and well-being, the Scottish Government draws on the language of moral panic, and its measures to tackle misuse seem to be targeted only at the poor.
Professor Spracklen adds: "Scottish policy-makers allow the drinks industry to sell this idea because the industry is important to the economic strength of Scotland - so the white paper on independence provides lots of rhetoric about tackling alcohol misuse while carefully excluding whisky consumers and the whisky industry from suffering its policy-making.
"If Scotland does vote for independence then I think the Scottish government needs to understand that whisky is important and must encourage investment to guarantee the industry's future. But I also think that they shouldn't give the industry an easy ride: it is part of the wider drinks industry which is ultimately responsible for the health and wellbeing of Scottish citizens and a new Scottish government should hold those companies responsible."
Professor Karl Spracklen is widely published and his research interests range from social and cultural theory, whiteness, social identity and community in a range of leisure activities, from whisky tourism through to music and sport.
Professor Spracklen is Chair of the Leisure Studies Association, Secretary of the International Society of Metal Music Studies and the co-convenor of the British Sociological Association's Alcohol Study Group. His latest book, Constructing Leisure: Historical and Philosophical Debates (Palgrave, 2011), is about the history and philosophy of leisure, exploring the meaning of leisure, from prehistory to alternative futures.
In November 2013 Professor Spracklen published research which revealed that the real-ale industry has the potential to thrive as part of the tourist industry by focusing on engaging small, local breweries and community experiences such as festivals, pub walks and taste testings.